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When Does Empowerment Become Entitlement?

Do you sometimes feel that some of your employees exhibit a sense of entitlement? Have you questioned whether it’s you or them? Did you do something to cause it, or are they just inherently that way? Or do you just chalk it up to the nature of the current generation? All of these generalizations might be missing the point – I’d like to posit that it might be your fault!

Let’s start with a simple analogy. Imagine a sausage factory with two kinds of jobs – sausage-stuffing jobs and sausage-counting jobs. Sausage stuffers come to work every day and are told to stuff sausages working on this machine or the other for eight hours. They take breaks when they are allowed to and stop for lunch during their lunch hour. At the end of the day, they go home and don’t think about stuffing sausages. When they take their allotted vacation time, they expect that somebody else would’ve stuffed those sausages when they were gone. They really don’t care who was stuffing them. It isn’t their job. They expect to come back and stuff new sausages for the new week.In contrast, sausage counters have to count the sausages, make sure they are making enough to meet the demand, ensure that the stuffers are stuffing enough sausage to meet the specifications (but not too much to drive down the margins), and the like. Sometimes they have no time for lunch, and sometimes they have plenty of time to discuss the previous night’s ballgame. When they go home at night, they take their job home with them, worrying whether they had ordered enough casings for next week’s sausages, whether they have too much capacity for the slowing demand and what they should do about it, etc. When sausage counters return from a vacation, all of their sausages are piled on the floor to be counted. Nobody counted them when they were gone. They have to count the previous week’s sausages and the current week’s sausages. I suspect you get the point.

Most companies have both sausage-stuffing jobs and sausage-counting jobs. However, identifying which is which might not be as simple as it may appear. A common misconception is to equate this distinction with workers and management. For example, a software developer, who is considered a worker-bee at a digital design shop, might still take her work home and be brooding over a menacing software bug all night long. Conversely, a shift supervisor at a construction site might leave his work at the construction site when he goes home. Additionally, two individuals with the same job description might treat their job differently: one as a sausage stuffer and the other as a sausage counter.What does sausage stuffing and counting have to do with entitlement? A lot. Sausage stuffers are committed to doing a very good job of stuffing sausages. They don’t want more responsibility. Sausage stuffers expect that for a job well done, they will receive their negotiated slate of compensation, including their pay, benefit plans, vacation and sick time, etc. If they are due five sick days in a year, and by the end of the year they have not utilized all five, a sausage stuffer is likely to find a way to use the remaining sick days they’re entitled to. After all, they do a good job for the employer and they expect to receive the entire slate of compensation they were promised. You might view that as entitlement, but the sausage stuffer views it as their implicit contract.

Sausage counters view their jobs differently. They’re committed to the success of the business and are willing to do whatever it takes, whenever it needs to be done. They look for increased opportunities to contribute and view their compensation beyond that of monetary and benefit plans. For them, part of the compensation is the challenge in the job, growth of themselves and their career, and the freedom to operate independently rather than be supervised. Sausage counters value the freedom of independence and associated empowerment. They also recognize that with it comes an obligation: the success of the company.To illustrate this, imagine one of the machines in the sausage stuffing plant is leaking sausages. The conscientious sausage stuffer working at that machine might yell out to his supervisor, “Hey, Counting Boss, this machine is leaking sausage grind. You need to do something about this.” After simply reporting his observation, the sausage stuffer feels that he has completely discharged his responsibility. In contrast, the Counting Boss is up all night thinking about whether the machine can be fixed, or if she needs to buy a new machine, how much the new machine would cost, whether there is room in the company’s capital budget for the new machine, and so on. Does the sausage stuffer want to deal with the headache? Absolutely not. Does the sausage counter like the challenge and independence of being able to make that decision? Absolutely.The ownership of the company might want to empower and provide greater autonomy to their sausage counters in terms of how they manage their time, when they take breaks and if they can go to their child’s afternoon soccer game. But, afraid to label people as either sausage stuffers or sausage counters, they might provide that autonomy to their entire staff. Lo and behold: for the sausage stuffer, this is now part of the overall slate of compensation – their ability to manage their own time. A few months later, ownership looks at the behavior of their sausage stuffers and complains that they seem to feel entitled. Of course they are entitled: the owners enabled them.

