The Dental Office Manager is Obsolete

All-Star Coach Shelly Van Epps asks the question: Is the dental office manager obsolete? Shelly is a former office manager and treatment coordinator with over 20 years of experience and is currently VP of Business Development and mastery coach with All-Star Dental Academy. They discuss the biggest struggles that dentists face when running a successful practice, which Shelly believes to be the inability to connect with their team. Alex mentions that dentists often want to focus solely on clinical work and don’t want to deal with their team. Shelly cites the American Dental Association statistic that the majority of issues dentists face are staff related. In conclusion, they agree that the dentist/team relationship is vital for a successful practice.

HIGHLIGHTS – Dental Office Manager

  • [00:11:12] Dental Office Manager Obsoleteness
  • [03:53:11] Difference Between Management and Leadership in the Dental Practice
  • [07:38:01] Importance of People Over Systems in a Practice
  • [08:57:23] Implementing Systems in a Practice
  • [00:10:50] Leadership and Team Development
  • [00:16:38] Dental Office Manager Future

RESOURCES – Dental Office Manager

EXPERTS

About Alex Nottingham, JD, MBA

Alex is the CEO and Founder of All-Star Dental Academy®. He is a former Tony Robbins top coach and consultant, having worked with companies upwards of $100 million. His passion is to help others create personal wealth and make a positive impact on the people around them. Alex received his Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Florida International University.

About Shelly VanEpps
Shelly is the VP of Business Development & a Mastery Coach with All-Star Dental Academy. By aiding in the growth and expansion of All-Star, Shelly’s passion for dentistry allows the company to focus on guiding dentists and their teams towards achieving their vision of a successful dental practice. Because each office has their own definition of “success” Shelly focuses her attention on customized coaching by applying her 21 years in the dental field to each department within the office. In addition, as a John Maxwell Certified Leadership Coach, Shelly enjoys working with doctors and office managers on shifting their approach from a managerial approach to a more effective leadership style.

TRANSCRIPT – Dental Office Manager

00:11:12 – 00:35:07
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Welcome to Dental All-Stars. The topic of this podcast is the Dental Office Manager is Obsolete. Our guest is Shelly Van Epps and Shelly is the VP of Business Development and a mastery coach with All-Star Dental Academy. She is a former office manager and treatment coordinator with over 20 years of experience and she is simply brilliant and that’s why she works for us.

00:35:18 – 00:36:19
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Please welcome Shelly.

00:37:10 – 00:40:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
Thank you, Alex. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

00:40:05 – 00:58:11
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
You are welcome. Tell me this is a very provocative title. The dental office manager is obsolete. So what do you believe? We’ll get to this issue in a moment, but what do you believe is one of the biggest struggles that dentists face when running a successful practice?

00:59:06 – 01:28:24
SHELLY VANEPPS
That’s a fantastic question. So as a dentist, they go through years and years of hard work, dedication, education, all of this different focus, see all about the clinical components and very, very little, if anything, is focused on how to actually run the practice and manage their people. And so in this, they continually have this frustration where they can’t seem to connect with their team in.

01:28:24 – 01:36:26
SHELLY VANEPPS
That is one of the biggest struggles that I see over and over with doctor after doctor, that they just can’t seem to figure that component out.

01:38:11 – 01:59:29
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
It’s the doctor in the team, right? Because I hear this so many times. Dentists are I love doing clinical, but I don’t want to deal with the team. If I can just do that, everything will be okay. And as I mentioned ad nauseum, that the ADA statistic that the vast majority of issues facing dentists are staff related issues.

02:00:11 – 02:17:14
SHELLY VANEPPS
Mm hmm. Absolutely. It’s so frustrating for them to just say, I just want to walk in the clinical room. I want to treat the patient. I want to turn the BR, if you will, or spend the BR and just have everything else outside of that room taken care of. I don’t want to have to deal with it.

02:17:25 – 02:34:25
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
The issue with doctors whereby they want to be doing clinical and not dealing with staff related issues or running the business. They feel the need to hire an office manager. So tell me about this, which heeds the title of this podcast.

02:35:08 – 03:12:14
SHELLY VANEPPS
Yes, it sure does. It’s easy to just say, I’m just going to hire a dental office manager. And you unfortunately put that person into a situation where they have to be the hammer, if you will, on all of these people. And they’re basically given this position out of hiring. They’re not given this position out of authority from a standpoint of earning the respect and being able to get the result that they’re looking for, because they’re just this person pointing fingers and telling people what to do versus nurturing their team and advancing them professionally.

