You’ve Closed … Now What?

Part One: Staffing

“But we’ve always done it this way.” Really, is there a more dreaded phrase for the new owner of a dental practice?

Like it or not, chances are good you can expect to hear just that when you take over an existing practice. That’s because when the business is sold, often the staff is the last to know. And most people just don’t like change.

Acquiring a practice also means acquiring the people who come along with it. Since the doctor selling her practice wants to put everything in a positive light to make the sale, she may over exaggerate the staff’s experience, competence or satisfaction – promising you a well-oiled machine that patients adore. 

Whatever the reason a dentist sells their practice, you won’t get to meet the staff until the sale is final and they introduce you as the new owner/boss. I like it best when they do this immediately after dropping the bombshell that they are moving on, before too much behind-the-scenes gossip and speculation can occur. It’s only natural that people will want to know how this will affect them – will they get fired? Suffer a pay cut? Lose their benefits? 

It’s important to greet each new staff member with an open mind and to remember that while you have known about this sale for a while, it’s still quite new to them. I always start out by complimenting the dentist who is leaving and expressing how much I want to continue their legacy of excellent patient care. I am sincere, enthusiastic and speak from the heart. 

I also let the staff know that I am poised for growth and that I welcome their participation on this journey. Things will change, of course; as opposed to winding down and retiring, I am looking to expand the practice and do more with it. 

After acquiring nine practices, I can always tell, pretty much right off the bat, who will stay and who will go. I’d say about 25 to 50 percent of staff members end up quitting. Some don’t want the increased hours I often require, some don’t like working for a woman, and sometimes it’s just not a good fit. And yes, I brace myself for complaints that, “we’ve never done it this way before — we’ve always done it this way.” I will pull that person aside and respectfully let them know I just don’t want to hear it. I am now part of the we, and this is our new approach. 

I will most likely be offering a different health plan than they’re used to, but in the case of senior staff members I want to keep, I grandfather in their co-pay deal. And I strive to make their hourly jobs feel like a career by offering a more structured benefits package, performance-based bonuses, perks like a 401(K) and incentives to those who recommend a successful new hire.

Sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do to win over a staffer and it quickly becomes obvious that it’s to both your benefit to part ways. I’ve come to learn that the last thing I want is an unhappy employee who may be badmouthing me to the patients, and that my practice will always grow, even when I am temporarily understaffed. That’s something I wish I could have taught my younger self, who took every resignation personally — and almost tragically.

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