So how do you solve this distinction? In the old days, manufacturing companies had a clear demarcation – hourly employees and salaried employees. In fact, the U.S. government then defined the concept of non-exempt and exempt employees (other governments have similar concepts). This worked well as long as we had sausage factories where the stuffing jobs were distinctly different from the counting jobs. But with the decrease in manufacturing companies and the increase in automation, most of the employees in your companies are now either service workers or knowledge workers. In other words, they are either serving a customer or using their thinking to create value. Both types of jobs appear to be sausage counting jobs. But are they really? Even if they are, do the individuals behave as sausage counters?

Interestingly, most new-economy companies have taken the position that all jobs are sausage-counting jobs and expect their employees to operate with the associated level of autonomy and obligation.

Now look at it from the employee’s point of view. If you gave them a choice, what do you think they would want to be? Of course, you would have to explain the limited responsibility and authority that comes being a sausage stuffer and the broader privileges and obligations that are associated with a sausage counter. What would likely happen is that everybody would want the privileges of a sausage counter, yet not everybody would sign up for its obligations.

Here is an illustrative example. At Think Shift, we have a simple vacation policy: “Vacation is good, take some. End of policy.” Is this a privilege or an obligation? It’s both. Yes, the employees get to decide when and how much vacation they take. However, their job remains their responsibility even when they are away. So before they go on vacation, every employee makes sure that all of their tasks are either completed ahead of time, or negotiated with a colleague to complete while they are gone. Even after that, do you think they have full peace of mind that they had covered all the bases? No. During their vacation, they worry that they might have missed something. Every employee checks their email when they are on vacation. Management doesn’t ask them to do so. The employees feel a sense of obligation to do so. Is our vacation policy a privilege or an obligation? It’s both. We find that this policy works well as long as all employees view themselves as sausage counters – with the attendant authority and obligations. But if you administer such a vacation policy to a group of employees, some of whom behave like sausage stuffers and others as sausage counters, it might be ill-advised.

At the end of the day, your desire to give people authority and to empower them requires that they rise up and accept certain obligations. Have you communicated those obligations? Have you empowered the right kind of people? Or are you unwilling to distinguish between sausage stuffers and sausage counters, and have thus empowered a few who will never rise up to fulfill their responsibilities? Has empowerment led to entitlement?

We welcome your comments on our Food for Thought mailings and encourage you to explore the Food for Thought archive. We hope your business is doing well. We’re happy to chat about the content in this article or anything else with which you’d like assistance.

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Are you an Intentional Leader? Linear or Non-Linear Thinker?

Linear or Non-Linear Thinking

Are you a Linear or Non-Linear Thinker?
Last article we discussed the value of specific and diffuse conversations. This article we examine a related topic of linear and non-linear thinking. Have you ever heard somebody comment that so-and-so is a “linear thinker?” Or, somebody might proudly say, “I am a non-linear thinker.” What do they mean?

The word “linear” comes from the root ‘’line.” The thoughts of a linear thinker tend to form a line, i.e., one thought leads to the next, and that to the next, and so on. The implicit assumption in referring to somebody as a linear thinker is that the thought process is easy to understand, the conclusions seem logically sound with an undertone judgment that the conclusions are not that profound. In contrast, a non-linear thinker tends to have a myriad of unrelated thoughts that somehow interrelate, these thoughts lead to conclusions that might otherwise not have been evident, with an undertone judgment that the conclusions are more profound and insightful. Hence the pride in claiming yourself to be a non-linear thinker.