03:12:21 – 03:35:27
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
It often seems that the dental office managers are created in multiple ways. One is the doctor’s frustrated and needs somebody to do it, and they may promote from within. They may not be the appropriate position. So often there’s pressure from the team to ascend to the lofty office manager position or dentist is just throwing up their hands is I’m not going to deal with the office.

03:36:05 – 03:53:02
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
I’m just to have somebody else do that. And when that happens, it’s possible you can get into embezzlement issues. You’re really diverting your leadership, your control. And that’s where we’re kind of getting into, as you alluded to, the difference between management and leadership.

03:53:11 – 04:21:28
SHELLY VANEPPS
There’s a huge difference between the management and the leadership. It’s it’s not even apples to apples. You’re talking about two completely different scenarios. And that’s why I prefer to title, if you will, that person who you’re putting in charge of making sure things are happening, the team leader versus the office manager. And that word in and of itself is more people focused versus systems focused.

04:22:07 – 04:34:10
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
I like for you to look at the difference between a manager and leader, and I also like to come back to this issue of the dental office manager. Do we even need this position or what should this position even be?

04:35:06 – 05:01:24
SHELLY VANEPPS
That’s a great question. So a manager is going to be focused on the tangible things, the tasks, the systems, the processes, basically how you’re getting things done, specifically. Whereas a leader is the focused on the most important part, the people, the people who are making things happen and bringing them along and helping to support them so that things can be done in larger increments and more efficiently and effectively.

05:02:23 – 05:24:02
SHELLY VANEPPS
Their focus is on the relationship part in helping somebody learn how to do something versus telling them that it needs to be done. Does that. So. So if you’re going to give somebody a title of office manager, expect that they’re going to look at a list of tasks and they’ll likely get it done if they’re a good manager and we need managers.

05:24:17 – 05:46:28
SHELLY VANEPPS
But if you’re wanting to grow your practice and make sure that your team is truly empowered in that you don’t need to rely on one specific person to make sure things are done. Get a leader, get somebody in the practice who can help everybody take initiative and it doesn’t all just fall on one person. Sometimes that will be the doctor themselves.

05:47:05 – 06:10:12
SHELLY VANEPPS
That is the pillar of the leadership in the team and in the practice. Sometimes the doctor just isn’t that person. They can still be the visionary. They can still be the person who sets out what they want their practice to look like. They just may not be a leader by nature, and that’s okay as long as you have somebody who can be on your side.

06:10:26 – 06:35:07
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
The dental office manager, you’re almost breaking it up into because again, this was the unicorn that dentists all want as their perfect office manager. And you’re saying, put that title aside, we can break them up into you have leadership components and you have management components to create per se. An office manager is a bit nebulous because what does that actually mean?

06:35:22 – 07:08:18
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
And it still may. You may have somebody in your office that commands the pay of, quote, an office manager, but let’s be specific on what you’re needing now. An office manager or an operations manager is something that’s required. If you have multiple practices, you have a huge amount or your insurance base and you have so many processes that are going on, so many employees, but you might have a small insurance based or non-insurance base insurance, free practice that thinks they need an office manager when there’s not a lot of moving parts.

07:08:24 – 07:37:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
So the systems are absolutely important, and that’s what the managers tend to look at. So I’m not saying at all that that shouldn’t be part of your practice. Absolutely. Things need to be able to be replicated and very consistent so that you always know what the outcome is going to be, hands down, that needs to be there. But what I’m saying is that if you have somebody on your team that is focused on the people, the people will take care of those systems.

07:38:01 – 07:58:26
SHELLY VANEPPS
So if you’re focusing there first. Everything else is going to be much more efficient. They will make sure that things happen. Just like if you have a team and you say, Well, my patients are my number one priority, you’ve got it backwards. You need to be focusing on your team. And if you focus on your team, they will take care of your patients.

07:58:27 – 08:27:08
SHELLY VANEPPS
You can’t be in every room all the time. Your team is an extension of who you are and who you’re representing and how you’re practicing. So if you focus on them, your patients will always leave happy. But if you focus on the patient, you have a really upset team. Your patient experiences are not going to be stellar. You will have people leaving your practice because of the front desk girl or your assistant who was rude or what have you.

08:27:08 – 08:39:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
I mean, the list goes on and on of why people leave a practice. You have to focus on the people first, and that’s where making sure you have a leader in your practice is essential.

08:39:17 – 08:57:21
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
You mentioned earlier to me as an aside, that systems aren’t important either. You’re being very provocative in this podcast. So why why are you saying to me that systems are all I get, the office manager or we’re kicking out the office manager and now you’re kicking out systems. Shelly, what’s going on here? How does this.

