We can do hard things with Claire Dickinson

To kick off 1st quarter of 2024, Claire and I discuss how dental teams can do hard things when they develop routines and have the discipline to act. We talk about the importance of setting goals and developing habits in dental practices. We emphasize the need to break down big goals into smaller tasks and segment goals by quarters. Annual planning is highlighted as a time to set New Year’s resolutions and determine key performance indicators (KPIs) for the practice. If you have been listening to our podcast for a while you know that we deep dive into annual planning in the third quarter every year so mark your calendar for that conversation.

I love how Claire explores the role of discipline in achieving goals and the difference between motivation and discipline. Many offices will offer a bonus or incentives to motivate the team to perform and in our podcast today we talk about how that rarely works. It is important that every office track practice numbers and our favorite way is to use rolling quarters for tracking performance and leveraging technology for efficiency. It is your practice numbers that will tip you off if there needs to be course corrections throughout the year.


  • Segment goals by quarters and break down big goals into smaller tasks.
  • Annual planning is a time to set New Year’s resolutions and determine key performance indicators (KPIs) for the practice.
  • Discipline is essential in achieving goals, and motivation alone is not enough.
  • Use rolling quarters to track performance and tie KPIs to specific systems.
  • Leverage technology to increase efficiency in the practice.

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Dayna (00:03.318)
Hey, welcome everyone to a new episode of the high performing dental team. And, uh, we are kickstarting, uh, first quarter of 2024. Now, I know we kicked off the year last week with my sweetie and dental industry influencer, Kevin Henry. We kicked off the year, but this episode is all about kicking off first quarter. And I have my good friend and dental industry expert.

Claire Dickinson. She is the operations director for Puget Sound Perio in the state of Washington, where we’re both from. So welcome back, Claire. And I love the sweatshirt, you know. You’re welcome for your Christmas gift this year and you’re wearing your Navoi swag, I love it. Oh, good, I’m glad it fit.

Claire (00:42.306)
Thank you.

Claire (00:48.123)
I know. Yes.

Claire (00:53.311)
I do too. Thank you.

Dayna (00:57.086)
Claire and I spent some of the holidays together while I was up in Seattle visiting my daughter and we had a really good Christmas visit, so that was nice. And so over the holiday break, for the last few weeks, I’ve actually been thinking about this topic and kind of how I was going to introduce it. Because I have this sticker on my water bottle and I was showing it to Claire. It says, we can do hard things.

Claire (01:05.43)
Yes, it was.

Dayna (01:26.866)
And because I have been working with a lot of practices for, I mean, many years. And one of the things that I’ve been noticing is, you know, we kind of get a little bit, I mean, I don’t wanna say lazy, but I think we kind of fall into our routine or we just feel like we’re needing more help and we ask our doctors for more help and.

And it just kind of goes on and on. And I’m like, you can do hard things. We just have to put our mind to it. And since we’re kicking off first quarter, it kind of rolls into that idea of New Year’s resolutions. And I just came from the gym and the gym is packed. Everybody’s on that treadmill trying to get fit. And everybody has their fitness resolution or they have their.

they’re trying to save money or they’re trying to lose weight or they’re trying to, you know, whatever their New Year’s resolution is. And so I kind of think of, you know, how can a dental practice get into these really good routines and set some habits? And how do they stick to it so that we feel like we’re accomplished, that we’re

that we’re doing those hard things that we know we can do and not fall back into that frame of mind, like, oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow, or I’ll do it my way, you know, instead of the right way. I know that was kind of a long-winded intro, but kick us off, Claire, because I know you have some ideas about this.

Claire (03:02.056)

Claire (03:11.262)
Well, I do. When it comes to dental practice, I would say, I like to segment goals by quarters. I don’t believe in, we have this huge task list of things that we’re going to change in the upcoming year and we have to get it all done because inevitably we will lose cadence because there’s just too much. And so if you can segment,

what you want to do per quarter to get you to the bigger outcome of what you’re trying to achieve, usually that’s more productive and you’ll actually make it. A good friend of mine used to always say to me, Claire, how do you eat an elephant? I’m like, I don’t know. And he’s like one bite at a time. And I was like, duh, right? I mean, it makes sense.