Stereotypical characterizations often label scientists, accountants and analytical types as linear thinkers, while artists, designers and creative types are labelled non-linear thinkers. Is that generally true? Is introducing a sampling of non-linear thinkers into a staff of linear thinkers helpful in engendering creativity? Can linear and non-linear thinkers coexist and work together; more importantly, can they communicate effectively with each other?

Before we answer those questions, let us look at linear and non-linear thinkers from a different perspective. (Wow! Non-linear thinking?) We ponder an open unsolved question from the field of computer science (P versus NP), one of the Millennium Prize Problems: Is it harder for computers to find the solution to a problem than to verify that a found solution actually works? It is generally believed that finding the solution is significantly more difficult than verifying a solution. For example, can you pull together a select group of employees in your company whose balances in their company 401(K) account averages to precisely $100,000? Finding the right set of employees to choose might be difficult. But once found, demonstrating that their account balances averages to $100,000 is relatively easy. It is generally believed that you need creativity of thought for the search, but once found you need clarity of thought for its communication.

Let’s go back to linear and non-linear thinkers. Do we sometimes confuse the thinking process with the communication process? Do we sometimes call people, who cannot cogently articulate their thoughts clearly, non-linear thinkers? Just because they are all over the place in their communication doesn’t mean that they have derived benefit from being all over the place in their thinking. They might just be haphazard thinkers. Likewise, do we confuse organized thinkers with linear thinkers? Even if the search for the thought requires non-linear thinking, one needs to be able to articulate it clearly. We posit that lack of clarity in communication of a thought is often a reflection of the lack of clarity of understanding of the thought.

What you would like is a non-linear, organized thinker. These people can find connections between seemingly unrelated thoughts and then present it to you in a simple clear way. If you can get such people into your team they will engender creativity. How can you instill non-linear, organized thinking? Here is one possible technique:

We are all familiar with the concept of brainstorming, whereby a group of people throw out ideas, all of which are recorded, none of which are judged or evaluated, and when the ideas run out we look at the whole list. Now use the technique of affinity mapping to group the ideas into categories that make sense. Write each idea on a sticky note, paste all the sticky notes on a wall and let the people move the sticky notes around to group related thoughts together. Again, like in the brainstorming phase, nobody has to justify why they moved one sticky note next to another. In fact, a sticky note might bounce back and forth, like a yo-yo, between two groupings of notes. When there is some level of settlement in the movement of sticky notes, have the group (or have one person) create a total story of what all the groups say. You have promoted non-linear thinking with organized communication.

Affinity mapping is one of the tools in our tool chest. The concept of leadership tools, and the amassing of a large tool chest, is critical to becoming an intentional leader. And, as most of you know, that’s what we are all about: developing intentional leaders.

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Dental Mentoring Equals Dental Outreach


It seems to me that part of the continuing attempt to refresh and recharge our enjoyment of practice is the chance to be a mentor. In these times, there is an obvious decrease in the ability to sit back and enjoy the practice of dentistry and medicine. Interference from many sources, stress of compliance, making the numbers work are so problematic that the doctor can lose focus on one of the things that brought him into private practice in the first place. These are indeed difficult times. The solo practitioner is almost extinct and the mega practices have their own set of problems.

One of the areas that I found to be energizing and helpful was mentoring. It started with teaching of residents in the early years of practice. This was a great way to relate and to also keep current. As all teachers know, you learn more from teaching than as a student. Not only is it challenging, but it is a great reward to bring the missing link to the “new doc” – experience. To be in a group and acknowledge an “ah ha” moment is so rewarding. For those who are fortunate enough to be in a university city with medical and dental students, there is ample opportunity to give (and to relate). You will find that the student is greatly appreciative that you took the time to help and point the way. You will also find that you return to the office or to your home with an exhilarating feeling yourself – remember, “it is better to give than receive.” From another view, these contacts become friends, referral sources, and associates that may lead to other projects and outreach possibilities. This is just another example of a means to refresh and recharge.