08:57:23 – 09:22:03
SHELLY VANEPPS
Happen? I’m not completely kicking out the systems. I want to make sure that they’re there. But you need to be flexible in them from a standpoint of the person who’s actually implementing them. Listen to your team to let them know that you are open to hearing ways to improve. If so, if a doctor says no, this is how the room has to be set up, for example.

09:22:19 – 09:45:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
And if you don’t have it exactly my way, then there’s a procedure isn’t going to work. That person who is setting up the room, who’s making sure that they can grab the materials quickly and timely for you, if it’s not where it’s natural for them, it’s just going to frustrate them. It’s going to slow down the process. Let your assistants have some ownership in something.

09:45:12 – 09:52:07
SHELLY VANEPPS
I mean, even if it’s as simple as setting how they set up a room, so long as they have everything, they’re what’s the problem?

09:52:21 – 00:10:02:03
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Can you give me an example of systems and how they may be appropriately implemented in a practice?

00:10:02:24 – 00:10:25:02
SHELLY VANEPPS
Sure. So so going back to the room, set up one because this is something that I hear from doctors over and over, say, you leave a room and somebody forgot the edge. We’re just going to use it as an example. It’s obviously needed for most procedures, right? So the you know, you go in and you say, hey, buddy, where was the edge today?

00:10:25:13 – 00:10:50:01
SHELLY VANEPPS
What’s wrong with you? Go do an SRP, write this up. Fix the system. How do you think she’s going to feel about that situation? You completely dumped her bucket. She’s going to feel like every time she sets up a room, she’s going to forget the edge. And she probably will because she’s going to be so focused on it that the negative is always going to come to light versus pulling her aside and saying, Hey, buddy, can we talk real quick?

00:10:50:01 – 00:11:09:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
I noticed we didn’t have it. What happened? What can we do to make sure that we have it next time? All of a sudden she might say, You know what, let me update the SRP. Let me make sure it’s on there. I don’t think it is. And all of a sudden she’s going to remember it’s a shift. It’s not focusing on the system and blame game.

00:11:09:00 – 00:11:27:28
SHELLY VANEPPS
It’s focusing on her. What did we do? How can we fix it? She’s going to take ownership and how she’s fixing it, and it’s probably not going to happen again. And if it does say, you know, what did you get that updated? You know, do you need help? What can I do for you? It’s just a little bit of a tweak, but it goes a long, long way.

00:11:28:22 – 00:12:02:06
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
You mentioned SRP that stands for standard operating procedure or protocol. Okay. Just to make sure those who are listening understand what terminology you’re using. And let’s talk about leadership. We were talking about the different levels of leadership. And you sent me a model by John Maxwell, who’s also a model from the book Good to Great by Collins. And he talked about level five leadership, which is the pinnacle, as you’ll talk about in a moment.

00:12:02:17 – 00:12:06:07
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Tell me about these five levels of Maxwell leadership.

00:12:06:25 – 00:12:31:00
SHELLY VANEPPS
Well, we were talking about, you know, how you have a team member and they’re just assigned to a position. They’re considered a level one position level one leader, I should say, because of the position, they’re given the right to be a leader just by the title. They’re there, quote unquote, the office manager. Well, that’s fantastic. They haven’t earned anything other than that.

00:12:31:00 – 00:12:53:18
SHELLY VANEPPS
They interviewed really well or they had a nice resume. And then you go up to a level two where you’ve got permission. So now all of a sudden you’ve started to build relationships with people and they want to listen to you. So a totally different type of leader at that particular position. Then you go off of results for a level three.

00:12:54:04 – 00:13:30:24
SHELLY VANEPPS
You’re the best treatment coordinator ever. You are able to talk to every single patient and every patient schedules everything that you talk to them about your production base, you get results. People are going to start to follow you because they see what you can do. Then you shift into level four where now not only are you in the position people relate to you, you get the results, but now you’re going to help them to be developed themselves, to be able to be like you from a standpoint of the results that you’re getting in, the relationships that they’re building.

00:13:30:24 – 00:13:50:24
SHELLY VANEPPS
And it’s kind of an arm of where you’re at right now. Then there’s the pinnacle, the Holy Grail, the one that everybody wishes that they were, that very few of us are. And it’s completely off of respect in who you are. And and that’s ultimately where any leader is aiming for, whether they get there or not, eventually, hopefully they will.

00:13:52:13 – 00:13:56:15
SHELLY VANEPPS
And it might be with different components or different areas within their.

00:13:56:24 – 00:14:30:08
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
To add on to level five. This is from Collins work and good to great. You have these level five leaders. This can also come from a level five leader like in the dentist situation. I guess I can go down the chain where it’s one who accepts responsibility, personal responsibility, but there’s also humility and the metric of success in terms of level five leaders is that the team did it themselves.