Dayna (04:01.178)
You know, I’ve heard that saying over and over again, just one bite at a time.

Claire (04:03.262)
Yeah. So when it’s one bite at a time. So when it seems super big, right? Yeah, it may be really big. Okay, but how do we break it down? And then we can break it down. And then we set a schedule. And then we tackle it as a schedule goes, but we future pace our schedule. So it’s there. And then we can keep track and we can keep cadence. And then by the end of the year, let’s say we’ve eaten the whole elephant, and we’ve tackled our goal, right?

That’s why we do annual planning. And that’s why we look at it every single month, every single quarter, are we on track? What do we need to do to either correct where we’re short or okay, we’re over, so how can we change the schedule on the latter end of the year to be able to have more off time because now we’re above goal? So you have to, it’s not something that you can just make a resolution today.

and say, okay, I’m just gonna do this. You actually have to put a plan into place. That’s really.

Dayna (05:04.718)
Yes, I agree. I agree with all that. And I just wanna, I wanna go back to what you were saying about annual planning because you and I always kick off, I think it’s third quarter, annual planning. Okay, so you and I usually kick off third quarter with annual planning, cause that’s about the time when patients are starting to schedule their six month appointments into January. And so do you think that,

Claire (05:19.522)
Yes, yep.

Dayna (05:34.534)
that annual planning session, that’s where they create like the big picture goal. And then, and then they start to break it down into smaller pieces, those smaller bite-sized pieces throughout the quarter. Is that kind of what you’re talking about?

Claire (05:40.494)
I would recommend that. Yeah.

Claire (05:49.898)
Yeah, absolutely. You know, because when you do your annual plan, it’s much more than, and we haven’t discussed this when we’ve talked about annual plan. But when you really get into an annual planning session, you do talk about stuff like what’s your capital expenditures for the next year, right? And in what quarters do you do them in? And what needs to happen in order to make that happen? And when are we gonna do our CE or our full team training? So then you can gauge and you can future pace like

the financial impact of being able to support all these projects. And so yes, at the annual planning is absolutely the time to do your New Year’s resolutions for the next year, so to speak.

Dayna (06:24.094)

Dayna (06:31.69)
Yeah. So I know you and I, you know, we work with different dental teams, you know, being with a, working with a regional size DSO that you work with, you know, you have several practices that you work with. I work with hundreds of teams throughout the year. We have different personalities in our, in our practices and we have different work ethics in our practices and the sun is coming in and I’m gonna have to turn that off.

Um, and, and so one second.

Claire (07:06.89)
I wish I had that problem in Washington, Dana.

Dayna (07:10.01)
Yeah. There we go. Oh, that’s much better. Okay, so you and I both work with different size practices, being up in the, working with different practices. You have a regional size DSO, so you have lots of employees that you are working with, with different personality styles, different work ethic. How have you been able to?

Um, help the team develop their own set of habitual, uh, systems, you know, so that they know what is, what their task load is, how do they manage it? Um, you know, is there, do you have any like ideas or, um, you know, we were talking about habits kind of before we came on and I’m just trying to word it the right way, but I think you kind of know what I’m trying to get.

Claire (08:03.713)

Dayna (08:07.89)
Get out.

Claire (08:07.946)
You know, Dina, I’ll be honest with you. That’s probably, I would say, the biggest topic for discussion all the time on the leadership team, right? Is, I mean, we know what to do and how to do it, but everybody has their own capacity level. Everybody has their own understanding of what the job is and the knowledge gap and, you know, and being a large, large practice practices as we are.

Dayna (08:19.419)

Claire (08:36.61)
We’re a teaching facility too. So we take in people who are just out of school, right? And so it’s, you know, I wish I had that magic key to say, this is how we build these habits and this is what we do. But the only thing that I’ve seen that’s worked thus far for me is constant checkpoints. And it’s different per team member, per department, depending on what’s happening, you know, with the practices. You know,

Some teams need a lot more consistent touch points. And, okay, where are we working at? And this is what I need you to report to me on. And others don’t. I mean, it’s very organic and it really depends on, you know, you look at the organization as a whole and are these key elements functioning the way that they’re supposed to and if they’re not, and then how do people show up?