Knowing how good the feeling is to give a gift to someone, I also had a grand time in mentoring patients of mine. Actually, my staff also enjoyed it and related to the mission. There were numerous opportunities where a young patient, entering college, had no idea of his major or area of interest. This was an opportunity to chat and just become a friend and counselor. We would actually make an appointment in a off time (lunch etc.) to meet and advise. Did it happen every day? No, but often enough that we were invited to many graduations (and even some weddings). I am convinced that we know more than just how to be a good doctor and this ability can be a wonderful way to have that “feel good” day or moment. So you want to talk about marketing. This, if done from the heart, is number one in my mind.

So, it seems to me that you can make some fun out of your practice and have it actually become a source of an outreach program.

I would love to hear from you and share your ideas and experiences.

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Are you Specific or Diffuse?


Different people tend to speak with different levels of specificity. Over this past Super Bowl, somebody commented, “I like watching the Super Bowl for its commercials.” This is a statement of personal preference with some broad judgment intended. It is unlikely that somebody would disagree with the intended judgment since it is stated as a personal preference. That individual could alternatively have said, “Some of the Super Bowl commercials are really funny,” or “Super Bowl commercials are really well done.” Each of these alternative expressions takes a position with which a listener could more likely disagree. Some people speak with specificity and some people speak more diffuse. Although the specificity of one’s statement may depend on the situation and the subject matter, we all have a tendency to be more specific or more diffuse compared to others around us. For example, somebody taking a sip of coffee poured from a fresh pot and finding it lukewarm might comment, “You know, coffee is best when served at least 180°F.” This is a very specific statement, and it causes the listener to determine for themselves whether they agree or not. The listener may or may not question the position, but agreement or disagreement is implicitly or explicitly established. People who are “Specific” either expect that others will agree with them or tend not be concerned with disagreement. Their goal is to establish a very clear position and are often happy to take on (to understand or to challenge) opposing points of views. They will often express their opinions as statements of truth. People who are Specific do not shy away from controversy and disagreement.

In contrast, in the example above of a lukewarm cup, the coffee enthusiast could have commented, “You know, coffee is best when it is served rather hot.” Notwithstanding the iced-coffee fans, it is hard to disagree with that statement. It is a diffuse statement that casts a broad enough net allowing for people with a variety of opinions to find some common ground. People who are “Diffuse” speak with less specificity so that all listeners can find some overlap in their position. They are more interested in finding common ground and then narrowing the common ground as far as possible, than finding the contrast between their true position and that of the other person. When they want to be specific they will often couch it as their opinion. People who are diffuse tend to shy away from controversy and disagreement.

Is one better than the other? Are we labelled as Specific or Diffuse and do we always speak in that manner? Clearly, the answer is “no” to all those questions. However, if you observe yourself you will find that you have a tendency to be more one type than the other. By becoming self-aware of your natural tendency you can be more intentional about how you speak in particular situations and with particular audiences. Some audiences – accountants, lawyers and engineers come to mind (sorry for the stereotyping) – tend to be specific in their communication and might find diffuse conversations full of platitudes and lacking in substance. On the other hand, other audiences – artists, salespeople and politicians come to mind (again, my apologies) – tend to be diffuse in their communications and might find specific conversations obnoxious and opinionated. By being aware of your audience, either broadly or as specific individuals, you might be able to structure your communication to balance your needs with those of your audience in choosing how specific or diffuse you wish to be. We close with a self-referential question: Is this article Specific or Diffuse? How could this article have been written to be more specific or more diffuse?

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Clinical Excellence = Business Success? My story.

I worry about dental students, new graduates, and those in their early years of practice. Are they as naïve nowadays as was I a few decades ago?  I hope not, but chances are that many will have difficulty finding their way in the first few years (perhaps much longer) for lack of business knowhow.  I wonder how other dentists with extensive practice experience, looking back, would rate their preparedness for the real world of dentistry upon graduation.

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