Partnership: Preparing for a Professional Marriage
An Associate approaches you about buying into your dental practice. You weren't looking for a business partner, but now that you've been asked you are considering selling a 1/3 equity to start.
This is a “proposal” for a shared professional life. A business partnership is like a marriage. You want to ease your way into it with open eyes and LOTS of communication on the important issues that will eventually come up. You owe it to yourself to review the positives and negatives before rushing into such a commitment.
Many partnerships are put together in the enthusiasm of the moment without a thoughtful plan. Opposites do attract, but over time they can repel one another. I've talked with many Doctors who have partnered with someone who has a different set of goals or a very dissimilar manner of conducting business. Choosing the wrong partner creates years of problems and tens of thousands of dollars!
Perhaps you may already be in a partnership and haven’t gone through a critical analysis in advance. While you certainly can do so retroactively, the time to determine the fit and viability of a business partnership is before you “get married.” Here are the most important issues to think about:
1. Values are the essence of our being. They define who we are and the choices we make. Do you and your Associate share similar and consistent values? Do you both fundamentally move in the same direction? Do you philosophically agree on how to treat employees and patients?
2. Conflict. How do you and your Associate deal with conflict? Is there a “win-win” model between the two of you? When difficulties have occurred, does the Associate get aggressive, defensive, or passive? The way your Associate has responded to conflict in the past is a preview of how that person will deal with it in the future. Knowing this upfront will help you to manage situations before they get out of hand.
3. Work ethic is a third consideration. How does your Associate think things should be done? What have you observed in this person's behavior about how s/he does their job and handles responsibilities?
4. Integrity. This is a non-negotiable. Do you trust this person? Does this person consistently meet their big or small commitments? Will this person do what’s right, especially when it isn’t convenient or profitable? Is it based on a gut reaction or on a relationship you’ve established with that person beforehand? How long have you worked together? It’s important that you establish a reasonable track record and get feedback from people who know the person. Obviously this requires time and you want to go slowly. Just like a personal relationship, “dating” for a significant period of time is important prior to deciding on marriage.
5. Vision. Do you share a similar vision, both for what the practice is now and what you want it to be in the future? Are you both on the same page for the business? If it were working perfectly, what would it look like? What would the outcome be, and what would be the process to get there? Being clear on the outcome and the route to that destination are essentials for a rewarding and profitable relationship.
The vehicle to address these partnership issues is to communicate, communicate, communicate! Your partnership will only be as good as your communication. Communicate face-to-face. Communicate via phone, email, or text. Consistent and thoughtful communication gives your partnership the energy it needs to flourish and develop into something great. It does require a big investment upfront, but the payoff will be huge dividends.
One of the ways I have helped doctors determine the viability of a partnership is through a measured assessment. This consists of taking a battery of psychological tests. In addition I talk with each person individually. The testing is administered electronically, and the interview is conducted by phone. The purpose of the assessment is to identify each person’s work style, personality, values and behaviors. After I consolidate the data, I schedule a conference call to review the results, first with each doctor individually then jointly. Acknowledging areas of commonality and areas of difference enables both parties to determine how closely they “match” and where there may be gaps - and whether the gaps can be bridged. In other words - determining the synergies as well as the opportunities for learning.
Last but not least, it's important to put a Buy-Sell Agreement in place including an exit strategy. It may be the farthest thing from your mind, but at the start of your partnership you should consider the possibility that someday, for some reason, it could end. Partners change over time. People grow personally and professionally at different rates. Agreeing at the beginning how you would break up sets realistic expectations and a clear path for the longevity of the practice.
Prevent a mismatch and safeguard the long-term health of your partnership. Walk down the aisle with confidence and peace of mind.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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