Get the right people on the bus

shutterstock_101062504Alun K Rees says getting the practice team just right will lead you on a journey to success

Since its release in 2001 Jim Collins’ ground-breaking book on business management, Good to Great has sold more than two and a half million copies in hardback alone. It is essential reading for any business owner or manager. For this article I want to draw on just one key principle from it. Collins says that what distinguishes the great organisations from the merely good is, not only getting the right people on the bus but also in the right seats on the bus.
A dental practice, like any other business, faces a huge challenge in finding and blending the right individuals together to make an effective team. The right team will bring you success, but one person missing, or working against the grain, will make success a lot harder to obtain.

Typical problems include:
•    Recruiting people who seem right at the interview but turn out to be not quite what you thought
•    Retaining team members
•    Integrating the individuals into a team
•    Performance issues.

The science bit

The science or art of team building is something that has fascinated me for most of my working life. I have watched what seemed to be the right people fail to flourish and perform with a resulting fall in productivity. Good people who, on the face of things, ought to fit in have seemingly tried their best but have ended up disappointed and moved on.

In large organisations a certain amount of flux might be tolerable, but in the close-knit teams in most dental businesses each new person has a significant impact on the balance of a team. The saying goes that ‘you become who you hire’ and it is very true in dentistry.

In 2007 I was introduced to ‘Kolbe Wisdom’ which is the work of Kathy Kolbe. Kathy is a well-known and honoured author and theorist who has been working in the field of human behaviour for 40 years. From her scientific studies of learning differences between children she devised The Kolbe Wisdom, which has been used by such businesses as Kodak, IBM and Xerox and organisations including NASA. It is also available to be used with smaller teams.
Kolbe Wisdom is based on the concept that creative instincts are the source of the mental energy that drives people to take specific actions. This mental drive is separate and distinct from passive feelings and thoughts. Creative instincts are manifested in an innate pattern (modus operandi, or MO) that determines each person’s best efforts.

These conative or instinctive traits are what make us get things done. They should be differentiated from the cognitive (knowledge) or the affective (feelings). As Kathy Kolbe has written, ‘The conative is the clincher in the decision making hierarchy. Intelligence helps you determine a wise choice, emotions dictate what you’d like to buy, but until the conative kicks in, you don’t make a deal – you don’t put your money where your mouth is.’
Conation doesn’t define what you can or can’t do, rather what you will and won’t do.

A person’s MO is quantifiable and observable, yet functions at the subconscious level. MOs vary across the general population with no gender, age or racial bias. The MO governs actions, reactions and interactions. The MO also determines a person’s use of time and his or her natural form of communication. Exercising control over this mental resource gives people the freedom to be themselves.

Any interference with the use of this energy reduces a person’s effectiveness and the joy of accomplishment. Stress inevitably results from the prolonged disruption of the flow of this energy. Others can nurture this natural ability but block it by attempting to alter it.

Individual performance can be predicted with great accuracy by comparing instinctive realities, self-expectations and requirements. It will fluctuate based on the appropriateness of expectations and requirements.

When groups of people with the right mix of MOs function interactively, the combined mental energy produces synergy. Such a team can perform at a higher level than is possible for the same group functioning independently. Team performance is accurately predicted by a set of algorithms that determine the appropriate balance and make up of MOs.

Leaders can optimise individual and group performance by:
•    Giving people the freedom to be themselves
•    Assigning jobs suited to individual strengths
•    Building synergistic teams
•    Reducing obstacles that cause debilitating stress
•    Rewarding committed use of instinctive energy
•    Allowing for the appropriate use of time
•    Communicating in ways that trigger the effective use of the natural, universal and unbiased energy of creative instincts.

Any (dental) team is as good as:
•    The conative fit each individual has with his or her individual role
•    The members are, in accurately predicting the differences between each other
•    The management of the team is, in using the talent available.

In dentistry the use of Kolbe does not only help build the right teams. When the concepts are understood and applied to clinical situations or ones of patient choice and treatment planning, then resistance can be handled and the correct way of presentation used. Research tell us that an interview predicts performance only about 14% of the time. Some psychological testing tools can help but historically these have only measured two of the three parts of the mind the cognitive and the affective.

The cognitive can be measured by IQ tests, academic examinations and education.

The affective (or personality) can be assessed by Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and DiSC. MBTI is good for understanding how people think and interact emotionally and cognitively whilst DiSC is a behavioural (observed) model, it helps people understand why they do what they do, by measuring the interaction of four behavioural factors: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.

Unlike cognitive and social style instruments the Kolbe A provides the individual and therefore the organisation with what is innate and therefore unlikely to change. This gives us new insight into individual and team performance because it is a mix of consistent, authentic and sustainable talents.
The Kolbe A Index is a 36-question survey that reveals the individual mix of striving instincts; it measures individual energies in:
•    Fact finder – Gathering and sharing of information
•    Follow through – Sorting and Storing Information
•    Quick start – Dealing with risk and uncertainty
•    Implementation – Handling space and intangibles.

The results are a series of levels (rated on a scale of 1 to 10) at which they will use each of the four action modes. These zones of operation indicate the perspective through which a person naturally uses a zone. They are:
Prevent (1 to 3 on the index) – how you will not act or how you will prevent problems
Respond (4 to 6) – how you are willing to act or respond to opportunities
Initiate (7 to 10) – how you will act or initiate solutions.


There is invariably a ‘light-bulb’ moment when a person first sits down and reads their Kolbe A analysis. Usually it comes with a sense of comprehension, which can lead to acceptance of why they struggle with some aspects of their life. Frequently there is a feeling of relief that that there isn’t something ‘wrong’ with them because they seem to succeed in some areas but continue to wrestle with others.
Often people will tell me that they wished they had known their Kolbe Index result years ago as they are able to discover the source of their stress.
With the assistance of the analysis I am able to coach individuals on how they might perform better and to be a happier and more useful member of a team. In some instances it is apparent that someone is doing the wrong job and would be better employed in a totally different role.


With the Kolbe A analyses for the whole team, it is possible by examining the Kolbe Synergy report to determine the distribution of talent within a team or the separate parts of teams, e.g. nurses, front desk, clinicians, partners.


You may feel this is a significant investment of time and effort and indeed that is how many clients have felt. However if you consider the cost to your business of just one bad appointment, one person doing the wrong job you will find that getting involved with the Kolbe Wisdom™ not only makes economic sense but also strengthens the team as a whole and as individuals.

To paraphrase Jim Collins, if you want to move from good to great, then you have to take control of your own team bus.


Alun K Rees BDS is The Dental Business Coach. An experienced dental practice owner who changed career, he now works as a coach, consultant, troubleshooter, analyst, speaker, writer and broadcaster. He brings the wisdom gained from his and others’ successes to help his clients achieve the rewards their work and dedication deserve.

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