Create an Organizational Culture that Is the Antithesis of Learned Helplessness 

May 24, 2024 Pina Johnson

By Pina Johnson, Professional Certified Coach, and Edwin (Mac) McDonald, DDS 

B.F. Skinner, a noted 20th century behavioral psychologist, conducted an intriguing and provocative experiment using laboratory mice. Using behavioral conditioning he was able to condition one group of mice to believe that through their actions they were able to determine their fate. Using the same methodology, he also succeeded in conditioning another group of mice to believe that there was nothing they could do to alter their fate. 

He then placed the first group of mice, the ones that believed their actions mattered, into a large tub filled with water. As anticipated, this group of mice, when placed in a life-threatening situation, acted instinctively and began to swim to the side of the large water-filled tub. Upon reaching the edge of the tub the mice were able to crawl out to safety. 

The second group of mice, the ones that believed that their actions were meaningless, when placed in the tub of water, simply sank to the bottom and drowned. Appropriately, the lack of responsiveness displayed by the second group of mice was termed “learned helplessness.” 

Culture Lifts or Sinks Ambition 

Belief that our actions and choices matter is essential to “making things happen.” 

According to Edgar Schein, an icon of modern leadership thought, the primary function of leadership is to create an organizational culture. The culture that we choose to create will influence every aspect of our organization and ultimately determine our dental practice’s success or failure. 

Value-based leaders understand the power to alter the course of the organization does not reside with a few; it is shared by many. Organizations with cultures based on shared beliefs and purpose are higher performing. Leaders of the highest performing organizations foster cultures rich in collaborative decision making and a profound belief that everyone has influence. 

Counter Learned Helplessness by Empowering Self-Confidence 

We have come to recognize that good-old “self-confidence” is a learned competency, and effective leaders create organizational cultures that promote and teach self-confidence to each individual team member. This is accomplished by empowering teams through collaborative decision making and ensuring each team member has been given the knowledge, skill, support, resources, and appropriate authority to accomplish each task required to meet the shared goal. 

Unleash Teamwork and Creativity 

In organizations with shared leadership cultures, human self-confidence is unleashed beyond saving oneself to act in the best interest of the organization. Knowing that our individual actions will have some effect on our organization’s future (and thus on our own future and the future of others we value) compels us to want to take actions that have positive benefit for everyone. This is “meaningful” for the individuals within the organization. This raises their engagement in the work and simultaneously generates a sense of wellbeing.  

In our dental practices, “We are serving others with empathy and care to ultimately improve their wellbeing.” This is a form of love. It begets appreciation and reciprocity. When the slings and arrows of daily life initiate negative thoughts of being out of control of a situation, remembering our purpose and prior successes enables us to see disappointments and frustrations as opportunities to create a new type of approach and carry on. 

The goal for effective leaders is to allow all of this to happen in a psychologically safe environment in which our staff need not fear repercussions for their well-intended actions even if the outcome of these actions is less than ideal. By creating organizational cultures that are psychologically safe, we draw out our organizational creativity which is often stifled by the psychological repression found in command-and-control cultures. 

Creative thinking is considered to be one our highest-level cognitive functions and has been found to be a distinguishing characteristic of exceptional organizations. The wise leader understands that their organization is best served through shared power, collaboration, and utilization of their organization’s collective creativity. 

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What Motivates Dental Teams? 

May 15, 2024 Pina Johnson

By Pina Johnson Professional Certified Coach 

 What motivates teams is a question that has been asked for as long as someone has been seeking solutions for organizational performance. The day of top-down (or command-and-control) leadership is gone.  

Daniel Pink, in his 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, takes a deep dive into the decades long effort to understand the research around human motivation in the modern workplace. Consistently, employers believe they are doing a great job of recognizing, rewarding, and motivating their employees. The people that work for them report the opposite. The tension between the two groups is observable and measurable. In this book, Pink discusses the key patterns that are consistent in what motivates people., takes a deep dive into the decades long effort to understand the research around human motivation in the modern workplace. To his credit, he uncovers the key patterns that are consistent in what motivates people. 

