The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

5 Choices You Can Make to Influence Positive Change

Practice Management

By: Dean Savoca, M.Ed., BCC, CSP

Increase revenue, grow patients, plan strategically, and improve relationships: these are primary objectives of many practices that want to make positive changes. But in discussing these objectives, many organizations tend to focus on the problem of what’s not working. Instead, the approach I have found to be most successful is to focus on what is working.

When a computer breaks, we troubleshoot or use trial and error to fix it. A computer is a machine. This method of “fixing” works well. This method is not always as effective when dealing with human systems.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein

This traditional “fixing” approach to organizations worked when leaders and practice owners were primarily managers of resources: payroll, schedules, budgets, maintaining equipment and supplies. In today’s world of workgroups, collaborative environments drive productivity and leaders are more than just problem-solving managers. They are expected to build employee engagement in addition to practicing dentistry. In response to these broader expectations, a new model for change has evolved: Appreciative Inquiry (AI). 

Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based approach to change that engages and energizes your team as they focus on what they are doing right, and how they can build on past success to produce future success. So, what happens to the problems? Problems are recognized as a desire for something else. Problems are dissolved rather than solved.

When we focus on the problems, we get tired and often discover more problems. By focusing on what is appreciated, your organization discovers its strengths and clarifies the productive direction it wants to go.

“The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant.” Peter Drucker

To discover the roots for this change approach, examine the roots of the words “Appreciative Inquiry.” Appreciate means to value. It can also mean to increase in value – as with a house or financial investment. Inquiry means to explore or discover, to ask questions, to be open to new possibilities. The assumption underlying AI is simple: every human system has a core of strengths that is often hidden and underutilized. When the organizational strengths are discovered and utilized, it provides a sustainable source of positive energy that drives both personal and organizational change. AI is like a search engine, searching for the strengths and successes of a human system. When the strengths are linked to an agenda for change, rapid and sustainable
positive change is possible.

Choose to study what IS working in your practice.
You can choose to study why productivity has decreased or why your best people are leaving. You would understand the problem better, but not necessarily have a clue about how to change the human system. Ask instead, “Why do star dental assistants stay? And what do the stars do to produce results?” Then you can start getting ideas about what works and can focus on what will keep productive, driven people.

Choose to ask “appreciative” questions.
Positive questions lead to positive change. The questions we ask can produce energy or drain it, increase productivity or reduce it, enhance self‐confidence or deplete it. Consider this example I use with my kids after school. Instead of asking “How was your day?” I ask, “What was the best part of your day?” The first question is typically answered with a “fine,” but the second question
generates positive energy around the experience. The questions we ask are influential. They determine where we place our attention. Effective leaders ask questions that generate enthusiasm and action aligned with the future vision they want to create.

Choose to stimulate positive discussion and action.
What we talk about is what we focus on and what we focus on leads to action. Using time and energy to describe bad relationships can be exhausting and demoralizing. Instead, describe past productive work relationships and identify the desirable relationship qualities. The change starts in the discussion itself and the energy builds towards positive action.

Choose to BE the change you want to see.
Identify the change you want to see and frame it in the positive. Here’s how it works. Saying “I want staff to stop complaining and gossiping” becomes “I want a work environment where everyone feels appreciated and respected.” Leaders can start a
meeting by complaining about gossiping and lack of trust or can open a meeting with a story about trust in action or ask a question that provides others with the opportunity to share a positive experience.

Choose to celebrate realizing your vision.
When actions are taken toward your vision, reinforce and build on the success by celebrating it and building on what is working, and the Appreciative Inquiry process continues.

Dean Savoca, M.Ed., BCC, CSP is president of Savoca Performance Group, the performance development partner for hospitality industry organizations who want highly-effective teams that are focused, aligned and inspired. A 25-year veteran of the meetings and events industry, Dean speaks across the country on leadership, influence and development. Mr. Savoca will be leading the MDDS Board of Directors in the 2019 Applied Strategic Plan.


The Articulate Dentist is a blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society, providing members with insight into the dental industry, practice management tips, tech trends and best practices as well as Society news and updates.


The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.

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