You know, it’s probably the biggest part of my job. I mean, it’s daily that it’s, I have to be very, very flexible and I have to constantly have high, like super high sensory acuity. Even if I’m not there, I need to know what’s going on all the time. And so it’s like paying attention to the communication that’s happening. And so I wish I could answer your question with something really simple, but I can’t. It’s, I will say though that,

Dayna (09:40.92)

Dayna (10:01.896)

Claire (10:05.098)
The things that I look for in team members that, you know, when you do talent acquisition, I look for people who communicate in a way that exhibits that they have discipline, because really this is what it comes down to. It doesn’t mean that you have to have 50,000 goals and it makes you like a super high achiever and like, you know, task management and goal. You know, I check the box, but more so that you can exhibit that you have discipline and that you’re, you know,

Dayna (10:29.917)

Claire (10:33.67)
if you can show that you can do that every single day and that you’re committed to what you commit to, really that’s what I look for, right? And if you may not know the job, but I can teach you the job, right? So it’s really, some people just don’t have the same discipline as other people. And it’s, you know, that’s really what it is. And you know, how do you assess that? You know, I talk to them,

Dayna (10:44.351)
I agree with that. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

Claire (11:01.438)
or they talk to me and I ask questions that are probing, like, you know, tell me what you do in your personal life and, and tell me how you manage this. And I look for key things like, you know, I put systems in place to make sure I was, you know, whatever. Right. But yeah, it’s, that’s really what it is. It’s the discipline part.

Dayna (11:07.474)

Dayna (11:21.278)
Yeah, I agree with that 100% especially when we think about starting a new system. Like let’s say you want to get up and go to the gym every morning before your day starts. You have to have the discipline to set your alarm and get up on time and put your shoes on and get out the door. You know, so it does. Discipline is huge. And then once you

Claire (11:45.762)
this yeah.

Dayna (11:50.242)
Once you do that for, I don’t know what it is, how many times do you have to repeat something before it becomes a habit? What is that? I know, I know. I think there’s a book like the seven habits of highly effective people or something like that, that book, you know, how to, or atomic habits, you know, how do you build something into a habitual routine is you have to do it over and over and over again, or have a trigger, you know, what’s your trigger?

Claire (11:56.787)
I think it’s different for everybody.

Claire (12:13.182)
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Dayna (12:20.13)
that is going to make you keep this habit. You know, so if you are going to remember to take a supplement every single night before you go to bed, put it right next to your toothbrush because you know you’re gonna brush your teeth every day. And so those kinds of things I know can help for some people to build those habits. But I love what you said about discipline because that could definitely be a, like a core value that you really look for when you are.

um, hiring and hiring people.

Claire (12:53.238)
I do want to point out that motivation is completely different than discipline. And so people say, well, you know, I just need to be motivated or I need motivation too. No, it’s about discipline. It’s like you as a person are disciplined to embrace the suck to make something happen. Because you’re not going to be motivated every day. I’m not motivated every day. I can tell you sometimes I’m driving into the offices and I’m like, if I ever step foot

Dayna (12:57.038)
Oh, agree. 100% agree.

Dayna (13:12.391)

Claire (13:23.062)
I’m probably gonna cry, right? But it’s about the discipline of knowing the why behind what I’m doing and the impact that I have with the people that I work with, the opportunities I have to be able to make people’s lives different, our patients, et cetera. So it’s not motivation, it’s the discipline to have that drive. So.

Dayna (13:44.534)
Yeah, I agree. I had a conversation with a doctor, I don’t know, just a couple of days ago. And we were talking about, um, about bonuses, you know, because she’s trying to increase her, her case acceptance. And she’s like, well, she’s going to bonus her one team member on case acceptance. And, you know, I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t know.

Claire (13:55.111)
But no.

Claire (14:07.894)
I don’t believe in that. I know that’s contrary to popular belief, but I don’t believe in that. Yeah.