00:14:30:18 – 00:14:56:21
SHELLY VANEPPS
I wish everybody was at that level and a lot of people, a lot of owners think, my goodness, my name is on the door. I’m the pinnacle leader in this in this place. And it’s just not the case. They are they very well could be at a level one with their team because they are the doctor. They have the position, but they haven’t earned everything else with regards to their leadership within their team.

00:14:57:09 – 00:15:27:02
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
I see what you’re saying. Position, permission, production, people, development, pinnacle. So as we move up from just your role into actual leadership and growth and the ultimate there that sounds so you’re saying to me that dentists very often could be a level one and I’m looking at this these levels. Where where do you think most fall? Most team members fall under this model.

00:15:27:10 – 00:15:28:27
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Are they position level.

00:15:29:20 – 00:15:31:26
SHELLY VANEPPS
Most team members or most doctors?

00:15:32:06 – 00:15:32:22
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Both.

00:15:33:10 – 00:15:54:29
SHELLY VANEPPS
So I feel like, honestly, there’s there should and could be a very good mixture. I’ve worked with doctors that have fallen on every one of these levels within their team. I most definitely have worked with doctors who are straight level one with regards to the way that their team looks at them with regards to leadership, they sign the check.

00:15:55:05 – 00:16:18:10
SHELLY VANEPPS
That’s fine and dandy, but they haven’t gone into building a relationship, getting results with that person, helping to build that person up, and therefore they solely are the owner of the company. They’re not a leader. And then I’ve worked with doctors who are all about the people development and wanting to build their team and helping them along their way with their career and their journey.

00:16:18:10 – 00:16:37:24
SHELLY VANEPPS
And it’s not just about what will you give me, but this is what I’m going to give you in your career. And those are the types of doctors that I prefer to work with, quite honestly, because it’s not all about them. And if you can get to that level, you’ll see the results because your people will work for you.

00:16:38:15 – 00:16:46:07
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
How do I, whether I’m a doctor or a team member, how do I work up this ladder? What has to happen? What has to change to grow as a leader?

00:16:47:02 – 00:17:07:12
SHELLY VANEPPS
Ultimately mindset, I mean, you really need to have a focus on what am I doing, how am I treating my people, am I engaged with them? Am I getting to know what they want, what they’re looking to achieve professionally and then helping them to get there and helping them by showing them the way, not telling them the way.

00:17:07:28 – 00:17:23:07
SHELLY VANEPPS
You can’t tell somebody take a right at this corner and expect them to always take the right. You have to say, well, do you want to go to the left or to the right? And why do you want to go that way? Well, because the lake is to the right. And I want to go to the water. Okay, good answer.

00:17:23:11 – 00:17:33:01
SHELLY VANEPPS
Head to the right. Whereas if they wanted to go to the mountains and they wanted to turn right and it’s heading toward the water, don’t let them do it. Just help them to identify which direction they need to go.

00:17:33:06 – 00:17:42:21
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Let’s circle back to the title. The Office Manager Being Obsolete. So what’s your verdict? Is the dental office manager obsolete?

00:17:43:04 – 00:18:02:09
SHELLY VANEPPS
I am hesitant to answer that because I’ve been the office manager. But when I step back and look at the roles that are needed in the actual actions that take place, yes, I feel that the office manager is obsolete. I think you need to focus on having a team leader, not an office manager.

00:18:02:20 – 00:18:10:13
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
So cultivate leadership and use systems and cooperation to handle management.

00:18:10:19 – 00:18:18:27
SHELLY VANEPPS
Absolutely. Have your team take initiative by following a strong leader in your practice and you will get the results that you’re looking for.

00:18:19:16 – 00:18:34:13
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Well, thank you, Shelly, so much. What are some action steps I can take as a dentist? Listening to this podcast, I like to get better at the leadership. I and deciding whether I need an office manager or to improve that position. What should I do?

00:18:35:07 – 00:19:06:10
SHELLY VANEPPS
You should get a coach who can help you in determining where you’re at. Help assess where you’re at on your levels of leadership. Currently, do some self reflection on where you are and where you want to be. Maybe read some books, listen to some podcasts, you name it, grow yourself, be putting some initiative into taking yourself to the next level and identifying where it is that you’re you’re missing and where you need to go to help your leadership skills.

00:19:07:13 – 00:19:09:15
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Shelly, thank you for being on the podcast.

00:19:10:21 – 00:19:12:10
SHELLY VANEPPS
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

00:19:12:24 – 00:19:35:18
ALEX NOTTINGHAM
Please remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and the more five star reviews and comments on our show page, the more great content we can make for you and all of your dental buddies until next time, go out there and be an all star.

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