Family - For Better or For Worse?
Certainly, when it comes to the Family, the ties that bind can also fray. What is supposed to be a source of strength is often the cause of stress and anxiety. And maintaining family harmony in the face of workplace challenges can be no small undertaking for any business, particularly dental practices.
Consider the situation that “Dr. Mike” faces. His wife “Mary” works in the practice as the business manager. She is also in charge of collections. The couple lives and works in a large metropolitan area and has extended family nearby. Mary’s sister, husband, and two children are patients in Dr. Mike’s practice. It’s a classic situation; Sis and the husband walk all over Dr. Mike and Mary.
Mary’s sister thinks nothing of cancelling scheduled appointments for her family at the last minute. When Mary tries to explain the hardship that those cancellations cause the practice, Sis promptly shuts Mary down. “Cancellations happen all the time in dental practices. You should expect it.” Pouring salt on this wound, Sis’s husband never pays the bills for the dental care the family receives.
You could say it’s causing a bit of a strain on the familial relationship. But these types of situations aren’t limited to just family. The truth is Mary is an easy target, not only for her manipulating sister and freeloading brother-in-law, but for anyone else who claims they “forgot their wallet,” “will send a check as soon as they get home,” or “is a little tight on cash right now.” Just because Mary is Dr. Mike’s wife and the anointed “business manager” does not make her capable of performing the job duties effectively.
Family businesses can be very complex – to say the least. And navigating through the potential minefields is no small challenge for many. After all, when it comes to working with family there is a lot to gain…and a lot to lose. In dentistry, family-run practices are common with fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles, etc. working under the same roof. Some function very effectively together, and typically those that are the most successful are able to deal with business issues as partners, not as husband-wife, father-son, mother-daughter, etc. However, without clearly defined roles and detailed practice systems, emotions and family “dynamics” can quickly take over.
Communication and trust are essential, but clearly defined management systems and accountability are absolutely critical. Maybe the doctor’s spouse has been handling new patient calls “that way” since 1999, but asking callers whether they have insurance immediately after they indicate that they would like to schedule a new patient appointment simply isn’t good for the office – no matter how long she’s been doing it “that way.” Perhaps Brother Joe, the financial coordinator, is allowing his friends and neighbors to carry balances indefinitely, sending accounts receivables over the top. And Aunt Carol is habitually late. Joe, Carol, and yes, even the doctor’s spouse, must be professionally trained and held accountable for their systems, their actions, and their results.
Bottom line, just because you are the spouse, the sister, the brother, or dear old dad doesn’t mean you can do as you please. The practice is a business first and a family operation second. What’s in the best interest of the business comes before anything else. And that is where things can get complicated.
While conflict may seem to be an obvious area for family strain, trying to avoid it can be far worse. Too often family members won’t question one another’s decisions or actions. They won’t address problems. They refuse to buck the status quo and push for necessary change because they are afraid to start an argument within the family. Families that attempt to dodge conflict open the door for much bigger problems because the issues only grow and fester. And if family members won’t confront family members, where does that leave the rest of the staff? Most likely searching for employment elsewhere.Next week, navigating the financial minefield of the family practice.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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