Dayna (14:13.186)
Yeah. I mean, she’s going to try it and see what happens. That might be good motivation for that team member, but you know, I’m not a big fan of, of bonusing one person in the office for one particular, uh, analytic or one metric, I’m not, I’m not a big fan of that. We’ll see how it comes, comes about, but, um, you know, sometimes that can create motivation, but you’re right. If they don’t have the discipline to.

Claire (14:29.218)

Dayna (14:40.174)
run the report and work the report and have all of that drive to do the tasks and the hard work that it takes to get there, then they’re just going to get frustrated because they don’t reach the goal.

Claire (14:54.606)
Sure. Yeah. I would be curious to see if like in the job descriptions, it clearly states what the ratio of case acceptance is, right? Because that will create some discipline in your day-to-day operations. It’s like, oh, if I got to be at 85% conversion ratio, what does that look like? Okay. Well, let me help you formulate a plan. Take away the part that, the motivating part.

Dayna (15:06.737)

Claire (15:23.734)
You know, oftentimes we think that…

you know, going into the motivation part to get people to do things is the key. It’s not it’s whether or not they have the disposition to be highly disciplined. But what we don’t talk about is what their motive if we okay, so let’s say we go there about motivation. What is it they’re motivated by? Is it the carrot or the stick? So this person we could be saying, Okay, well, I’m going to motivate this person with a bonus. That may not be what motivates them. It may be the fear of their losing their job, right? So

Dayna (15:47.838)

Dayna (15:53.936)
It’s true.

Claire (15:57.258)
Again, it’s about discipline, it’s not about motivation.

Dayna (16:01.074)
Mm-hmm. Agreed. So let’s go back to what you were saying about, you know, eating the elephant one bite at a time, and kind of drilling our goals down into a quarterly routine. Now, are you, because when I was in a practice, we used to do rolling quarters. Like, we would do.

a three month trend, a three month average. Like these are where our numbers need to be on a three month average. And every team member had to bring their numbers that they were kind of accountable for to the team meeting. And we would always do a three month rolling average. So it would be, we would drop the previous month and then it would be the three previous months and we would drop the fourth month. And then the next month we would drop, keep dropping. So.

Claire (16:43.607)

Dayna (16:56.838)
We were always on a three month average when we looked at numbers. And then, you know, each number, we know that each practice KPI, the key performance indicators, are tied to some kind of system. You know, if you’re looking at patient retention, you’re looking at your continuing care system. If you’re looking at your accounts receivable, then you’re looking at your, you know, insurance and your patient receivables. You know, so there,

Claire (17:00.419)

Claire (17:11.222)

Dayna (17:26.826)
All the numbers are tied to a specific system and we need to get our team members then that what’s their system and how do we help create, help them create their own, their own protocol or their routine or their habits. You know, how do we help them build things into their habits?

Claire (17:29.527)
Yes. Yeah.

Claire (17:45.686)
Yeah. Well, the practice as a whole needs to decide what their KPIs are because, you know, I could tell you all the important KPIs that I think you need to have, but it doesn’t mean that’s appropriate for your practice. And, you know, so at your annual plan, you need to determine what are the most important KPIs. You did a three month ruling average. I tend to watch it on a monthly basis.

The reason why I do is because I feel like I have greater control to do course correction versus waiting in time. So I tend to be a little bit more narrow in my view. And the things that we look at, we don’t look at pre-appointment ratio. Surprising, we’re a periopractice, we should, we don’t. Because of our practice philosophy and how we choose to do business.

Dayna (18:24.211)

Dayna (18:36.746)

Claire (18:45.354)
Hygiene, believe it or not, is not a huge revenue generator for us. That said, we do look at case conversion. It is super important for us that if we diagnose, we got to get them on the books. We look at our AR ratio compared to what we produce. How much are we collecting? Are we cycling money? So going back to your question, yeah, at your annual planning,

Dayna (18:56.437)
And that’s for sure.

