The empowered principal – perception and identity

Neil Sikka encourages you to explore your patients’ perception of your practice, versus the identity you want to portray.

In previous articles we have covered:

  • Intention – what will you and your practice be remembered for
  • Purpose – discovering the best ways to create and retain loyal patients
  • Freedom – enjoying your life as a principal by being true to your intention.

In this article, we will explore identity and perception. What you and your practice represent and what your patients actually think about your service.


Perception is something that can change in the blink of an eye. We will often change our perception of someone or a service based on small pieces of information available to us. Let me give you an example using the following statements:

Sajid Javid, the Business Minister, worked as an investment banker for many years before becoming an MP and rising inexorably through the Tory ranks. He is tipped to be the first Asian Prime Minister.

Sajid Javid is one of five sons of a first-generation immigrant who came to England and found work as a bus driver. He attended the local comprehensive school and through his hard work and diligence gained the qualifications to study at Exeter University. His background has not stood against him as he has risen through the ranks of the Conservative party to be appointed Secretary of State for Business.

Sajid Javid was recently quoted in The Times as saying: ‘I said to my wife, “darling in your wildest dreams would you ever have thought I would have achieved so much?” She replied, “darling in my wildest dreams I’m afraid you never appear!”’

With all three statements our perception of him changes from one of a spoiled investment banker to a self-deprecating, driven, successful individual who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

If a few words can influence us so much, surely the same must apply to our patients’ perceptions of our service? Because they only visit our practices a couple of times a year, they notice the little things we miss.

  • Are they welcomed by name on arrival?
  • Are they escorted to the surgery by the clinician?
  • Are the flowers in reception looking fresh?
  • Did they notice the stain in the ceiling again?
  • Did the dentist take the time to fully explain the costs on the treatment plan?

It takes a little effort to change an average experience into one that is remembered as special. Unfortunately, the converse is true if we don’t pay attention to the small details.


Our identity is what sets us apart from other practices. It can be defined as ‘who we are’. I prefer to describe our identity as ‘who we are at our very best’. If we try to imagine words to describe us at our very best, what would they be?

If we can find the words that define our identity, they will drive the conversations that determine the future path of our teams and our practices. By remaining true to our identity, we can truly influence the perceptions of our patients in a positive way.

Try this exercise. Choose three words that define the identity of you and your practice. Write them down and share them with your team. For the next month, think of those words whenever you interact with your patients and staff. Do all you can to remain true to them. You might be very surprised at the results.

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