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Beyond Dollars & Cents: Think about the Team

All successful dental practices need consistent new patient flow as well as patient loyalty. However, one of the most significant contributors to the most successful practices is a dentist’s ability to lead and manage a great team. Although some of us may want to believe that it requires luck to achieve a stable and dedicated team, successful dentists understand that leadership is developed and are willing to devote the time and energy to learn management and leadership skills. We always see prosperous dentists willing to spend time working “on” as well as “in” their practices. Using this mindset, practices can have team members who stay with the practice for many years, becoming part of the practice legacy along with the dentist.

Be considerate of “legacy” team members
When an established practice is ready to be transitioned, the working relationship that has developed between a long-term “legacy” team member and the selling doctor can present an obstacle if not carefully managed in advance. One major factor in the transfer of patient loyalty (goodwill) from the selling doctor to the new dentist is the relationship the team has with the patients, which partially originates from the team member’s loyalty to the selling doctor. In some cases, the selling doctor is the only dentist that individual has ever worked for, and over time, the dentist’s practice philosophy and work style become as much of a part of the “legacy” employee’s philosophy and work style as that of the doctor themselves. Additionally, the manner in which the doctor, as an employer, interacts with a long-standing team member develops from years of knowing and trusting that individual, and the confidence of consistently being able to rely on them.

Working in a close physical environment, in a profession that has its share of stress, contributes even further to a bond between the doctor and the long-term team member. Therefore, the transition to a new doctor can be a significant life event for these team members.

Ensure goodwill with open communication
The teams’ role in the sale of a practice is a major factor that can significantly influence the goodwill of the transition. When patients perceive that the team is in full support of the new doctor, the transfer of the patients’ trust and retention in the practice is preserved. Once the selling doctor is no longer present, patients will rely on their long-term relationship with the “legacy” team members for guidance. However, it is impossible to expect that the new dentist will instantly have the same support and loyalty of the team, which was developed over years with the retiring doctor.

With this in mind, both the buyer and seller have a responsibility in the successful transition of the staff, as part of the overall transition. The selling dentist has a responsibility to assist the new doctor in transferring patient loyalty, and therefore, the goodwill that the new dentist has purchased. Considerable time and effort should be spent communicating to the team how significant their role is in the transition. Once the team is aware of the pending transition, the seller must plan for the team to have ample time to meet the new doctor prior to the first day of becoming that doctor’s employee. The selling doctor must give “legacy” team members an opportunity to express their concerns and anxieties regarding the change that they may perceive as something that can greatly disrupt their comfortable routines. The seller should help prepare the new doctor regarding the inevitable concerns the team will have, the most common of which are the status of their job and compensation. Also, for some long-term team members, there will be concerns over matters regarding privileges that they have come to rely on, such as leaving at a certain time on a particular day, having a certain week each year off, or some other individual perk that the seller has allowed.

Don’t wait: Early communication is key
The new dentist has the responsibility to enter into the practice with a planned strategy to address the uncertainties and anxieties the team will have. This is not a time for a “wait and see” approach. The new dentist must plan, prior to taking over the practice, to be immediately prepared to communicate with each team member. Giving them an opportunity to express their concerns to you, as well as  communicating your goals and expectations to them, from the start, will be paramount in their transition and your success. Be careful not to make promises that you have not thoroughly evaluated as ones you can keep. You will gain trust and respect if you are honest about being unsure of an issue, and respond by letting them know you that will evaluate and address it. Of course, you must follow through in a timely manner or your credibility will systematically erode with time. An updated office manual (employee handbook), should be one of the first tasks you undertake as the new leader. Since this will set an objective standard by which to communicate from the get go, strong consideration should be given to employing a human resources professional to accomplish this task. The importance of this cannot be understated.

There are many considerations for both the buyer and seller during a dental practice transition. Preparing for your transition is the key to success and you should not attempt to take it on alone. Plan to join us to learn more about transition planning at our upcoming seminar on June 15 at the Florida National Dental Convention. Register online at http://FNDC.ADSflorida.com and find out more about other seminars throughout the year at http://seminar.ADSflorida.com.

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