Dayna (19:02.589)


Claire (19:13.714)
specific to your practice and specific to your growth goals is where we determine, okay, so what are the things that we’re going to monitor? Who’s going to be responsible for it? Who’s going to be the, let’s say the project champion of that particular thing? And then what are the touch points in reporting back? Like how do we need to report that back? Whether you use an analytics company or you build your own software, you know, with Excel where, you know, you’re doing it a monthly or three months, you know, rolling.

Um, you know, that’s it’s everybody on the team has to have a role in making that happen. If they don’t, then that person is going to listen, but they’re not going to be engaged. Right. So.

Dayna (19:55.61)
Yeah, yeah, agreed. Yeah. And you know, earlier you also said that, um, you have all these touch points where, you know, you have a pretty big team. And, uh, so for, for you listening, if you have a big team where you have multiple people that are, you know, engaged in a day to day, day to day operations. And, and you said that you need to know what’s going on because you’re the operations director. But do you have then like lead team leads where?

you have like the leader of the admin team and the leader of the clinical team, where then they, they kind of oversee what’s going on in that department and then they report to you or, or how do you know?

Claire (20:36.578)
No, we don’t. No, you know, I’m a firm believer in self-managed teams. I don’t think we need a, we don’t, personal belief, take it for what it is. If we are really good at hiring people who show discipline and can I swear on your podcast, that have that what we call a give a shit mentality.

Dayna (20:43.217)

Dayna (20:57.367)
I don’t care.

Dayna (21:03.827)

Claire (21:04.898)
They don’t need to be managed and micromanaged. And so everyone knows their role really well, and everyone knows their department really well. And we do segment out my location and we have our departments. Okay, so, and I meet with them. It depends on what’s going on in the practices, but typically I have a monthly standing meeting with my business team members, and then I do with my hygiene team, and then I do with my executive team, and my doctors, and the assisting teams.

And then the only area where we have, let’s say leads or managers, we don’t call them that. We call them captains. And that would be in our supplies and our facilities. Because unfortunately, as self-managed as we can be, when it comes to facilities maintenance, and when it comes to supplies, it’s one of those things that we kept running into challenges where somebody was like, I don’t know.

Dayna (22:02.782)

Claire (22:02.786)
Did you order it? I didn’t order it. And, you know, it was like, Oh my gosh, we have no suture. How do we not have suture? Or Oh my gosh, our, our periolase isn’t working. What do you mean it’s not working? And we have to travel one from one location to another. And so we found that it was instead of making a manager or a lead, we made captain. So that particular person that is one of their primary responsibilities is to make sure that specific need for that practice location is satisfied.

Dayna (22:09.003)
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Dayna (22:23.858)

Dayna (22:32.229)

Claire (22:32.714)
That’s how we do it. Everyone is different though. Some people like there’s, you know, stuff like that. So

Dayna (22:35.793)
Oh yeah.

Yeah, well, everybody likes to hear what other practices you’re doing. And, you know, I do hear a lot more about team leads, you know, where they have a, uh, a team leader for the hygiene department or a team leader for the dental assistant. So I am hearing that a lot more. Um, you know, it, and, and like you said, every practice is unique and it could work in some practices and not others, you know, and, you know, like

Claire (22:41.514)

Claire (23:02.23)
Yes. Yeah.

Dayna (23:05.23)
If you’re a smaller practice, you know, I have a practice, like we were talking about just earlier, I have a three chair practice up in the state of Washington, you know, just barely over a thousand active patients, you know, and so everybody there is very independent. And, you know, they, you know, we have one admin person and one dental assistant and two hygienists, and you know, and so it’s a smaller practice. Everybody is, needs to be accountable for.

you know, their role and, um, and so, you know, looking at numbers is, is a really big part of it and everybody contributes. Everybody contributes to what, what that, what that practice does. So, yeah.

Claire (23:48.054)
Yeah, I would say on a larger scale is it is much more challenging to get everybody intimately engaged in what the numbers mean. That is one of the bigger challenges when you get bigger, right? It’s how do you, when you’re smaller, like in the practice you’re talking about in Seattle, I mean, that’s an amazing practice in my mind.

