Is Working with Family Hurting your Bottom Line?
Many of the dental practices I’ve worked with over the years are family operated businesses. Maybe the wife serves as the business manager, or the sister handles scheduling patients. While this works great in some practices, in others it’s a recipe for disaster.
Why? Family businesses can be very complex. It’s easy for emotions and family “dynamics” to take over, especially if you don’t have clearly defined roles and detailed practice systems. Often family members think they can do whatever they want with no consequences, and that leads to frustration among other team members and conflict within the practice. Other times, family members take over roles they just don’t have the skill set or temperament for, hurting practice productivity and ultimately your bottom line.
Let me give you an example. “Dr. Steve” asked his wife, we’ll call her Sarah, to serve as his Business Manager. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but sadly this decision has brought him nothing but trouble. From the start, Sarah insisted her sister and family, who live nearby, become patients. The issue? Because they’re family, Sarah’s sister sees no problem with calling and cancelling their appointments at the last minute, causing chaos in the practice and leaving gaping holes in the schedule that the coordinator must struggle to fill.
Even worse, when they do show up for their appointments, Dr. Steve’s brother-in-law always seems to find an excuse not to pay. When Dr. Steve confronted Sarah about this, she reminded him that they’re family and he should be more lenient. So instead of following up to collect payment, Sarah keeps letting it slide.
Unfortunately, Sarah’s problem with collecting payment isn’t exclusive to family members. You may hate to admit it, but Sarah is an easy target. Just about every day there’s a patient who claims he left his wallet at home, or who promises to send a check to cover his bill later that afternoon. Sarah doesn’t like conflict and hates asking people for money, so she just smiles and says OK – and it’s killing the practice.
Bottom line: Just because Sarah is Dr. Steve’s wife and has taken on the role of Business Manager doesn’t mean she’s the right person for the job. Clearly in this case she isn’t. Even when you’re working with family members, you have to make sure they have the skill set and training they need to excel in their roles. If they don’t, it will put a strain on your relationship while also damaging your practice.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying families can’t successfully work together. It happens all the time, especially in dentistry. Whether it’s a husband/wife, father/son, mother/daughter or brother/sister set up, thriving family-run practices all have one thing in common: they deal with business issues as partners, not as family.
For this to work, you have to keep in mind the practice is a business first and a family operation second. That means what’s in the best interest of the business comes before anything else, which of course can lead to complications when family is involved.
Communication and trust are essential for the family-run practice, as are clearly defined management systems and accountability. Just like with your other team members, you must create detailed job descriptions so family members know exactly what systems they’re accountable for and what tasks they must complete each day. They must understand they won’t get a free pass just because they’re your dad, mom, brother, sister, daughter or son. That means your sister the Financial Coordinator can’t waive fees for neighbors and friends, and your son the Business Manager can’t show up late every day. Just like everyone else on the team, they must be professionally trained and held accountable for their actions.
Another tip? Don’t avoid bringing up problems. All too often family members won’t question one another’s decisions or actions. They don’t address problems and don’t push for change because they’re afraid to start a family argument. Trust me, this will just lead to much bigger issues down the road. Make sure family members, and all your employees for that matter, know how important it is to address conflict and work together to find solutions.
Working with family members can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Just remember to put the business first. Develop clearly defined systems and hold family members accountable for their actions. Provide the training they need to succeed and make sure you put them in positions that match their temperament and skill set. This will make for a much more efficient family-run practice, helping you grow production numbers and your bottom line.
Next week, 5 tips for a successful family-run dental practice
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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