Dental Practice Transition Communication — Focus on the Team
All successful dental practices need consistent new patient flow and patient loyalty. However, one of the most significant contributors to highly successful practices is a dentist’s ability to lead and manage a great dental team. Although some of us may want to believe that it requires luck to achieve a stable and dedicated dental team, successful dentists understand that leadership is developed, and they are willing to devote time and energy to learn management and leadership skills. We always see prosperous dentists who are willing to spend time working “on” as well as “in” their practices. Using this mindset, practices often have team members who stay with the practice for many years, becoming part of the practice legacy along with the dentist — even after a dental practice transition.
Be considerate of “legacy” dental team members
When an established practice is ready to be transitioned, the working relationship that has developed between long-term “legacy” dental team members 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 during a dental practice transition is the relationship the dental team has with the patients. This relationship partially originates from a dental team member’s loyalty to the selling doctor. In some cases, the selling doctor is the only dentist that individual has worked for, so 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 dental team members. Therefore, the transition to a new doctor can be a significant life event for these team members.
During a dental practice transition, ensure goodwill by communicating openly
The team’s role in the sale of a practice and the subsequent dental practice transition is a major factor that can significantly influence the goodwill of the transition. When patients perceive that the team fully supports the new doctor, they tend to transfer their trust to the new doctor, which often leads to them staying on as patients. Once the selling doctor is no longer present, patients will rely on their long-term relationship with the “legacy” dental 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, as it 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 dental practice transition. The selling dentist has a responsibility to assist the new doctor with transferring patient loyalty, and therefore, goodwill. The selling doctor should spend considerable time and effort communicating to the team how significant their role is in the dental practice transition. Once the team is aware of the pending transition, the seller must plan ample time for the team to meet the new doctor prior to the first day of becoming that doctor’s employee. The selling doctor must give “legacy” dental team members an opportunity to express their concerns and anxieties regarding the change, as they may perceive dental practice transition as something that could disrupt their comfortable, familiar routines. The seller should help prepare the new doctor for the inevitable concerns the team will have; the most common of those concerns are the status of their jobs and their compensation. Also, some long-term dental team members will have concerns over matters regarding privileges they have come to rely on, such as leaving at a certain time on a particular day, having a certain week off each year, or some other individual perk that the seller has allowed.
Begin conversations early in the dental practice transition process
As the new dentist, you have 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. Prior to taking over the practice, you must meet with and communicate with each person on the dental team. This gives them an opportunity to express their concerns to you. It also gives you a chance to communicate your goals and expectations to them. Establishing an open line of communication in which their ideas and concerns are valued will be paramount during the dental practice transition and to your continued success as the practice owner.
While it’s important to talk with your team members, you should 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 you respond to their requests and questions by letting them know you that will evaluate and address them. Of course, you must follow through with any promises in a timely manner or your credibility will erode with time.
More tips for a smooth dental practice transition
Once you have begun your dental practice transition, you should make it one of your first priorities as the new dental team leader to present an updated office manual (employee handbook). Since the manual will set an objective standard by which the team should communicate from the start, you should give serious consideration to employing a human resources professional to accomplish this task. We cannot overstate the importance of creating and presenting your own office manual as soon as you can.
There are many considerations for both the dental practice purchaser and practice 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.