Three steps to successfully align your team for reopening

reopening dental practices

Mark Topley explains his formula for practice principals to consider when discussing reopening their practice with the dental team.

Are you starting to think about getting your team back together? It may be a few weeks away, but the way that you set your team up to return to work will be a crucial element in the rebuilding process. Under normal circumstances, re-forming your team after a long break would be a challenge in itself. But with undoubted changes coming to the way that we work, the potential for longer days, frustrations and fears about PPE, the post-lockdown return will be a complex issue. It will demand the very best of your leadership skills.

If you’ve ever tried to introduce new ideas or make changes in your business, you’ll know it’s difficult. Getting people to understand the change, buy into it and follow through are all points at which even the best plan can fail. However, there are some things you can do to ensure that you create the best chance of success, and this post will set out a simple formula I was introduced to by my former business coach, Kevin Stansfield.

I often hear people say that ‘no-one likes change’. But I don’t believe that’s true. We do welcome some changes. Like the birth of a baby, moving to a new house or taking up a promotion. There are some that aren’t, like bereavement, loss of a job or loss of health.

In my experience, change is unpopular in business teams for three reasons:

  1. When teams don’t see a good enough reason why the change is necessary
  2. They don’t feel they have any choice or control
  3. They can’t clearly see a good outcome for them.

And so to the formula. Here it is: (D x V) + F > R

R – resistance

Your team will resist change for the three reasons above. There may be others, but I find that these are the most common.

If we are going to overcome resistance, then we have to make sure that the other parts of the formula are greater than the resistance.

D – dissatisfaction

We start by setting out the problem. It is critical to get clear with your team about why the current situation requires change. You should to be clear about the position the business is in, and the challenges you all face.

Share some of the factors that underpin the reason that change is necessary. Explain the impact that doing nothing would have on them, on patients and on the business.

Make sure you are transparent, honest and real. Otherwise you may not create enough momentum to engage people to action. You aren’t aiming to scare people, but you do need to be straight.

The reason this is important is that the amount of energy that a team typically summons to overcome a problem will be proportionate to the size of the challenge there is to overcome. If they don’t get why the change is necessary, they may not rally enough to embrace change.

V – vision

There are many reasons to be confident about the future. After setting out where you are at present, paint a picture in words for your team of what you see in 12 months time. What do you hope for, what are you committed to achieving, what will it be like, how will you all have overcome the challenges together?

The clearer you can make this the better. Ensure that your vision includes a clear outline of what success will mean for the team.

For example, if you achieve this together, they will continue to be able to provide for their families, care for their patients, continue their career development etc. If you can do this, you will engage their support.


At some point, some of your team may raise objections or concerns. You should expect this push back. Any good conversation should include a clear validation of what they are sharing. You don’t have to accept what they’re saying or agree with it, but you do need to show that you understand that this might be tough for them. ‘This must be hard for you’. ‘I know this is going to be difficult for you.’

My good friend Barry Oulton (The Confident Dentist) taught me a great way to communicate in these situations: ‘I know this is hard, I understand that it will impact you, and because I am committed to looking after our team, our patients, and our future, we need to make these changes.’

What most people do in this situation is they substitute ‘and’ for ‘but’. And as Barry explained, ‘but’ causes people to switch off. If you want people to know that you’ve heard them and that you’re committing to their good, keep your ‘but’ out of their face!

Finally, don’t make yourself the victim: ‘Well if you think this is tough for you, you have no idea how much pressure I’m under…’ Avoid emoting.

F – first steps

If you have started with dissatisfaction and moved on to vision, your team will understand why things need to change. They will have a good view of the future, and they will feel heard.

At this point, your team need actionable steps. What will this mean for them in practice? What are the actual changes? Too often, leaders start with the F part of the formula without setting out why the change is necessary, and what the future on the other side of change will look like. They need to know what it means.

We’ve seen this week just how confusing it can be when the message of what we can, can’t, should and shouldn’t do are unclear. Don’t fall into that trap. Boil down the changes into three bullet points. You can bundle changes into headings if there’s too much to communicate. Create a memorable, repeatable, clear set of bullets that people can act upon or get behind.

A final point

Leaders lead. And that means you have to be in the front, moving forward. It means that if you are asking your team to make changes, they must see that you are leading the way, setting the example, sharing the pain of change and the pleasure of success. None of the above will work unless you have skin in the game. You must show that you are making sacrifices that are at least equal to those you are expecting of your team. That doesn’t mean you lead with that message, but you do need to show that you are with your people.

Now that you know the formula, you’re ready to start planning your change management process for your team, and taking the first successful step towards the future.

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