When it comes to growing a business, managing staff and everything else in between, more and more practice owners and managers are turning to professional dental coaching for guidance. By John Burfitt
Ask two of the top coaches working within dentistry what are the main topics their clients are most interested in discussing, and it’s telling that both of them offer the same observations.
“When I ask most dentists what stresses them in their business, it’s rarely a clinical matter,” says Prime Practice’s Dr Phillip Palmer. “It’s almost always an issue of not being sure about how to deal with staff, patients or management.”
Adds Karen Gately, a founder of specialist HR company Ryan Gately, “The problems are with the human equation. When you have your own practice with a range of other professionals, sometimes those relationships can be challenging to manage. That’s not included in the training in our dental schools, so very often dentists are at a loss knowing how to cope, so they turn to coaching.”
Bernadette Beach of Indigo Medical Consulting has been working as a coach within dentistry for over 25 years. She says it’s when practice owners and managers don’t have a clue as to how to operate their business that this becomes the source of most of their problems.
“The number-one reason for failure for business owners is lack of strategy execution, and 60 per cent of businesses fail to make a profit,” Beach says.
“This is why coaching is important to support dentists in understanding business principles, how to automate functions to become more efficient and the importance of developing business skills,” she says.
“You can coach someone, and their IQ is never going to change, but the EQ (emotional intelligence) rating of a dentist can definitely change with coaching.”—Dr Phillip Palmer, director, Prime Practice
In this information age we’re living through, there’s a world of options for skills development: university courses, workshops and training programs, not to mention the digital space where accessing pretty much anything about everything is possible.
Putting it into action
Coaching, however, is a way to apply learning in an informed way, usually driven by questions addressed to the participant, who then explores what they already know and then how this can be further improved on. The key characteristics of coaching are that it is development-focused, facilitates critical thinking and decision-making, and is done on a one-on-one basis.
Negotiating all that information and putting it into action is where coaching can play a significant role, explains Dr Palmer. “There’s a big difference between knowing what to do, and knowing to do it,” he says. “You’ll get all the information you need in a workshop or a course, but the actual detail of what to do about it comes from coaching.”
Executive coach Charles Kovess uses a golf analogy to explain how coaching can make a difference in ways other skills programs will not. “Consider the golfers in the top 1000 in the world who are not getting the results they want,” he says. “It might take a one per cent change in their approach to get them into the top 100. Similarly, within a dental practice, the owner might be asking, ‘Why am I losing staff?’ or ‘Why are new patients not staying with us?’ All it might take is a coach to share some insights on that issue, and a slight change may end up making a huge difference and [enable them to] get the results they need.”
For all the success it can achieve, a coaching relationship can be as confronting as it is effective, explains Gately. “In a coaching relationship, it offers the opportunity to hold up a mirror so you can examine your thinking, emotional intelligence, behaviour and capabilities, and how all of that impacts on the practice.
“And a coach isn’t someone who tells you all the answers. They guide your thinking and pose good questions and help explore the options. A coach should be the person challenging you as you attempt to apply the best techniques and tools to what you’re doing.”
It’s in the area of emotional intelligence—the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others—that coaching can have the most impact in dentistry, says Dr Palmer. “You can coach someone, and their IQ is never going to change, but the EQ [emotional intelligence] rating of a dentist can definitely change with coaching,” he says.
“If you want to get the maximum value out of your coaching, turn up with your own plan of what you want to learn, what obstacles you’re facing and then be prepared to explore what you plan to do about it.”—Karen Gately, founder, Ryan Gately
“At Prime, we’ve been measuring the EQ of the dentists in our coaching programs for over 10 years, and within two years, it is at least 10 per cent higher. The EQ skills are the ones that are going to get a dentist through difficult conversations and make them able to lead.”
Two essential factors
For coaching to be truly effective, these master coaches agree it requires two significant factors to be established early on. One is a genuine connection between the coach and the participant, and the other is agreement that homework tasks need to be completed.
“You must ask yourself what kind of coaching you need and if you can work with your coach,” Charles Kovess says. “Coaching can become personal as you explore what you want to achieve and what needs to be done. To be of great value, the more truthful and transparent it is, the better. If you can’t do that with your coach, then it won’t work, and you might need to look elsewhere.”
As for setting the agenda and driving each session, Gately adds that it’s the participant who needs to be in the driver’s seat every time, and never the other way around. “If you want to get the maximum value out of your coaching, turn up with your own plan of what you want to learn, what obstacles you’re facing and then be prepared to explore what you plan to do about it,” she says.
“The most important thing is to ensure you make yourself accountable. You need to determine how you’re going to check in on yourself to see what you have learned, the advances that have been made and what areas still need work. It is also a matter of being prepared to actively apply the new lessons to the workplace. You can nod and agree that all the new ideas sound great, but unless they’re put into action, it can be a waste of your time. Success always comes in the application.”