Pacific Dental Services (Pacific Dental), a Center for Higher Ambition Leadership member company, has a vision to become the greatest dental company in America. In pursuit of this goal, the company is galvanized by what can be achieved when everyone discovers the untapped potential within themselves.
On May 13th, as part of the launch of a community of Higher Ambition CEOs in Southern California, Pacific Dental hosted a CEO learning visit to its headquarters in Irvine, CA.
Steve Thorne, Founder and CEO of Pacific Dental, and Scott Beck, Vice Chairman, shared how the company has successfully implemented its distinctive Higher Ambition business model to align purpose, values, strategy and structure.
One important structure in support of the strategy is the We Serve Department, which is focused on serving people who need a hand up.
Genesis for the We Serve Department
What led Pacific Dental Services to think beyond simply profits? In 2006, the business was performing well financially. Thorne however, began to feel that his company’s values and beliefs needed more tangible engagement with all of his stakeholders. One Easter morning, Thorne had an epiphany: They would create and fund a group to bring a volunteer service opportunity to life. This was the birth of the We Serve Department. We Serve’s initial charter was to help employees engage in acts of service to one another, especially those facing hardship. As Thorne explained, “You can’t get your people out serving unless you first serve them.”
Among its remarkable accomplishments, We Serve has organized charitywater.org fundraising drives supported by employees, partners and patients, raising over $3M to date to provide clean and safe drinking water to people around the world. They also sponsor international visits to developing countries. Most recently a team traveled to Ethiopia where the company is building a health/dental training institute. We Serve also recently launched a scholarship program for disadvantaged women to become dental hygienists and who will ultimately be employed at Pacific Dental.
What is next?
The two leaders have developed an even more ambitious vision for the company. They are pioneering a more holistic approach to their patients’ overall health. For example several recent studies have shown that oral health is closely linked to body health including connections to diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Their next higher ambition is to make a difference for humanity through holistic dentistry while profitably growing their business.
We Serve and Pacific Dental’s Higher Ambition
While it has proven to be a force for good, the We Serve Department is less about corporate citizenship and more about a way to build a Higher Ambition company culture and increase performance. Its efforts have led to several tangible business outcomes, including increased engagement scores and reduced employee turnover. Thorne feels those who go on the trips will be loyal employees for life. Pacific Dental’s people have discovered greater meaning in their work and have learned about becoming leaders. And, perhaps most significant, Thorne feels the sense of mission and purpose attracts the right type of people to the company. In fact, the higher ambition mindset is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for hire.
In addition to We Serve, Thorne and Beck have designed additional structural components to scale the company’s culture. The belief statements are re-enforced using daily e-mail reminders and morning huddles. They discovered it was important to communicate the principles in a consistent way so new employees adopt the common language and behaviors which drive the success of the company.
By establishing structures to scale and grow culture, the company’s strategy pivots on the high commitment of its stakeholders rooted in its vision and beliefs. Pacific Dental Services has set a clear example for business leadership, economic success, and social impact. It was a terrific opportunity for them to share their success with the other CEOs who attended the event. Moreover, all who attended committed to bringing the important lessons they learned back to their own organizations.