Shorten the Curve.

Amazon will add 120,000 new seasonal employees this year, up 20%. (Source: Wall Street Journal) What could be more impressive than Amazon’s seasonal growth data? Consider this: Amazon has reduced the on-boarding time for new warehouse employees from 6 weeks to 2 days.

Automation has been implemented in every nook and cranny of their business. Something we started back in 2009 with InfusionSoft. It boosted our employee productivity, eliminated errors and streamlined consistency in the patient experience. At Amazon, scanners and flat screens tell warehouse employees which box to use for each order. A machine then spits out a piece of pre-cut tape, specific to that box size.

Obviously, employee productivity and consistency are important but why else would Amazon tackle the Herculean feat of reducing employee on-boarding from 6 weeks to 2 days? I’m glad you asked. It’s something we’ve been doing for years for the same reason Amazon is doing it now:

The shorter the learning curve for on-boarding new employees, the less you are held hostage by the threat of employee turnover.

The reason most orthodontists put up with crappy staff is the same reason Amazon installed metal detectors to cut down on employee theft from their warehouses. If it takes 6 weeks to get Bill up to speed on working in the warehouse, Bill’s bad behavior gets tolerated more than it does when the turnover time is 2 days.

Bill’s late to work again? He failed his drug test? He won’t stop smoking in designated non-smoking areas? Someone said Bill might be stealing from the warehouse? All of this gets “managed” and “tolerated” in a system where it takes 6 weeks to replace Bill. Shorten that learning curve to 2 days and Bill gets fired. The thought of training someone new for 6 weeks no longer cripples management. Bill just struck out? No problem! Next batter up.

Recently, I had 6 private coaching calls back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to… well, you get it. With five of the six clients, a major frustration point was an employee who is causing the owner grief. I say, “No more!”

Shorten the learning curve in your on-boarding process and stop holding yourself hostage to the threat of employee turnover. Our proprietary 120-hour training system takes anyone off the street with a good attitude and problem-solving skills and teaches them the required core competency in order to be turned loose in front of a patient on their own, in 120 hours or less. Three weeks. No-where near as good as Amazon’s 2 days but we are doing more than just packing boxes.

Compare 3 weeks to our traditional and industry average of 90 days and we’re way ahead of the curve. 3 weeks versus 3 months gives our doctors and managers lots of freedom to bring in the next batter when Bill strikes out.

How steep is the learning curve in your practice? How much longer will you be held hostage by the threat of employee turnover?

Your Fake News or Mine?

I read five newspapers per day. I quickly go through a system I developed years ago, asking “Does this apply to me, my market, my patients, my clients, any stakeholder in one of my companies?” I look for trends and actionable data. Most of the articles talk about things that are out of my control. Unless I’m betting on corn futures, I don’t really care about the weather.

So, 90% of the stuff I read in the the news gets skimmed and passed by. Some get clipped out, sent to my assistant for a client or as an interesting conversation starter for one of the many newsletters and articles I write. Often, I think and play devil’s advocate. It’s why I read papers from both the left and the right. Rarely, something makes me stop and laugh out loud. That’s exactly what happened the other day when I saw a small cartoon in the Journal, husband and wife sitting on the couch in front of the TV, when the husband asks, “Your fake news or mine?”

It’s a sign of the times. 62% of American adults get their news from Facebook (source: Pew Research). Facebook has an algorithm that is designed to keep you on their platform as long as possible. Translation: Facebook is showing you the news you want to see and are most likely to read. For me, I expect this would translate into sailboat, classic car and rare watch news 99% of the time.

In a world of “fake news,” it is important to consider everything being pumped into your device. Unless you intentionally seek out comprehensive information on any topic from a professional librarian, there’s a pretty good chance your news is biased.

Sir Francis Bacon said, “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; but to weigh and consider.” I read a lot and I question a lot, but I still must remind myself to heed Bacon’s advice.

Too often, we sequester ourselves into groups that think and act like we do. We blindly follow advice without questioning or, even worse, we fail to listen to or take good advice because it challenges our assumptions or hard-wired belief system. In a world where MSNBC and Fox News viewers only hear and see news that confirms their biases, I’d like to propose another way to think about everything around you:

Force yourself to read and listen to news and opinions from “the other side.” If you’re a staunch conservative, make yourself read the New York Times, listen to MSNBC on the way to work and take a liberal friend out to dinner for a healthy conversation and debate.

