Bigger or Better?

John Sullivan, DDSCharting the Course for AACD
by John Sullivan, AACD President

I’m always surprised by how fast time rushes by. It seems like just yesterday we were with our friends in Boston, and now the Fourth of July has come and gone.The Academy leadership has been busy since our annual meeting, with our three boards—the Board of Directors, the American Board of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Board of Trustees—all meeting in Madison in June to focus on future AACD strategies. In addition, the Professional Education Committee also met to plan our Academy’s future educational goals. Soon, the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee will begin the task of leadership development and preparing for the next cycle of elections.

The efforts shown by the boards and committees demonstrate how a volunteer organization can work. For us to really succeed though, we need a professional staff to make it all happen, since after each meeting, all our volunteers return to their own professional and personal lives.

I always enjoy visiting the AACD Executive Office, as I’m reminded of what a dedicated and amazing team we have in Madison. They keep us focused on our ends policies, and keeping the Academy on track. Michael DiFrisco, Director of Membership and Marketing and a recent addition to the AACD staff, has injected a new, modern feel to our marketing efforts and has worked hard to expand our member benefits in quality and in value. In a recent conversation, he related the following story, which has implications for the Academy:

“I heard a great story recently about an incident that took place in a boardroom in Atlanta, Georgia, a few years ago. It seems that Chick-fil-A, one of the southern states’ favorite quick-serve restaurants—around since 1946—was going through a competitive crisis. Their senior staff was concerned about the growth and fast expansion of other restaurants, and especially some new competitors focused on chicken.

For several years, committees studied the problem; task forces were sent afield to observe what the “other guys” were doing; and twenty-some MBAs in slick suits built spreadsheets and argued strategy. One day, during a heated session at Chick-fil-A headquarters, the suits were at it again, making their case for growth: “We have to expand.” “In order to compete we have to open more stores.” “We need a growth strategy.” Charts were displayed and laser pointers crisscrossed the boardroom in support of expansion at all costs.

Suddenly, a pounding came from the back of the room. A fist thumping the table quickly brought order to the conference. Truett Cathy, the 85-year-old founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A, had stood all that he could and he finally spoke up. “No, no, no,” he said. “We don’t need to grow for growth’s sake. We need to do what we do now, but even better. We need to get back to the basics; focus on the fundamentals. We don’t need more Chick-fil-As; we need better Chick-fil-As.”

And that’s what they did. They refocused their efforts on creating a better dining experience, faster drive-thrus, better-tasting food, and more efficient operations. And the result? In browsing the news this morning I came across this nugget: “Other fast feeders may be struggling, but Chick-fil-A has been barreling through the eating-out slowdown on its way to record sales growth and expansion. The Atlanta-based chicken chain posted an 11% sales increase for 2010, including a 6% increase in same-store volume; plans to add a record 90 new outlets this year, many in new markets such as Chicago.”

I believe that’s where we are with the Academy today. With the spike in membership and the awareness of cosmetic dentistry in the mid-2000s, many would suggest the Academy needs a growth strategy; a plan to return to those glory days of 2005-2006, but growth for growth’s sake is not a strategy. It might be pleasing to see the numbers rise, but this would be built on artificial hype and exposure; not true substance. Members might kick the tires for a year, but they won’t stick around unless their stack of dollars is at least equal to the stack of value they’re receiving from their professional affiliation.

Instead, the AACD has been focused on building member value; improving benefits, enhancing educational opportunities, expanding offerings, reaching out to related organizations in partnership, growing general public awareness, making an impact with international presence and, much more. To be our best; and, to continually improve. This is a “get better” strategy that will inevitably lead to growth.

The AACD volunteer leaders and professional staff make a great team. The boards set the vision and policies: charting the course for our Academy; allocating the resources to make it happen, and  verifying that we are following the journey. The staff works hard to make it all happen. This journey is a great one; one we’ve been on for 27 years. To paraphrase Truett Cathy, we don’t need a bigger AACD just to be bigger, we need a better AACD and growth will follow. After the meeting in Boston—as well as the board meetings in Madison—I can see that we have boards and staff working together in vision and in action to make a better AACD.