The rate of change has increased in recent times. Most practices cannot afford to sit still for more than a brief time without running the risk of change passing by – or being overtaken by competitors.
A common feature in highly successful practices is the ability to change the way they operate and care for their patients. This ability is a vital element in meeting the ever changing demands of a dynamic market.
It is important to know how to bring about change and how to make it easier for your practice to embrace. Here are a few suggestions…
Get Close to Where Change Happens
Look at your competitors and the industry at large. Who is driving change in your practice environment and where are they going? Listen to their views and understand the implications. Connect to information sources and use them frequently. We live in the information age, so there is no excuse for not knowing. Use discussion forums, social media sites like Facebook (mivision has an excellent page), and subscription newsletters. Listen to your staff and patients – ask them what they want and think. They will happily tell you if you ask. It’s in their interests as much as it is yours.
When someone does innovate and make any sort of change, get behind them and recognise their effort
Reward Ideas that Challenge
Deal with the custodians of the status quo and those who protect your practice from the truth. Not everyone is fond of change. Passive resistors, the guardians of tradition and the keepers of knowledge can find change difficult or deny the need. There are also those who have an interest in having you believe that ‘all is well’. To get around them, create a path of communication that rewards ideas that challenge.
Create Open Discussion
It is also possible to create an environment that makes others reluctant to tell you the absolute truth. Demonstrate openness for discussion and encourage different perspectives. When was the last time someone told you about a problem or even better, an opportunity?
At a recent education event I recommended a major change to the way optometrists hand over patients to dispensers. For the most part this suggestion was greeted by the practices in attendance with polite scepticism about its practicality. One practice had a different view and left at the end of the day to implement the change almost immediately with highly positive outcomes. You will not be surprised to learn that this is one of the best practices around.
Fund and Reward Innovation
All business activity requires resources – and improving your practice is no different. Time and probably money will be needed. If you are not prepared to invest a bit then don’t start. When someone does innovate and make any sort of change, get behind them and recognise their effort. This does not have to be financial. People’s needs are many and varied so think carefully and personalise rewards.
Risk is Part of Normal Business
In finance the principle of ‘increased return = increased risk’ is always true. The reverse is also generally true. All changes to your practice involve some element of risk. A practice brochure costs money and this will need to be paid back. A lens price increase may place patient loyalty at risk. Do everything you can to assess the risk. If you think a decision carries too much risk look for more information.
Essential Elements for Change
These essential elements will allow you to be a successful innovator and change agent:
1. A management system that allows your practice to identify improvements and make them without undue restriction. Structure, meetings, policies, organisation and systems are all part of a competent system.
2. A documented plan of improvements and priorities. You probably won’t refer to this all the time but as General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “I have found that in battle, plans are useless, however planning is indispensable…”
3. An environment that is the best it can be, one that provides staff with the tools, knowledge and inspiration to be the best. Slow computers, dodgy hand tools, no time to discuss products and dysfunctional practice relationships will all hold you back.
4. A culture of achievement, implementation feedback and reward. Changing culture is one of the great challenges in any business, but you need to know that culture comes from the top, so the boss might have to change first. If you settle for the status quo or allow others to do the same, innovation will be low on the agenda. Get influential people involved, set time frames and follow them up, tell staff when they have been good or bad.
5. Acceptance and acknowledgement of informed risk taking is an innovative approach in itself for some practices. How would you feel about acknowledging a well intentioned stuff-up? If you punish an innovator when they fail will they take the same risk again? Not likely. Remember our risk/return principle. You want ‘informed’ risk taking.
6. To identify how everything can be improved, not to question whether anything needs improvement. You can be sure there is someone out there trying to do what you’re doing – only better. So if you sit there without changing your service offering, you can be sure that one day, they will get your patients. It’s that simple. The rate of change in our industry has escalated and ideally, your practice needs to be ahead of the game.
Do not allow complacency, inactivity; nostalgia and denial make your practice ordinary and vulnerable. Take the opportunity today to make something innovative happen to your practice and the way you do business – something that will excite your patients, your staff and yourself.