Conversely, if you’re a bleeding heart liberal, hold your nose and turn on Fox News every now and then. Pick up a book by William F. Buckley Jr. and invite your pro-life, gun-toting friend to dinner for stimulating conversation and debate.
Second, make a commitment to weigh and consider before jumping to conclusions, blindly accepting someone’s advice or outright refuting everything you hear, depending on the source.

Consider this fact from a study by Princeton and Harvard economists: 94 percent of the 10 million net new jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were either temporary or contract-based, not traditional 9-to-5 positions. No one on the left or right dare mention this fact in the nightly news, but there it is, staring us right in the eye if we dare look at it. Only 6% of the jobs we’ve created since 2005 are full-time jobs with benefits.

Liberals dare not mention it, for fear of blasphemy against the Obama administration’s proud march to “add more jobs.” Please. We’ve got 94 million Americans who are not participating in the workforce. According to my math, that’s nearly a third of the damn country. Unemployment among men age 18-24 without college degrees is closer to 25%.

Conservatives dare not mention it either, for fear that the stock market bull run will come to an end and people might wake up to the reality that the next two bubbles to burst are the student loan debt crisis and the now- quickly-escalating auto-debt problem.

I’m not real comfortable knowing that 94 out of every 100 jobs created fail to offer benefits or full-time work. For my own selfish reasons, I like parents with good jobs and benefits who can afford orthodontic treatment. (Call me crazy, right?)
What other topics or questions do we avoid because they are uncomfortable or because we blindly follow the bias of our own fragment or subgroup inside the population?

Weigh and consider everything. Don’t use it as an excuse to stall your plans for action, but think deeper about everything that can affect your practice. My job isn’t to tell you how to think or what to do, but rather, to help you become a better thinker about all of this.

Understanding Your Customers.

Born on a Missouri farm in 1875, James Cash Penney started in the retail business in 1898 as a store clerk in Colorado. He quickly moved up the ranks and in 1902, he was offered a partnership in the Golden Rule store. He soon bought the entire operation and by 1914 he moved the company headquarters to New York City and had built the largest department-store chain in the United States by 1917.

At the age of 41, a life-insurance company said his overwork made him an at-risk client. So, he stepped down as president of his company and traveled the country, helping farmers and small store managers in the rural towns where most of his JC Penney stores were located. He rarely gave advanced notice that he would be visiting one of his stores. He would just walk in and startle managers and customers alike. His personal interactions improved the morale of the employees and the customers. More importantly, he came to understand the needs of the people who lived in the towns supporting his stores.

I often listen to clients tell me about their plans to “completely exit” the business. Many of them came up with the idea after listening to one of my lectures or meeting one of my clients who has achieved the elusive status of being able to “work on the business, not just in the business.” I always warn them. Although you can exit the clinical delivery of care and hire associates and talented managers to cover the day-to-day operations of your practice, you can’t really ever leave the business. Not if you want it to consistently represent the core values you’ve established in the practice.

Instead of working so hard to get out of the business, find new ways that you can contribute your highest talents to the company. In this way, you’ll motivate your employees and delight your customers, as your practice delivers more value than any other office in town. You’ll be better aligned with the needs of your market and better equipped to meet those needs.Then, find what makes you tick and commit to doing it for the rest of your life.

For JC Penney, it was constant interaction with his customers and managers, even though he wasn’t running the day-to-day operations. At the age of 95, he was still catching the bus to his office, enthusiastic to share with the leadership at his company what he had learned on his last trip. He refused the limousine that the company offered, because “that wasn’t the way JC Penney traveled.” He had a deep understanding of his customers in small towns. They didn’t take limos to work, so he didn’t either. His curiosity and understanding of his customer base allowed him to build over 1,500 outlets by the early 1930s. His competitors rarely left New York and almost never sat face-to-face with customers in an attempt to understand how to make their lives better.

What do you know about your patients that no one else in your market understands? Patients will tell you everything they need from you, if you’ll take the time to visit with and listen to them.