Rock Dental's Kristi Crum Sinks Teeth Into Inclusivity

Rock Dental's Kristi Crum Sinks Teeth Into Inclusivity
Kristi Crum, incoming CEO of Rock Dental Brands of Little Rock (Karen E. Segrave)
Kristi Crum joined Rock Dental Brands in March 2019 as the company’s chief operating officer.
Crum, of North Little Rock, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hendrix College in Conway. She started her career as an analyst with Alltel Corp. in Little Rock and spent 18 years with the company through its acquisition by Verizon. She served in a variety of leadership positions at Verizon, including president of the South Central Region and vice president of content operations, before spending a year as chief commercial officer at First Orion.
Crum takes over as CEO of Rock Dental Brands of Little Rock on Thursday, replacing co-founder Merritt Dake.

What can and needs to be done to place more women in executive positions?

Diversity and inclusion are mission critical. In order to attract and retain diverse talent, companies must create a culture of inclusivity so that all employees feel heard and appreciated for their unique perspectives. As leaders we must hold ourselves accountable, set metrics and report on them.

Our issues at Rock Dental are unique, as our employee base is 86% female. However, we need more diversity at all levels. To ensure we are being inclusive and understanding the needs of all, we created a diversity council made up of unique backgrounds from all areas of the company.

Transparency is another key aspect of our culture. We are committed to publishing our diversity numbers, and while we are not quite where we need to be, we are transparent with our team and have a plan in place to get there.

We have also established formal succession planning. This enables us to find talent who may not be raising their hands.

As leaders, we need to encourage women to speak up for roles, but we also need to ensure there is a process for talent to be identified, invested in and lifted up.

What attracted you to Rock Dental?

The culture and the mission are what attracted me to Rock Dental. Our 600-plus employees consistently use the word “family” to describe who we are.

As we continue to grow, we have an obsessive focus on maintaining our culture. We personally onboard new teams and employees to ensure they understand our mission to improve the communities we serve, as well as maintain the family feel each and every day.

How did the pandemic affect Rock Dental and what are your expectations post-pandemic?

The events of 2020 have turned our industry upside down. We recently reflected on the day we closed our doors due to the associated risk with COVID and how as a leadership team we agreed that we must use the time to improve all aspects of our business and maintain a connection with our employees. We used the downtime to hone our safety precautions, improve our communication systems and work on processes and systems.

When we had the approval to open our doors, our team was highly trained on safety protocols, our patients had peace of mind that we had the right tools and processes in place, and our business was better than when we entered into COVID. It was a difficult time for everyone, but I’m proud of our team, who worked tirelessly to ensure our success.

What is the hardest thing about establishing a positive, memorable brand?

I once read that brands are about feelings and feelings are complicated. Building a brand is one thing, but building a brand that lasts and evokes emotion requires constant focus, innovation and an invested team.

To better hold ourselves accountable, about two years ago we started asking patients to rate our service. Thousands of surveys are sent out randomly. From day one, the team has been invested in the outcomes. They were prepared for the good and the bad as they strive to provide phenomenal care. I am beyond proud to report we have the best patient satisfaction scores in the industry.

We care, we innovate, and we don’t run from the areas we need to improve. That’s how we build a brand that lasts.