Our success is because our people share our purpose

Culture, whether of a country, community or company, is hard to define. It's not codified in a constitution or corporate organization charts. It can't be bought, can't be mandated and can't be valued as a tangible asset.

Nevertheless, it's very real and extremely valuable. In fact it's essential to the health and wellness of a country, community and company.

As a practicing dentist health and wellness is a priority for me. Since I was 19 years old I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others in this way. After practicing for a few years, what I learned was that the business of dentistry - particularly the inflexibility of insurance schemes and related financial pressures that encompass the practice of oral health care - was actually an impediment to serving patients.

The relationship between dentist and patient was disoriented. So together with my brother, also a dentist, we created a new business to support dental practices with a simple purpose: put patients first.

We quickly attracted other like-minded dentists and we were proud of how we were reorienting our work with purpose. However, as our business grew, I realized that our success was not because we were doing something different or had a clear purpose. Our success was because our people shared that purpose. This was our burgeoning culture and it was going to require nurturing as the company grew.

We now have over 30 dental offices and 400 team members. The real secret of our success is not just putting patients first, it's putting people first. To strengthen the relationship between doctor and patient we had to strengthen the relationships that run all through our dentist offices and support organization.

We created more opportunities for peer-to-peer support. We prioritized personal, not just professional, development. We encouraged and showcased community involvement. And we sought to inspire each other to more enriching ways of supporting each other. We would even close all of our offices, shutting down all of our revenue, for one day each year so that we could all rally together.

And then: 2020. A year of unprecedented disruption. Dentist offices in Illinois were forced to close for months as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. Our business continues to suffer financially and our team continues to cope with the stress at work and home.

But our culture endured. In March and April our offices donated PPE to hospitals in need. We hosted Morning Mindset meetings via Zoom with inspirational guests who provided encouragement, comfort and hope. We empowered our offices to pioneer new safety protocols so we could quickly implement the best solutions across all of our practices and share our learnings with colleagues throughout the industry.

When we were allowed to reopen we supported each other through job sharing and shift swapping. I watched in amazement as our team comforted patients and each other alike.

But the truth is that more disruption is coming. The vast majority of dentists are sole practitioners and many will "retire" early to mitigate financial loss. Only 44% of Americans were seeing a dentist regularly before the pandemic and now more than 30% of those people are no longer doing so because of fears about COVID or lost jobs and insurance coverage.

I think 2021 will see the greatest migration of patients in the history of dentistry. To me this is not just a disruption of business, it is a disruption of relationships. And when relationships are strained, healthy cultures become even more essential.

My advice: put people first and the vitality of the country, community and companies will grow.

• Dr. A.J. Acierno is founder and CEO of DecisionOne Dental Partners.

DecisionOne Dental Partners employees
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.