We wrote an article last summer called They’re key to growth, but why do 25% of business managers in dentistry fail?
It’s a difficult question that we still haven’t answered in full, but we’re always working on it. In that vein we spoke to a couple of experts from outside the industry and invited them to comment on what’s happening in the wider market. Here’s what Paul Howarth, founder at Recruitment Tests and Adina Tarry, an HR expert and business psychologist, had to say. (Adina’s latest book is called Coaching with Careers and AI in Mind and she consults for Recruitment Tests.)
Fine Words: Dentists find the transition from sole trader mentality to leading a £1m+ business really painful. It’s partly that they’re technicians learning to be entrepreneurs, and struggling to delegate and take risks, but another problem is the trouble they have recruiting and handling effective business managers. This is essential when running a practice above a certain size. What can they do?
Adina: If you don’t have the people side covered nothing will work as planned. You can have the best furnished dental practice, the best product at the lowest cost, and yet not quite make it. I’m passionate about this message: without the right people you can’t leverage the investment you’re making.
Finding the right people, and developing people, is a specialism. If it were so simple we would all be developed overnight. That’s not how things evolve, that is simply wishful thinking, yet quite common. And I observe this as a client; for example in my local GP surgery I attend as a patient. It has about 20 GPs, between five and 10 specialised nurses and five or six people working in reception in shifts. They have nice modern offices and the technology needed and the practice manager is a good person with capabilities mostly driven by common sense and goodwill, which is not enough. Management is a profession but if you ask managers of SMEs what are the top five activities managers are supposed to do, they would not know, because they do not have specific management skills. They mistake general skills and attributes for management specific capabilities.
Managers in dentistry need upskilling, training and maintenance. They may have 50% of the skills (which are of a general nature) but they don’t realise it’s only half the story. I don’t believe they are operating at the level they need to be. Before working in business psychology and people development, I worked in ‘hard’ business for two decades. This included SMEs and multinationals, the likes of IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb, and the fact is the challenge of management is always the same. People matter most in business and no matter how much money you throw at it, the people factor makes all the difference between success and failure. And I state this not as a psychologist who has worked in labs but as a business practitioner who has delivered complex products to a global market.
So how do you help?
Adina: I work in an advisory capacity, on business practise and people development. I can audit a business from a process perspective but also evaluate the people aspect to check whether a business has the wrong people, or the right people in the wrong jobs. And I use a range of theoretical models, with the knowledge of a practitioner who can tell if and when they work or not in real life. Currently I am writing a book about how to make SMEs better — 70% fail after two years, for reasons that are really easy to avoid, and yet are not avoided. It’s a tragedy that good ideas rarely fly like they should.
Paul: We’re aiming, as associates, to make the soft skills assessment process bespoke because there’s a gap in the market. There are popular trait assessments but they can be like forcing a square peg into a round hole. We’re trying to work with clients to produce more bespoke solutions that are aligned with their business.
Adina: The new trend in psychometrics is a complete reverse of the model that’s been with us for 50 years. Up until now we were assessing people against a norm which represented what the majority of people did or didn’t do. Now we aren’t interested in the norm, we want to assess people against the organisation’s needs. If I want to recruit people that are disruptive and loud, which may not be a desirable norm, they become the norm for that specific recruitment drive in my business. So we help our clients pick individuals with profiles that fit the company and not an abstract statistical model.
Paul: Individual capabilities and traits are granulated down to specifics; for example numeracy and literacy as cognitive aspects of IQ and empathy as part of EQ [emotional intelligence]. Online assessment is the first practical stage in assessing these traits in an individual. The bespoke approach is centred around dialogue with the business owner, and from this we draw out their wish list, what they want their business manager to be and do. Then we create the ideal profile that fits the business.
How else do you help the business owner?
Adina: After we create bespoke interview dialogue questions and trait maps we then follow up six months or a year later to see if the recruit is contributing as expected. Are they coping or do they need support? When you hire someone and you think “Have I made a mistake?” maybe that person simply needs support, which will cost much less than rehiring.