What doesn’t work—external rewards and punishments 

Although there are times and places to administer rewards (carrots) and consequences for behaviors that violate the organization’s values (sticks), “carrot and stick” strategies do not work and have not been working for quite some time. In fact, according to a great deal of research, these strategies reduce performance over time after a brief initial improvement when they are introduced.  

What does work—internal motivations 

Research has clearly demonstrated that there are three primary internal motivations that drive team member engagement: 

  1. Autonomy 
  1. Mastery 
  1. Purpose 

Autonomy over your work appears to be the strongest driving force among those three. There are many aspects to autonomy that you can explore in Daniel Pink’s book. My takeaways are that people want: 

  • Control over how they do their work 
  • Ability to creatively enhance the methodology of their work 
  • A strong voice in the direction and future of their work 

This begs the questions:  

  • Have you met individually with each team member and talked about this?  
  • Are you giving them the freedom to do their jobs well?  
  • Are you developing them with training opportunities and direct challenges?  

Responsibility without authority creates frustration. Responsibility demands autonomy. 

Mastery is defined as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. You can feel the natural connection to Autonomy as the desire to improve is based in each person’s unique gifts, talents, skills, and desire to use these for something important.  

Control seeks compliance. Autonomy seeks engagement. When a person becomes fully engaged in an activity, and is challenged enough to be stimulated, they can lose themself in that activity be it work or play. That optimal state of peak performance is described as flow. Mastery happens in and through those experiences of flow. Mastery is a mindset that requires a great deal of grit and becomes the infinite game that we never complete. 

Purpose answers the question for each person: “What are you supposed to do with your one short life?” When the organization has a clear purpose, the individual understands their role in that purpose. When they connect the organization’s purpose to their own life’s purpose, then you have a powerful force at work. Is the purpose of your organization clear? Have you asked the key people in your organization what their purpose is? Have you helped them to connect those two purposes?  

Our responsibility 

As practice owners and leaders, we are people developers. Everyone possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, hopes, dreams, and ultimately a life purpose. Unlocking that unique set of internal motivators for everyone on your team is the key to building an abundant future. That future is defined by a transformational mindset rather than a transactional mindset in which power is limited by time, redundancy, compliance, and efficiency.  

Each person motivates themself. Our role as a leader is to help our team members, one at a time, to discover, connect with, and unleash their powerful internal motivators. Then together, as a team, we can channel all of that discretionary energy into a shared mental model with a laser-like focus on the organization’s clearly defined and stated purpose.  

Pina Johnson PCC is a Certified Professional Coach with the International Coach Federation, and as a former practice administrator, she has over 20 years of experience in the dental field. Her coaching strategy and emphasis lie in developing leadership skills and practice cultures that produce peak-performing teams along with increased productivity and profitability. In her private practice, Pina specializes in group coaching. Partnering with Drs. Joel Small and Edwin (Mac) McDonald at Line of Sight Coaching, she coaches many dental teams with great success, resulting in increased employee engagement, reduced stress, improved performance, and enhanced communication. Pina received her professional coaching certification from the University of California, Davis. Upon completing her training, she was invited back to serve in multiple capacities as a UC Davis coaching program faculty member. Pina has been a featured speaker covering topics including, The Neuroscience of Trust, Management Behaviors that Foster Employee Engagement, and How to Talk So Your Staff Will Listen, and Listen So Your Staff Will Talk. 

Pina is a Member of the American Association of Dental Office Managers, Dental Speaking Consulting Network, Dental Entrepreneur Women, International Coach Federation, and the ICF Sacramento Chapter. 

 

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How Do You Like to Receive Feedback? 

April 29, 2024 Kelley Brummett DMD

Kelley Brummett, DMD 

Recently, I completed growth conferences with everyone on my team. The beauty of a growth conference is that it’s all about growth. It’s all about effort. It’s all about meeting each other and becoming more aligned with the mission of the practice. If I have something I want to share with a team member that’s a concern or something new I would like them to achieve such as mastery of a new skill, I think about how I’m going to communicate it. And as I do growth conferences with the individuals on my dental team, I am cognizant that they are likely to want to receive feedback differently as individuals.  

