Some Thoughts on Office Culture and the Language of Leadership

“Cultural permission is the tone, attitude and language that emanates from the executive suite. It is a mantra, expressed in oft-used catch phrases and philosophies that move like waves through the organization. They get adopted and interpreted as actions to be followed.”

– Kevin Allen, Harvard Business Review


When you decide to be a dentrepreneur®️, you are making the choice to scale up your practice—but you need to have a scalable enterprise to do that. Strong people who take on challenges with an attitude of growth and empowerment are the foundation of this, but you must also build a scalable office culture for them to thrive.

Having fabulous staff won’t do you any good if there’s no captain to set the course. Establishing (or re-establishing) the right culture for your dental practice needs to happen top-down, and the most important factor in building culture is language.

Choose Your Words, Build Your Culture

What is business culture? Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, says your brand is your culture. Think about that for a moment. From your logo to your name and signage—what are the first things you want potential patients to think and feel when they see you? What is special about your practice and your brand of patient care?

You’ve probably thought about your brand before, no doubt, but not how it translates to the way you communicate with your own people. You may already be working hard to make sure those values are at the front of the house, but you can’t neglect the back-end: the working culture of your office staff.

Are your core mission values evident in the language you use with your dental team? If the answer is “probably not,” don’t panic! It’s not uncommon in our industry. Dental professionals are not natural jargon-masters, thank goodness. We don’t regularly introduce corporate mantras or switch up the theme for each new fiscal year. That’s not who we are.

We are in the business of healing and helping patients, not “business.” It might not come naturally to pay attention to whether your words project the culture you want to build. If you pride yourself on being plainspoken and down-to-earth, it can be especially jarring to put your words under a microscope—but it is 100 percent necessary!

Your Words Build Your Culture

We all know that words have power. You’ve felt this in your personal challenges. Walking into a difficult holiday meal or visit, you’ve probably said to yourself “this is going to be terrible.” But if you tell yourself, “this is going to be difficult, but I will stay calm and work through it best I can” you empower yourself with the patience to persevere.

No doubt you’ve also known someone who does nothing but complain and dwell on the negative. Despite their intentions, this type of behavior is poison.

How often do you use negative language around your staff? Over the next week, make an effort to listen to the words you use and reflect upon the messages you imprint with negative speech. Do you use negative speech when you joke? How often do you do this? Sometimes the closer-knit the staff are, the more negative the language is. Closeness breeds bluntness and this can feel like a sign of affection, even. But beware the hidden poison in “plain speech.”

You Have the Power to Set the Tone

Language that comes from the top is the primary builder of office culture. As a leader, your every message is taken as gospel: digested, acted upon, discussed, and internalized. Mindfully reflecting on the way you communicate every goal and outcome can help you transform your practice into place where your mission can thrive. It can be scary at first, but I am here to help. That’s what we do at Dentrepreneur Solutions. Give me a call—I’ll help you do it right!

Contact us about scaling your dental office culture and growing your business.

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