Culture is more important than strategy

Believe it or not, your group dental practice's culture is more important than your strategy. Learn why in this editorial from Jesse Barron, Executive Editor of DSO News.


You may have the best business strategy ever conceived and it will not be properly executed if you do not have good company culture. It is too easy to stay focused on strategy while underplaying the power of culture.

While strategy is more about the “how” and cost, culture is all about psychology, actions and beliefs of your employees. Culture is what happens when the leader leaves the room and how things are done around your company. It is what makes your company. In every single company, without people you have nothing. How those people act is everything.

Related Reading: 5 signs and fixes for toxic culture practice

You will have the best business and culture when it has grown to be bigger and stronger than any individual within the organization. A strong culture continues to gain momentum through inspiring your people to conform to it. It indivisibly links everyone together, no matter what department they’re in. They can even be on the other side of the world and that culture will transfer over to them. If everyone is engaged with the company through its stellar culture, then they will also become engaged in the company’s strategy and it is more likely to be owned by everyone and more closely focused on.

Culture can be your biggest and best weapon. It is the fuel that drives your entire business forward. In every hiring decision I’ve made, I have chosen attitude over skills. You should hire for attitude and train for skills.

Elicia Gibson, who is my business partner and also the Practice Development Editor for DSO News, received her start in dentistry with zero related work history. Instead, she walked into dentist offices and asked the doctor to hire her on the spot and train her as a dental assistant. One finally said ‘yes’, and she started as a phenomenal dental assistant and rose to regional management at the Elite DSO the doctor was affiliated with. She was hired purely on her attitude and not because of her dental skills, which she did not possess at the time of hire. Because of this, she became one of their most valued employees.

Related Reading: What’s your story?

We are in the midst of a shift from product-centricity to people-centricity. You have to make investments in your team and your customers. Dental groups pushing services rather than focusing on the wants of the patient will see their revenues dwindle over time. You must have a strong culture in order to be patient-centric because it requires knowing the patient and catering to their wants.

If there is a service that they need but do not want, then it is your people’s job to reshape it in the patients mind as a want. They should explain how it will benefit their long-term oral health and then demonstrate how accepting treatment now will lower their long-term costs.

It is not impossible to balance being performance driven and values based. Apple is a great example of this. They are an extremely efficient company and the most profitable company in the world. At one point Apple had twice as much cash as the US government. Yet their employees love working for them. Virgin, ran by billionaire daredevil Richard Branson, is another company that has phenomenal culture and enjoys amazing success. In our own industry, we cannot forget about Smile Brands and Pacific Dental Services, both of whom are consistently awarded national culture awards.

Your people must wear their hearts on their sleeves and demonstrate their values openly and honestly.

Culture does not just pop out of thin area. It has to originate somewhere. As the organization’s leader, it is your responsibility to identify a culture for the company. Even more importantly, you must leave and breathe this culture yourself so that it spreads throughout the organization. After you master this, you can work on guiding the rest of the company in the correct direction.

Increasingly discerning customers and the fragmentation of the media have made culture even more important to organizations. Everyone has a mobile phone and can effortlessly leave negative feedback about your company or one of its dental offices across a myriad of social media channels, review sites and blogs.

In the past, if a patient was upset with your dental practice, they would maybe email you, write a letter or give you a call. Now they’re more likely to review your dental practice online, and send a single tweet that may receive thousands of impressions.

Your company’s culture relies on having a clear set of values, strong leadership and a sense of transparency and honesty between your group dental practice and the public. While strategy is certainly important since it is how you identify “step D” and how to get there, it must be accompanied by a strong culture if lasting success is to be won.