I’ve discovered that if I ask my employee upfront how they like to receive feedback, they pause to think before responding. I wait patiently for their response because I know the response will save both of us time and energy. For example, there are some team members who want the short and skinny of it—“Give it to me straight now.” They don’t want you to hold back. There are some team members who need to be gently warmed up before they can hear the message and require thorough explanations of why. 

I’ve discovered it helps to frequently ask the “how do you like feedback” question of my team to get their buy-in of my feedback. The beauty of “feedback” is that even criticism can be framed in a positive way as the next identified step in working towards a goal.  

Those of us in dentistry know that sometimes we move fast, but there are times that we need to sit back, think through what somebody gave us information about, and then come back and have a conversation. Mary Osborne has guided us to have conversations with patients that allow us to slow down and learn more about them so they can think, hear themselves speak, and learn about themselves. I’ve decided the feedback question is also a good question to ask patients. “How do you like to receive information? Would you like to know all the details or for me to summarize?” 

I’ve learned from Mary and experiences with patients that “staying in questions” helps them grow. Staying in questions also helps team members grow. Staying in questions helps us providers grow. So, feedback—how do you give it? How do you like to receive it? How do you handle it? I encourage you to think about this. 

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Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1 meter springboard in 1988 and in 1992. Dr. Kelley received her BA in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr Kelley Brummett went on to earn a degree in Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at the Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a Clinical Instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Brummett and her husband Darin have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past 9 years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumni of the Pankey Institute.

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Upstream Thinking in the Dental Practice

February 5, 2024 Leigh Ann Faight

Upstream Thinking in the Dental Practice 

Leigh Ann Faight, RDH 

In my years of working with dentists and teams, I have noticed that leaders tend to address what is directly in front of them. They are simply too busy to notice that the issues of today will likely be back tomorrow, and the next day and so on if they don’t find the root cause and build systems from there.  

My favorite book on this subject is Upstream by Dan Heath. I was so impressed by it that I named my dental coaching company Upstream Dental Practice Coaching. The idea of the book is to help us stop reacting to problems and instead look for ways to prevent them in the first place. 

In the book, Dan Heath recalls a quote from Paul Batalden: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” I love this quote; it is as exact as it is simple and begs the follow-up question: Are your systems working to get you the results you want? 

I’m not writing this with just dentists in mind. I recommend that all dental team members appraise together how well your systems are working and think about where the lack of systems is causing stress. As you meet as a team and pull back the layers of your processes, do you discover barriers that get in the way of moving upstream? As a team, you can intentionally rebuild your systems to remove the barriers and prevent them from rolling back into your stream. 

Fixed thinking gets in the way.  

As I coach, I see three behaviors that get in the way of improving the many systems operating in dental practices. 

Problem Blindness 

This is the belief that negative outcomes are natural and inevitable. We treat these problems like we treat the weather, as something out of our control. We normalize problems and even stop seeing them. Teams tell me, “That’s just how it is here.” This finite thinking is one of the first challenges we uncover when I work with teams on intentionally “going upstream.” 

Lack of Ownership 

If an issue arises and no one claims ownership for fixing it, the problem will persist. To really develop upstream thinking you need someone who will say, “Even though I did not create this problem, I will lead us to find a solution.” 

To create a culture where teams have ownership over decisions, leaders must trust the team to make decisions on behalf of the group. On the flip side, the team must choose to take charge of issues as they see them.  

Tunneling 

Tunneling is exactly like it sounds. You focus on short-sighted problems and have reactive thinking. You get stuck in a routine of short-term decision-making and are unable to move forward. You think, “I can’t deal with that right now.” 

The more problems you are juggling at once, the harder it is to solve them all. If you can’t solve problems systematically you will stay in an endless cycle of reaction, because tunneling begets more tunneling. Compound tunneling with stress and scarcity, and you get stuck. 

“Getting Unstuck” is the name of the game. 

You might want to take your team offsite for a day to talk about what isn’t working in your dental practice. What are the big problems they and you see? Talk about the common human responses of problem blindness, lack of ownership, and tunneling. Talk about upstream thinking and proclaim, “Today is the day we become unstuck.” 

