“People are very open-minded about new things, as long as they're exactly like the old ones.”  Charles F. Kettering

“Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” John Kenneth Galbraith


A few years ago, I wrote a blog about managing change. I want to revisit the blog and add some content based upon ongoing experience.

A goal in any business should be “Continuous Improvement”. A dental practice should be committed to, on an ongoing, every-minute-of-every-day goal of finding ways to do things better. This not only will make the practice more productive and profitable, but can help the practice offer greater value-added service to its patients. Deciding to do this will lead to a major change, perhaps as great as any change you can make, to your practice.

Like any change, an effort to implement continuous improvement is going to take a lot of energy and commitment up front. It will depend upon the compliance of everyone in the practice. So, how do you manage change? How do you make change – and ongoing change, at that – a part of your practice?

I’m pretty sure my experiences with change have been much like yours. Usually one of two things occurs:

1 – We talk about it and then let the chips fall where they may; then we look back and see how it went.

2 – We have meetings and training and pass out reams of paper, or we have consultants come in and we pay them great sums of money to tell us what’s wrong. We use the enthusiasm generated to keep us going for a week or two, then it’s back to the old ways.

Inertia is a strong force and fighting against it can be exhausting and discouraging. Inertia has always been with us. You are not the only one who has had to fight it:

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Harry Warner, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1929

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” C. Duel, Director U.S. Patent Office, 1899

“Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching.” Tris Speaker, 1921

“Space travel is utter bilge.” Sir Richard van der Riet Wooley, The Astronomer Royal, 1956

There are always going to be naysayers and spoilers in any organization, but as a leader, you will have to either control them or winnow them out of the organization to effect change. You have to decide how important change is to you. If you’re not onboard, forget it. If you are convinced and enthused and have stamina, you can make it work.

As we implement our inventory control system in dental practices, this inertia is the major cause of system failure. With Grasshopper Mouse, as with any inventory control system, the system must be informed when changes in inventory are made. With Grasshopper Mouse, this is done in 2 ways: when an order is received, barcode labels are printed, the product is labeled, then it’s scanned into stock, when an item is removed from stock, it has to be scanned-out.

We have ways to accomplish these procedures that are “minimally invasive” to office routine. The problem is when staff fails to do the scan-out. This is the biggest issue with implementation. It can be accomplished very easily, with a minimum of procedural change, but, the very issues in the practice that have lead the office to decide that they need an inventory control system are the ones that contribute to this problem.

People want to be able to grab anything off the shelf they need without any thought. So what if that leaves only one, or worse yet, none of the product on the shelf? No time to do anything about that! Let the next person worry about it. There is no feeling of accountability there. There is no concern for the impact on the practice. It’s an important break-down in communication (A primary reason given by those whodecide that they need an inventory control system.). Going to the shelf and not finding something there that the system says is in stock can cause any number of dominoes to fall – all affecting productivity and costing the practice time and money.

So, what are some effective ways to make change and overcome inertia?

1. Determine as a group that change will be good for the practice. Look at where you are and where you want to be. Discuss the benefits that will accrue for all involved.

2. Make the process collaborative. Don’t manage the change, lead the change. Brain-storm ideas.

3. Consider all the stakeholders. Who will be the most impacted? For whom will the changes be most difficult and what are the difficulties? To whom will it be most beneficial and what will be the benefits? What can you do to help those for whom the change will be most difficult? What are the rewards for helping the changes go smoothly? And: Who or what is most likely to block this change and who or what is most likely to sabotage the change when implemented?

There are five issues to look at to help you obtain adoption and acceptance of change:

1. Relative Advantage: find and outline the economic, personal, and strategic advantages of the new state versus the current.

2. Compatibility: This is where your practice values and goals come into play. Make sure the changes are compatible with these.

3. Complexity: If the desired changes are too complex to explain to those involved, you will fail.

4. Trialability: remember that no answer is perfect. Provide opportunities to try without condemnation for failure.

5. Communicability: The change(s) need to be explainable in a few sentences.

To help your staff “un-freeze” from their current state:

Create ownership. WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?)
Make sure some success is achieved initially. Build winners. Tolerate mistakes. Avoid scapegoats
Allow them to try out changes for fine-tuning. Determine before rejecting an idea if it has potential.

Finally, make sure your organization becomes a learning organization. Leaders always need to remember that people do things for their own reasons, not yours. Re-invent past failures as the successes they were meant to be. Mistakes and their resolution are vital. You only fail when you give up.

Learn more about Grasshopper Mouse at ghmouse.com