When You’re the Only Woman in the Room

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Being a female dental entrepreneur is not easy.

When I joined ClearChoice Dental Implants as its founding COO in 2007, my husband and I had one daughter in college and another going into her junior year of high school. We moved from San Antonio to Denver and I started a job that had me on the road four days a week and working from home on weekends. 

I had spent a decade in retail bank marketing and then a decade in telecom and media. And, I was often the only woman in the executive board room. I felt I had to be better prepared than anybody else, and I knew there were some colleagues who assumed women made decisions based on emotion instead of data. So I became all about the data. It’s tough to argue with data. 

Responding to a Changing Environment

When the 2008 recession hit, the direct-to-consumer ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers model was just getting started. In order to survive, the team had to get creative.

Those same lessons can be applied today. There is no playbook for a pandemic. It’s all about rapid iteration.

The first step is figuring out what’s happening so you can respond and develop new strategies. 

Here are some lessons we learned early:

  • Create a culture where people know honesty is expected and appreciated
  • Be willing to hear that processes you developed aren’t working as anticipated
  • Realize you can’t make good decisions if you’re emotionally involved
  • Get input from everywhere and look for trends
  • Share the data in a structured, weekly meeting with the executive team with suggestions on what is working and should be kept, and what is not working and should be changed
  • Set measurable goals, such as increasing collections by 10%
  • Document what’s working in a playbook and share with all team members so best practices can be replicated in a systematic way
  • Identify which parts of a process need to be adjusted and share with the changes with the team.  Along with the expectation of when the changes will be implemented and how results will be measured

At ClearChoice, the executive team met every Friday to review the data. And made decisions about what would move the needle the most to achieve our goal of increasing revenue. We weren’t very high tech. I would call patient experience coordinators and say, “We asked that you start trying this on Monday and now it’s Wednesday. Tell me what’s working and what you think could make it work better”. 

I would call doctors every day and ask them to grade my, and my team’s, work as a support organization. If we didn’t get an A, I would ask what we could do to get back up to that. 

Growing to $134 million During a Recession

The rapid iteration model of identifying problems, testing solutions, measuring results, and then documenting the winning strategies or trying again if the first attempt didn’t work provided the foundation for ClearChoice’s rapid growth to 31 locations and $134 million in revenue in just four years. 

When I work with dental entrepreneurs now, I emphasize how leaders need to be very flexible especially in a changing marketplace. It’s all about communication and understanding the full story so you can make decisions that will move your company forward. 

The first question should always be, “What can I do today that will have the biggest impact on reaching our target?” That’s the best way to prioritize. 

When times are tough, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s emotion. Find your data points and let them guide you through what needs to be done today to move you incrementally forward tomorrow. 

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Margaret McGuckin is the co-founder of i3 Ignite, a consulting firm that advises DSOs and entrepreneur dentists as they scale operations to profitable growth. As the founding Chief Operating Officer of ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers, she steered the organization from 1 to 31 locations in 14 states in a four-year period, generating over $134 million annually. She built their playbook and was responsible for ensuring high-quality consistency, performance, and culture across both de novo and acquired practices. Margaret is also an advisor for Patient Prism, an award-winning call-tracking and call-coaching system designed exclusively for dental practices to increase new patient appointments. Previously, Margaret was the VP of New Products and Ventures at Dex Media, leading a division that generated $1.6 billion in revenue.

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