In helping teams find ways to make their systems more successful, I have often found that small changes can make a big difference. If you add target metrics to your systems, “the team” will more likely see and remove barriers that have gotten in the way, redesign systems, and work as a united group to improve the outcomes.  

In the Pankey course held February 2024 — The Pankey Hygienist: Where Clinical & Behavioral Science Unite – The Pankey Institute, we focused on “the flow” of the hygiene-restorative partnership, leading patients toward higher comprehensive care, and getting clarity around the why and how of optimal behavioral and clinical methods. We took a critical look at the habits and assumptions we have developed. We applied upstream systems thinking with the goal of collaboratively achieving with our patients greater oral and systemic health.

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Leigh Ann Faight

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What I Brought Back from Napa (and it wasn’t wine!)

February 2, 2024 Robyn Reis

What I Brought Back from Napa (and it wasn’t wine!) 

Robyn Reis, Dental Practice Coach 

A while back, I made a business trip to Napa Valley. I was enjoying lunch on the patio of the Ottimo Café which is attached to a shop featuring wines, gourmet provisions, and culinary tools. It was a lovely day, and I was out in the beautiful California sun by choice. A nearby covered area provided shade, and there were multiple diners inside the shop waiting for those shaded tables. 

The maître d’ had given me a choice of tables and made sure I was comfortable. The food, wine and service were excellent. 

A family of four wandered over and sat down at an empty table in the sun. One of the waiters approached them and must have told them there was a line inside because they got up and went into the building. A few minutes later, they came out escorted and sat with menus at the same table they had left. There was obviously a system in place and it was working. Not long after, the two children became unhappy sitting in the sun. 

Being a parent myself I empathized with the parents as they struggled to keep the kids entertained. The little boy put his shirt over his head to block the sun, and I watched the dad looking at the covered area to monitor those shaded tables. As people from the shaded area got up, the tables were cleared, and the maître d’ seated more people.  

There was a lag between one table being bussed and people being seated because in a flash, the family left their table and sat down at a shaded table. The maître d’ approached them again. The family was speaking a different language and the father was using hand gestures. Obviously, communication was difficult. Ultimately, the family remained seated at the shaded table. There was no doubt that “good” customer service for this family was out of balance with “good” customer service for the people inside waiting to be seated. 

It was fascinating to observe the maître d’ having a conversation with the waiter who had been serving the family. My guess is that he was saying something like, “Hey, stay alert to maintain the seating system.” The waiter only nodded. It reminded me of a dental practice where you may have a patient in the hygiene chair and think to yourself, “Oh, it’s a small filling. Let’s go ahead and take care of that today.” Unbeknownst to you, someone may have walked in the front door hoping to be seen, and the front office thinks the walk-in can be accommodated based on the schedule.  

In both situations, it’s best not to make assumptions and communicate, communicate, communicate! In the back, check with the front to see if that filling can be done now. In the front, check with the back to see if the walk-in can be accommodated now. And in the case of a scheduled patient waiting in reception, you don’t want to keep them waiting unless it is really unavoidable.  

Sometimes we’re going to disappoint someone, however, we want to plan our schedule so no one is left waiting. We’re not in the restaurant business where customers are willing to wait in line for a seat at our table. Despite a fine reputation, if you cannot see new patients within a reasonable timeframe, they are going to call elsewhere.  

Look at your own schedule and converse with your team. Do you have an adequate number of new patient appointments available? Are you allotting sufficient time for each type of procedure? How good is your back-to-front and front-to-back communication? Do you keep patients waiting? 

My meal and business trip were a success in Napa. And while I didn’t bring back any wine, I did bring back the importance of having systems in place to ensure a great experience for every patient at every visit. 

Related Course

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DATE: June 12 2025 @ 12:00 pm - June 14 2025 @ 7:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 17

Regular Tuition: $ 2050

Single Occupancy Room with Ensuite Bath (Per Night): $ 345

This “can’t miss” course will empower Dental Assistants to bring their skills to excellence! During this dynamic hands-on course, led by Pankey clinical team member, Sandra Caicedo, participants will learn…

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Robyn Reis

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