Walkin’ Around the Dental Practice

Dental practice manager and team member

Depending on the size of your pediatric dental practice, you may have one or more people in leadership positions. Even if their leadership office is well-deserved, the team might be best served by a leadership style known as Management By Walking Around (MBWA).

The concept is simple. Leadership will gain more effective feedback by walking around the practice to check with team members, patient status, and check equipment, all seemingly at random.

MBWA is credited to the founders of Hewlett Packard, who recognized it as a natural extension of their open-door policy and a good fit for their up-close-and-personal management style.

Whether you’re an administrator, coordinator, or a team lead, it’s hard to keep tabs on the pulse of the practice if you’re closed off behind a door all day. Leaders who are frequently out and about the practice are more aware of the day-to-day happenings.

A regular eye helps with accountability and tells the team that leadership is there to back them up whenever necessary. Small problems can be addressed long before they become big problems.

Sampling the Practice

Sometimes this method is referred to as Management by ‘Wandering’ Around. The emphasis is in unplanned movement. If you always visit or inspect the same people at the same time, you will tend to see the same things.

Unstructured walk-arounds allow the leader to see events with a different context. Everything might look great at 10:00 AM, but what happens after lunch? Think of the Walk-Around as a random sampling – you don’t try the same sample every time.

It’s not just about trying to catch a team member on their cell phone, either. MBWA is a great way to stay visible and interact regularly, connecting with employees and patients alike. Technology has been leading us toward management styles that rely on email, replacing face-to-face contact. I submit that personal interaction still has its place in the dental practice.

Tips for MBWA

If you and your leadership team are ready to take a more hands-on approach to management, following these tips will help ensure your success.

  • Do it every day. “Every day” doesn’t mean it needs to take a long time. Even if it’s only 15-20 minutes, make time for some Walkin’ Around.
  • Randomize it. You get the best value out of MBWA if the time and place of your coming isn’t foreordained. Check with different people in a different order, inspect a different part of the practice, and do it at different times. As I like to say, be consistently inconsistent!
  • Know your operation. Steve Jobs was a big fan of MBWA. He was known for taking the occasional customer service call at Apple during his daily MBWA time. This helped him stay tuned into the customer (patient) experience and understand the responsibilities of his employees better. In dentistry, the folks up front will have a better understanding of what goes on if they communicate with patients regularly.
  • Don’t criticize. As we said earlier, MBWA isn’t about catching people doing things wrong. It’s about understanding the inner workings of the dental practice. It’s OK to give the minor correction here and there. When something comes up that needs criticism, make a note of it address it in a different setting.
  • Be positive. Walkin’ Around time shouldn’t scatter the team members as they tried to avoid the warpath of their lead. Give praise where warranted, recognize good ideas, and follow up with team members who have needs or questions.

Get To Know Your Pediatric Dental Practice

It’s easy to become acclimated to your own environment. That’s why I recommend a few strategies to bolster the effects of your MBWA.

  • Make a video. What do your patients see? Start in the parking lot and work your way through the practice the same way a patient would. For a pediatric practice, you might even consider keeping the camera at a lower height to more resemble what a child will see. Grab a family member and watch the video at home and see what you notice.
  • Use a “secret shopper”. Is your customer service up to snuff? A secret shopper can evaluate the whole process your patients go through, beginning with the first phone call to follow-up care after their appointment.
  • Crosstrain. Training across the practice is a force multiplier. The more tasks your team is capable of doing, the more flexibility you have. Sick days, vacation, or sudden surges in uptime are no sweat for a team with a diverse skill set.

Management By Walking Around is an opportunity for dental practice leaders to be a role model for their team. A leader that observes, listens, and helps is in a position to make better decisions that will lead to a healthy environment in their practice.

~ Dr. Rhea Haugseth