Practice of the Month - Happy Smiles Dental Care

Client interview, February 2017 - Richard Wise

How long have you owned your dental practice?
I bought out one of my employers in a 3 owner associate practice back in 1998. In February 2007 I moved my part of the practice and set up on my own, so I have been self employed for a long time but the sole owner of my practice for 10 years now. We had Happy Smiles’ 10th Birthday cake this week.

What was your first Prime Practice workshop?
My first exposure to Prime was when Phillip came to Tamworth many years ago and gave a presentation on controlling your appointment book. I think that this was around 2004/2005.

Following this presentation, I came away with a desire to change the chaotic systems that we had up until that point. We had almost zero control over the structure of our appointment books and the running of the day to day.

At the time, in the group practice, the other owners weren’t interested in change and therefore I wasn’t able to ask the front office to be consistent with the approach to the appointment book. I became increasingly frustrated with my inability to affect change. This was one of the key reasons for my leaving the group practice and setting up on my own.

I joined up with Prime Practice soon after starting my own practice when I heard Phillip speak again. There were three practices in the Tamworth area that joined up to Prime Practice at the same time and as a result our team workshops were run locally which made attending much easier.

What changed after joining the Program?
After joining Prime Practice, the practice became much more structured and we were able to create processes and protocols around most day to day happenings.

The practice was really focused on the team workshops. Everyone got really involved and it helped to set up our team in the best way from the beginning. We knew what good looked like and as everyone was hearing the same things as I was, we were all on the same page with the same vision for our workplace and it was easier to implement. The team were very open to the changes.

When we joined, we were a team of 6. In the last 10 years we have grown to a team of 28 (including 5 dentists, 2 hygienists, and 1 dental therapist).

How did that growth happen?

My initial aim when I established Happy Smiles was always to grow into a larger practice as I enjoy mentoring new graduates and the professional support that you can get from a multiple clinician practice.

Some of that growth was definitely about being in the right place at the right time, as the district was undersupplied with dentists at the time.

I’ve accumulated a fantastic team of people who are all focussed on similar goals, we enjoy working with each other and doing a good job and I think that this is recognised by our patients.

We have developed a good reputation within Tamworth not only for our clinical work but also for how we as individuals and as a practice contribute to the local community. In the past few years we have won the local Chamber of Commerce award for Community Involvement twice. A lot of the ideas for things that we do are driven independently by my staff. Prime training has empowered them to look for ways to improve things within our practice and this has carried forward to improving things in the wider world. I think this has attracted a number of our new patients.

A key part of it, though, was that we had structure in the workplace, so we were able to make changes and grow and react to the demand in a structured and methodical way.

I was initially a Prime Practice client for 1 year to get the team onboard. I thought I had got out of it all that I wanted, but my plan was to rejoin the Program after we had grown and moved into our new 7 chair practice, which we did in May 2012.

From this point, my focus has been on developing my skills as a leader, as well as making sure the team was cohesive and stayed that way.

I’m very aware that I continually need to work on my leadership skills but I think our whole team is working really well together, focussed on a common goal.

What is the best thing Prime has given you?
Our team really enjoys the team workshops. We can get together without the distraction of patients and spend time working ON the business. We discuss how we do things and how we could do them better. The best thing I got from Prime is definitely a predictable, enjoyable day every day for myself and the team.

What other services of Primes have you used?
I really enjoy my monthly coaching call. I use my coach as a sounding board for ideas. We discuss and set the practice up for future growth and we talk through any issues with things that haven’t been running so smoothly. He points me in the right direction and is good at getting me to find my own solution to the problems I present, which is very empowering. He is a great listener and asks the right questions to point me in the right direction always.

We have also enjoyed using the Mystery Phone Shopper service. It has helped to reinforce the need for the front office team to be at the top of their game all the time. They have learnt the best practice skills to answer the phone and are getting better and better at using them in every situation. Just as the Mystery Phone Shopper callers are assessing us, so are the rest of our prospects and patients. This service really highlights this to us and helps us assess and tweak what we are doing so that every phone call is treated with the value it potentially represents.

Where would be had you not met Prime?
I have no idea what my practice would look like, but I don’t think it would be as easy or as enjoyable to work in. Having the structure, policies and procedures, has made it a lot easier to enjoy work. It’s been much better.

The leadership skills I’m learning have given me confidence to implement change and to try and guide my team in the ways that I want to go. It has also helped me to understand that not everyone thinks the way that I do. Sometimes I need to tailor my approach when dealing with people who view the world differently. I think I’m getting better, but there is still a lot of room for growth.

In summary: Since 2007, we have grown from myself and 1 part time hygienist (a total team of 6, most of whom are still here) to a team of 28 (with 5 dentists, 2 hygienists, 1 therapist and support team). In 2012 we moved into our new building thinking we would never fill it. Come 2014, I realised we were outgrowing our new practice already and unfortunately we have had to turn away multiple new patients each week for the past couple of years. We are getting close to opening our second practice in Tamworth and are initially going to have 12 chairs across the two locations. I’m looking forward to what the next 5 years will bring.

As I talk to colleagues over the last 5 years, it is very clear that not every practice in Australia has had the same fortune.

As a team we must be doing something right…

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