When you market your practice, what is it that you promote? Services? Prices? New patient specials? Do you market your brand?

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh summed it up in a 2009 blog entry: “Your culture is your brand.” But I’ll bet you’ve never thought of your practice that way. In fact, if you’re like so many of the dentists I’ve worked with over the last 20 years, creating a culture — and reaping the long-term benefits of it — hasn’t even crossed your clinically focused mind.

And even if it has, you may have pushed it off to focus on what you’re really good at — providing excellent clinical care. But what if I told you that if you were willing to put in the time, effort, and financial investment toward creating a culture in your office, it would provide you with huge rewards down the road?

When a practice owner gets the importance of creating culture in the office and then gets it right when implementing it, the dividends are astounding. Increased referrals, a more engaged team, higher productivity, and greater patient and employee retention are just a few of the steady, long-term benefits.

Unfortunately, most people don’t invest in culture. Everyone wants the result of culture, but nobody wants to do the work. But you can’t create culture on the fly, and you can’t create it in front of your patients. Culture is created when you take time with your team outside the office. And if you choose to do so, you have an excellent opportunity to set your practice above the competition: Culture can’t be copied.

4 ways

So, what exactly can you do to create culture in your office? Here are four ways you can begin the process of creating a culture in your practice.

1. Give back

Whether it’s to the community or your charity of choice, being generous as a team with a shared purpose creates engagement and promotes bonding among team members. Not sure where to start? Dentistry from the Heart is a one outstanding opportunity to give back to your community that will involve every one of your team members.

2. Plan leadership retreats

Your leadership team should be running your office. So to focus on the bigger picture and grow your practice, they need to regularly get out of the office for a day or two away from the daily distractions. Schedule team-building events in the agenda to offset the work and provide team bonding opportunities.

“You can’t expect immediate results, but over time that culture would be so powerful the end results will be worth the initial deficit.”

3. Train your team

Training is a great way to show your team members you value their professional (and personal) growth and development. And by investing in training on a regular basis, you express your commitment to their success.

4. Experiences

This is a perfect example of creating culture outside of the office. Go bowling with your team. Take them on a white-water rafting trip or to a local professional or collegiate sporting event. Give them an opportunity to have fun and interact without having to be on for your patients.

How does it pay?

So how does investment in culture pay back? First, you need to know that you have to front-load culture. You will start by putting more into it than you get out. But over time, you’ll get more out of the investment than you put in. You can’t expect immediate results, but over time that culture would be so powerful the end results will be worth the initial deficit.

And when the culture is defined and lived out, you will see a happier, more productive and more engaged team. This all leads to increased patient care and satisfaction. Soon you will have patients talking about how different your office is, how it doesn’t feel like a dental visit, and how they actually enjoy going to the dentist again.

So, what’s on your calendar in 2017 to create culture?

If you don’t have a vision and purpose for your practice, you don’t have a culture in your office. Use the remainder of 2016 to determine a plan for 2017. Define your vision. Define your purpose. Share them with your team. Put monthly and quarterly meetings, trainings, outings, and activities on the calendar. And be sure to create a budget for it. Creating a culture takes time, intention, and money, but when done right, it will get you an incredible return.