Dayna (24:08.498)
I’m here. That’s true.

Dayna (24:15.995)

Claire (24:18.186)
You don’t have people in specific roles. You have project champions that are responsible for specificity of roles, but they all have to work together so intimately. And they have to, like, it is very like to the minute, to the day, like this is what’s happening, which that is a nice thing about smaller practices.

Dayna (24:26.83)

Dayna (24:35.814)
Yeah, I do see that in bigger practices, when they have more team members, they feel like they need more help. And I, and they, and that’s where we really need to hone in on the, the systems and processes and really nail them down good because, you know, that just kind of gets back to what we were talking about in the very beginning is, you know, you can do this, you know, you don’t need another body in the, in your practice to do, to do these hard things, you know, it’s just

Claire (25:04.482)

Dayna (25:05.446)
getting those systems and those habits and having the discipline to do it.

Claire (25:09.366)
Yeah, for sure. And, you know, take advantage of your technology stack. There’s so much out there now that, you know, you and I have been in dentistry for 100 years, right? And so our flip chart schedules that we had to now, like, if anything, we, you know, not to create scarcity for anybody or uncertainty, but if anything, we need less people other than our technical experts, which are our clinical providers.

Dayna (25:13.892)
Oh yeah.

Dayna (25:20.208)
I know. Between the two of us, it’s been great.

Claire (25:39.106)
we have so much in place to make ourselves more efficient. So instead of just, you know, get your systems in place and making sure that you understand your role very, very well, and that, you know, you have the discipline to make sure that you’re working the system the way you need to be working, and then taking advantage of all the opportunities that we have out there to make our lives so much more efficient. It just gives us more opportunity to serve, so.

Dayna (25:42.096)
I know.

Dayna (26:02.683)

I know, I know. I tell my offices every day. And so I am so jealous of the technology, the automation, the streamlining systems that you have available to you now. I am so jealous. I wish I had those when I was in a practice. Oh my God. Yeah. All right. All right, Claire. Thank you so much. Any last words for us today?

Claire (26:18.882)
Right? Yeah, yeah. Me too.

Claire (26:32.844)
Now 2024 is going to be great. I do know that. I feel it in my heart.

Dayna (26:37.766)
Yeah. It’s going to be fantastic. I am super excited. And I think a lot of people are excited about 2024. And I think it’s going to be fantastic. And this was a… Yeah.

Claire (26:49.838)
I would say one thing, sorry to interrupt you, but when you’re developing these goals and these things that you want to tackle in the year, whatever you call it, New Year’s resolution or whatever, when you start to waver from your why or you’re not understanding the discipline behind it or is this even working, it is entirely appropriate and okay to stop yourself and say, yeah, as a team, is this working?

is what we projected the right place to go. And if it’s not working, what needs to happen to change that? Or should we do a course correction or no, we’re just in that lull. Like we haven’t reaped the benefits of it yet, but we’re so close. Like just keep going. Don’t set it and forget it. Come back to it.

Dayna (27:19.643)

Dayna (27:29.575)

Dayna (27:36.706)
Yeah. Yeah, agreed. And I, and I like what you said that bring it up in a team meeting because it really needs to be a discussion that everybody’s involved.

Claire (27:47.542)
Yep, exactly. Yeah. Okay.

Dayna (27:50.351)
All right. All right, my friend, I will add your contact info to our show notes for today. And it’s always great to kick off the quarter with you. It’s always good to see you. And thank you so much. I will see you soon. Maybe on a hike in the springtime up there in Washington state. And then we will kick off second quarter in our next conversation. All right. Thanks, Claire.

Claire (28:02.434)
Yeah, I agree. Thank you.

Claire (28:15.799)
Have a good day.

Dayna (28:19.994)
All right, everyone, I hope that you enjoyed this episode. And if you could do me a huge favor and rate, review, share our podcast with your study clubs, with your friends, if you have in an ADOM study club, okay, share our podcast because that is how we reach more people. That is how we create more high-performing dental teams every day. So I hope you all have a great rest of your day.

I look forward to watching your journey of becoming a Dentrix Super User.

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