What’s Your Inheritance Look Like?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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It’s a package deal. You just bought a practice from a retiring dentist. You get the patients, the equipment, the records, the parking spaces, the computer system, and …the staff. Inheriting a team can be both a blessing and a curse. If you’re lucky, they will be a good group of people who will be key to your success, thanks to their established relationships with patients, knowledge of practice systems, and openness to change. If you’re not so lucky, they will present a host of challenges, barriers, and frustrations, particularly if you don’t establish your expectations from day one. Consider the case of Dr. Watts.
Ellen has been the business manager in the practice for about eight years. For the first seven, Ellen worked for Dr. Sullivan. He retired about a year ago, when the practice was sold to Dr. Watts. Ellen was very comfortable working for Dr. Sullivan. As long as she took care of specific tasks, this salaried employee could come and go as she pleased – out promptly at noon for her one-hour lunch and heading for the door at 5 p.m., regardless of how many patients remained in the office. If Dr. Sullivan didn’t approve, he simply looked the other way.
In trots Dr. Watts and she fully expects Ellen to be at the desk to handle patients even if it means leaving a few minutes behind schedule for lunch and getting out a little later in the evening. After all, checking patients in and out is Ellen’s job. When Dr. Watts mentions that she would like Ellen to be at the desk to take care of patients, Ellen will improve for a while but slips back into her old habits.
The bottom line is that Ellen wants control of what she sees as her schedule. She had control when she worked for Dr. Sullivan and she’s not interested in relinquishing it to Dr. Watts. Her behavior is much like a child testing a parent, Ellen will continue to push to see just what she can get away with in terms of leaving before her job is done.
Although Dr. Watts has told Ellen she’d prefer she didn’t leave until the patients are checked out, it’s not in writing. There are no job descriptions, and there are no performance reviews or disciplinary procedures. She has not set forth clear expectations for her new team. Ellen may be a solid employee, but she doesn’t understand why Dr. Sullivan didn’t have a problem with her leaving “on time” but Dr. Watts does. She doesn’t see the importance of her role and how it affects the productivity of the team as a whole.
Taking over a practice requires change management. It requires the dentists to share her/his vision, goals, and expectations for the practice and the team immediately – not a year or two after she/he’s set up shop. Helping employees to adapt to the change in leadership and helping the doctor determine if this team is the right fit for her/his practice starts with clear direction and written expectations from the doctor as well as regular performance reviews. Otherwise, the dentist may well find that she/he is working for the team rather than the team working for the dentist.
Take these steps and spell out your desires clearly from day one:
- Make a conscious effort to establish open and clear communication with your new staff. Give them plenty of direction and feedback.
- Clearly explain employee responsibilities.
- Establish expectations for employees and, if necessary, provide training to enable them to meet those expectations.
- Hold regular meetings with staff and follow a specific written agenda.
- During meetings, require each employee to report on the system they are accountable for, such as scheduling, accounts receivable, recall, hygiene, etc.
- Encourage a problem solving environment in the meetings, so that employees feel comfortable asking for direction, guidance, and assistance if they are having difficulty reaching a goal.
- Identify issues that could be problems with patients or among the team.
- Develop strategies and delegate responsibility to specific staff to address those critical issues.
Focus on staff communication up front and you will significantly reduce the pain of change and establish yourself as the leader of your practice and your team.
Next week, avoid the number one pitfall when inheriting a new team.
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