Perhaps easier done by a online shoe store than a dental office. After finishing Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, I found that this book provided some great insight into starting and running a successful business. Business and practice management is infamously under-taught in Dental School. Most recent dental school graduates are no longer starting practices from scratch or buying practices straight out of school due to the overwhelming student loan debt many of us face. Instead, due to finances, recent graduates are limited to working as associates in private practices or for corporate practices. Which luckily frees us from most practice management and business worries. As an associate, I am using my “free time” to prepare to swim in the business world prior to jumping in the deep end of practice ownership. And doing so through the only way I’ve know how to after being in school for 20 years — reading books written by people smarter and more experienced than me.

Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe and clothing shop that started as a silicon valley start up and is now owned by, Inc. Which I know what you are thinking – how is this book about selling shoes online going to tell me anything insightful about running a dental office. While seemingly polar opposites, Tony has some insights into what made/makes Zappos successful that I believe can translate into creating a successful dental practice. The two themes that Hiseh attributes to Zappos’ success throughout his book are: Customer Service and Company Culture.

Most people hate going to the dentist, and many patients tell this to our faces almost everyday. Which is why customer service is perhaps the most important element of a successful dental office. Dentists know, you can be the most talented dentist, but if you don’t have good bedside manner, you’ll have no one in your chair to do your beautiful dental work on. Hsieh Says: “Make customer service a priority for the whole company, not just a department. A customer service attitude needs to come from the top.” As the leader of the dental team, a Dentist needs to be the leader in providing a customer service. But most of us know this and attempt to do this everyday in our practices. So what’s the new message? Hsieh believes creating great customer service can come from a different approach saying “At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own.”

Company culture is perhaps a buzz term for tech companies, where people think of skeeball and other arcade games in lobbies or unlimited free snacks and drinks, but this isn’t the culture Hsieh discusses. Rather Hsieh discusses that company culture is based on core values:

Many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day 1 of orientation, but after that it’s just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby. We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.

I believe more small businesses, such as dental practices, need to adopt this mentality and in doing so will create a better workplace environment for employees which our patients will see, appreciate and benefit from. Having core values that is more than just making money, not only creates a happier workplace environment for the whole dental team, but also creates a greater purpose to strive towards than just the typical day in and day out. And this could be all the difference in a good verse a great company as Hsieh discusses from Jim Collins’ findings in the book Good to Great:

…great companies have a greater purpose and bigger vision beyond just making money or being number one in a market. A lot of companies fall into the trap of just focusing on making money, and then they never become a great company.

Why do these companies with greater purposes and core values that strive for something bigger achieve better success? Hsieh finds that “…the parallels between what the research has found makes people happy (pleasure, passion, purpose) and what the research has found makes for great long-term companies (profits, passion, purpose) makes for one of the most interesting fractals…” So clearly its in a business’ interest to make it’s employees happy. After all no one would argue that happier employees are more likely to be more helpful and productive.

But why is “purpose” the direction business owners should go about making employees happier and not “pleasure”, say via a higher paycheck? Hsieh states that “Research has shown that of the three types of happiness, [pleasure] is the shortest lasting. As soon as the source of stimuli goes away, people’s happiness levels drop immediately.” Where as, “The higher-purpose type of happiness is about being part of something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you. Research has shown that of the three types of happiness, this is the longest lasting.”

So as current and future business owners we should look to other business sectors and adopt better business practices to not only create great businesses, but have happier employees along with us for the ride.

“When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”  —  BERTICE BERRY