Occupational Half Life – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!


Recently, regarding his book, The World is Flat, published in 2005, Tom Friedman said; “I looked in the index under F. Facebook wasn’t in it. Facebook didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound, the Cloud was in the sky, 4G was a parking place, LinkedIn was a prison, application is what you sent to college, and for most people Skype was a typo….”

Which brings us to our topic: the world is changing rapidly –  to the point where information, innovation and technology is evolving exponentially.  It’s a challenge to keep up and requires more time and effort than it did a mere 5 years ago.  Essentially, it’s like trying to out-run a tornado!

Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

Continuous change requires continuous learning. I don’t have to tell the doctors reading this. You get it. You know the importance of staying current in the clinical arena. But what about the team and the other areas of the practice?

Over 13 years ago, Jim Harris, PhD said something that caught Sandy Roth’s attention and it is just as relevant now as it was then:

“Another HR trend is the idea of occupational half-life, which asks the question, ‘How many years does it take for half of your work skills to become obsolete?’ In 1970, it took about 15 years. [That means] by 1985, half of your original skills were no longer useful. Today, the number is 2 1/2 to 3 years. That means in less than 30 months, half of what you’re doing will be obsolete.”

Whoa! This concept of occupational half-life is huge. It has major implications for anyone in almost any profession but it is especially true in the healthcare field.  What does this mean for your team? Well, for one thing, change is not an option. And to take that one step further, if one does not adopt a personal commitment to lifelong learning, they will quickly become irrelevant and obsolete.

Here is Sandy’s message to team members:

Learning cannot occur only within office hours. Academic and conceptual learning occurs outside of office hours. Practical application learning comes with the doing, where your practice is your learning laboratory. Indeed, there is a great deal that can be done during the hours of your employment, but it will never provide enough time to delve into the creative, the new and the innovative. And that is exactly where you must take yourself if you want to stay on the cutting edge and guard your future.

Your value to the practice will go down if your skills don’t go up. What is valuable to your practice right now will be less valuable in the future. Which half of your skills will be obsolete in three years and how will your diminished impact harm the success of the practice? You cannot expect your compensation to rise when your skill-base is stagnant.”

Did you get that last part team members?

So what role do you, the dentist, play in this? Certainly, you lead by example; taking continuing education courses, reading trade publications, learning how to implement new technology into the practice, networking with colleagues, learning from those smarter than yourself (that includes your team), involvement in professional organizations. While some of this may occur during practice hours, a lot of your learning and growth happens outside of the practice and at the expense of spending time with your family.  And why do you do it? While you know it will make you a better dentist and keep your practice growing, my guess is you have a curious mind and a strong commitment to lifelong learning.

Can the same be said for your team? Do they understand that their own growth and future potential lies in their own hands? Are they willing to invest in themselves by taking the initiative outside the practice? Are they spending their free time learning something new?  Do they have the mindset to “look it up” if they don’t know?

And are you encouraging and supporting them by providing opportunities for learning? Are you sponsoring independent learning, workshops, online courses or distance education?

I hope so.  That tornado is looming large in the distance.

Do Your Patients Deserve an Upgrade?


First Class Status!

While skimming the Facebook statuses on my Home page, I noticed a colleague’s comment about how excited she was to get an upgrade to First Class on her flight. She went on to say it was the “simple” things in life that make her day.  Another friend commented that it isn’t a “simple” thing – “it is what we deserve but seldom get”.

With first class status, you get priority check-in. You get to board early. The seats are roomy and usually a buttery leather with lumbar support. You are greeted immediately and get to choose from a wide selection of complimentary pre-flight beverages. There’s exceptional meal service (love those warm towels!). Some feature individual media players and personal amenities. You leave the plane feeling refreshed and a little more special than when you entered. Is it likely that my friend will think of this moment the next time she books a flight? Absolutely.

In fact, this JetBlue TV Commercial from 2006 took the concept of First Class and applied it to every passenger across the board.

It made me wonder what patients think when they arrive at a dental practice.  What have they come to expect?  Do they expect an outdated or less than appealing reception area?  Have they come to expect to wait for an extended period of time?  Are they accustomed to being rushed through? Do they expect to be lectured on their home care? Is it their expectation that they will be “hassled” about doing the treatment they’ve put off? Do they expect to hear dental-speak that doesn’t make much sense to them? In other words, do they expect to fly coach class?

What if your patients came to your practice expecting coach but instead, receive first class treatment? Imagine how they might be thinking as they leave the practice? What would it take to provide each and every patient an upgrade – to provide them with what they “deserve but seldom get”?

As you embark on a new year, why not make this a team project?  Each team member could review their own performance and area of responsibility and ask the question; How can I make this a first class experience for my patients?. What additional effort would it require? Think outside the box of dentistry. Think five-star hotel. Think red carpet treatment. Bring the ideas to a group meeting.  Brainstorm as a team and experiment with your ideas.

Make sure your patients feel more special when they leave. After all, you want them to book their next flight with you.