From the STN Archives

How to Maintain and Grow Business During A Pandemic

Brad Clothier Delta Dental AA Thumbnail




KK: What were some of the immediate things that you realized you were going to have to do as a leader in this organization?  BC: From my vantage point, where my role is on innovation and creation, it was about a change and pivot really towards preservation. We were really worried about what this meant for us as an organization. Everything being very new for us and something that most of us have never faced in the past. It’s really, how are we going to handle this, make sure how we are going to take care of our employees and how we are going to take care of our customers? So the idea of business development and what we were going to do to grow business, to innovate and create, was something we had to shift quickly to. How do we take care of what we have first and preserve it and take care of it the way we need to.



KK: How would you say this experience, being in this role in the midst of the coronavirus, has changed you as a leader? What are some of your typical traits that you kind of saw dissolve, and what traits did you pick up as you realized what your team needed?

BC: In our standard environment as a Dental Insurance company, we obviously have an office environment where everybody comes to work everyday, and there’s a lot of networking and camaraderie and suggestive thinking that goes on as it relates to an office environment. Well, here comes the coronavirus and myself being so hands on in an office setting, we have to pivot and change towards everyone working from home, so it’s more of a hands off setting. While we still have Teams meetings and Zoom meetings on a weekly basis, those have changed to have changed now to have some of the networking opportunities we’ve had in the past, but we really have enabled our people to be more successful with working from home because we’ve empowered them. So it’s really changed myself and other leaders within our organization have been able to interact with their teams.



KK: How would you say it has gone? We get the impression that it has been a very successful transition for your people but how does it translate to getting people to feel comfortable going to the dentist and using the services that you are enabling them to have in a time when they may not feel that comfortable? How do you educate them? How do you make sure that while we are all focusing on not getting COVID, we’re still maintaining our oral health?

BC: I would say it has been difficult, but I think we have a cadence going now that we feel pretty comfortable with. It started off with the first executive order that all dental offices needed to close in March. Except for emergency services only. So, you had this closure and people were basically staying home and staying away from the dentist. Then you had the open up in May and the ramp up for dentists happened rather quickly. They had to have the necessary amount of PPE. They had to have all the right things in place to ensure patients safety, and then patients weren’t coming into the office. We had through the knowledge through our customers that they were uncertain or unsure of the safety of going to a dental office. So we had to, through education and encouragement that we put out to our customers, let people know that the dental office is a safe environment. That our contracting dental providers here that serve us that they are doing everything possible to ensure that they are putting the right things in place through PPE, through air filtration systems, water filtration systems – all the things to make sure their offices are clean and a safe environment for people to come in and seek services. With all that said, we still are not seeing the ramp up of what we have expected with utilization that has appeared in the past. I would say we are running 90% of what we normally would which is still a nice number and a good marker, but we would like to see that rebound 100% because then we are assured that people are getting the oral health that they need. We know for a fact that oral health is so important in overall health and want to make sure people don’t miss out on that.



KK: How do you identify where you’re going to focus those efforts? It might be pretty simple to know what your community needs in a typical time, but when a pandemic hits, how do you continue to serve those who need it most when that’s an ever changing topic?

BC: I would say a couple ways. Delta Dental of Arizona first off is a 501-C4 organization, tax exempt organization, and we do a lot of our good work through citizenship organization which is a 501-C3. We’re able to keep out tax exempt status by doing things through our foundation and giving our dollars to the community. Our leader in that area has an outreach program that she has in place with several of our grantees that we work with to ensure that we know what the community needs are and how we can best step up to be able to help the community, whether it’s from a foundational perspective or an organizational perspective and the dental services we might provide. We’re making those outreaches and putting our feelers out in the community to find out how we can best serve what the community needs are during these most difficult times.



KK: I know that you guys put together a committee. How often do you meet? Who’s on that committee? What are some of the practices that have worked for that team that you would recommend to other leaders in that same situation? 

BC: We did put together what we would classify as a pandemic planning committee. The main reason why is, Delta Dental is a people first organization, and we want to focus on our employees first. We met weekly in the beginning when we started. We still meet weekly and talk about current events, things that are going on, things that we hear about, what’s happening with the inoculation of COVID, where are we on the shot being made available so that people can actually feel good about vaccines. Also, one of the state mandates that are out there, we want to make sure that we are adhering to those but most importantly we’re doing what we can to create safety for our employees. Whether it’s work from home environment, whether they have the necessary tools they need at home, Delta Dental and that committee has helped our employees in so many ways. From the very beginning, we forced our employees to work from home because of the change in the environment, which was a good thing but at the same time we found out not everyone was equipped to work from home so we put forward a $750 stipend for each employee to help them cover any expenses they may have to help them with a work from home environment outside of a computer the things that Delta Dental was providing them. We continue to meet with our employees and through our Smile Task Force that we have internally through Delta Dental, finding out what their needs are and making sure they are well taken care of.



KK: What have you learned about the people who work for you that maybe you wouldn’t have learned if we were never in a pandemic and how will it help you serve them in the future?

BC:I think we learned how resilient they are. It’s been amazing because people were forced to work from home. There wasn’t an office environment for them to come into. We still have our office. We have a very small skeleton crew that we run there of 10 people, so we have about 90-100 people working from home, but we found out how successful they can be and how much our organization can continue to grow and thrive with people working from home. In fact, we’re having one of  the best years in the history of our company and that’s a testament to our employees and us pivoting to give them the resources to give them what we can at home. What we’ve learned is more than anything is we would normally get 40+ hours a week from them when they were in the office, now their office is at home, so we’re finding that our employees, not because we’re asking them, they’re working unbelievable hours and with the production levels and what we’re getting out of our employees is incredible, and it’s serving our customers well. It’s a fine balance, but we’re certainly pleased with how resilient they’ve been through this pandemic.



KK: Are there any challenges during this time that you’re still looking to overcome? Where you really have to bring that hands off approach that you mentioned you newly acquired where people really don’t know what’s coming next. 

BC: I think there is because there’s times where you need to be compassionate to people when you’re not there with them first hand, you can’t sense and feel when they need something from you and they’re afraid to ask, and that’s the one thing I always worry about. We continue to tell our people, if you need anything from me please let us know. The thing is, we don’t want them to be afraid to ask. That’s what I think we miss a little bit by not having that face-to-face and even through teams and people don’t want to show vulnerability. People are dealing with a lot of mental health and sensitive issues because of family situations. We’re just trying to make sure they know they have an open mic to come to us as an organization to be able to tell us anything and everything, and we will make the situation best for them.

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