Practice Plan’s Janet Mason looks for answers to the questions you’re asking…
How can I better communicate as a leader during a crisis?
In a crisis, communication becomes even more important for society but especially for business owners.
This was never more highlighted than during COVID-19. With dispersed teams and an inability to see patients, the difficulty of communicating during a crisis became even trickier just as it was needed the most.
To find out more about how leaders can improve their communication during a crisis, and help to keep their business in the best shape possible, I asked Chris Barrow: How can I better communicate as a leader during a crisis?
Chris: ‘During the initial aftermath of a crisis, we often move into the mindset of ‘consuming’ information. We want to look for answers to all the questions we have about what is happening, and that is very normal and understandable.
This was evident in the first few days after – and to a lesser degree throughout – the outbreak of COVID-19 and the following lockdown.
However, to quote a dentist friend of mine, David Moffett, there soon comes a time when we need to shift from ‘consuming’ to ‘creating’ information. Even if we still have unanswered questions ourselves, it’s vital that as leaders we begin creating what we do know and communicating it out to those who depend on us.
Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19, one of, if not the, biggest crises dentistry has ever faced as a profession, I was advising clients that they needed to start communicating with different groups of people. Those groups are:
- Your patients
- Your team
- Your self-employed associates, therapists and hygienists
- Any referring dentists who send work to you
- The wider geographical community in which you live
Throughout any crisis it’s vital to keep communicating with your patients and telling them the story of what is happening at your practice and what positive steps you are taking.
There have been some fantastic examples of practices doing this well during COVID-19. For example, by posting to social media, not just about oral health education or what to do if you’ve got an urgent health requirement, but sharing other information on general well-being, what’s happening with team members and the practice.
While you might not be able to see patients, if your furloughed team members are volunteering in their communities or your redeployed staff are working in Urgent Dental Centres (UDCs), etc, they are stories that your patients will be interested in and will keep them engaged with your practice. These particular kinds of stories also show that your team are doing something positive to try and help everyone through this crisis.
It’s absolutely essential to maintain contact with team members on a regular basis, i.e. every day. In the case of a crisis like COVID-19 where it’s not possible to do this in person, I highly recommend using video platforms.
I was doing this with my team – every day we would have a tea break on Zoom, where we just check in with each other about how we’re feeling, not about work. I’ve seen practices do that as well and it works remarkably well. In a crisis, it’s more important than ever to be there for your team.
Crises can take a lot of different shapes and forms, but by nature of it being a crisis, it is likely to have a financial impact. Never more so was this the case than with COVID-19 and particularly for private associates.
There was an incredible juxtaposition between the financial reality of practice owners and their moral compass in terms of how they feel their associates should be supported.
There were fantastic stories about principals who were communicating to their associates early on to tell them that they would receive a portion, if not all, of their membership plan payments. Others were saying ‘if I can assist my associates in some way financially even if it’s an interest-free loan that will probably never get repaid I will try to help’.
It’s massively important that we rally around and support sectors of dentistry that may have been inadvertently or deliberately forgotten by the Government at times of national crisis. People will remember the decisions you make at times like these, and they’ll remember them for a very long time.
All crises eventually pass, and when they do, people look for ways to return to a new kind of normal. It’s important not to forget about communicating with those who were part of your ‘old normal’ even if they weren’t directly connected to your practice.
For example, once a level of normality is resumed following COVID-19, you are going to want referring GDPs to continue sending patients to you again, so it’s vital you stay in touch with them as we make our way back towards the new normal.
Doubtless, it won’t be top of their agenda, but if you reach out to them and continue nurturing that relationship, you will stay connected. And when it comes time for us all to begin rebuilding our businesses again, they will be right there alongside you.
Similar to communicating with referring GDPs, it’s important to keep talking to your wider community and strengthening your relationships with them. You will need their support on the other side of a crisis.
For example, as a dental practice during COVID-19 your team could come together (not physically) to fundraise or volunteer for a local charity. There were also many practices going above and beyond their usual duties by doing things like collecting prescriptions for their elderly or vulnerable patients.
Staying in touch with your local community is not only the right thing to do, but it will also pay you back a thousand-fold afterwards.
You’re a leader to your patients, your team, your self-employed clinicians, your referring GDPs, your community and you’re a leader to yourself. It can be exhausting.
Self-care is important for leaders at all times and especially in a crisis, so be aware of the way you speak to yourself in your inner monologue. Keep checking in with yourself and make sure you are staying in touch with your good habits from before the crisis is key for your good mental health and to remain a strong leader.’
My thanks to Chris for sharing his advice and his experience of communicating during COVID-19 so far. Undoubtedly there will be challenging times ahead, whether individually or on a larger societal scale, for example if/when the second peak of the virus arrives.
Communicating during future crises will be just as important – it is the best way to stay connected and maintain the strong relationships you have built with your team, your patients and those in your wider circle who are vital to supporting your business.
Janet Mason has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for three years and has 14 years’ experience in the dental industry. Through this regular column, she offers YOU the chance to ask any questions you may have about dentistry and running a practice today. Simply email email@example.com with your question alongside your job title and location, and let us do the rest!
Chris has been a trainer, consultant, coach and mentor to the UK dental profession for 23 years. He combines a wealth of knowledge with the originality and independence needed to resolve the thorniest of problems. Straight talking and determined, he can reach conclusions quickly, and has the reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. Chris spends most of his professional time mentoring independent dental entrepreneurs under the ‘Coach Barrow’ brand.
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