Staff meltdown

At a recent task force meeting for my local district dental society, I met a "new" dentist who had purchased her practice one year ago. She represents all that is right with our profession.

Dr. Michael Gradeless

At a recent task force meeting for my local district dental society, I met a "new" dentist who had purchased her practice one year ago. She represents all that is right with our profession. She was articulate and obviously willing to give up an evening with her family for the sole purpose of improving the dental society's service to the profession. She also told me a story I have heard all too often. Four days after she purchased the practice, the entire staff quit. This is your worst nightmare. Why does this happen and how do you prevent it while moving your practice ahead?

There are multiple reasons staff members resign from a new doctor's practice. Here are the top three reasons —

1) They were ready to leave anyway — At any point in time, at least 20 percent of employees are considering looking for a new job. When the economy is poor and new jobs are scarce, this percentage rises significantly but they haven't acted on it. Also, when a practice is transitioning, this percentage rises significantly. An employee may continue working out of loyalty to the selling doctor during the transition and have no intention of continuing long-term with you. In every business all across this country, there are employees who have already checked out — they just have not yet left a future billing address.

2) They do not feel listened to — This is reason number one in all situations other than the transition. These are thinking human beings who have not been given the power to improve the way the practice operates. If you have employees like this who share your vision of the practice, they can either be your best employees, or they can be gone.

3) Fear of change — Almost everyone fears change, and you are definitely bringing change. You also are the boss and, as closely as we work together in a dental practice, the staff must actually like you.

Avoiding a meltdown

As you can see, the new doctor is especially susceptible to staff turnover. You will definitely experience staff turnover and you should not fear it. Staff turnover gives you the opportunity to improve your practice. Nevertheless, you also should try to avoid staff turnover if possible because it will cost you a great deal of money. Each staff member who leaves will cost you many thousands of dollars to replace. How can you reduce staff turnover?

1) Give them time — The change you bring to the practice will be good, but the staff needs time to adapt. Your personality and style of practice will definitely be different. Your staff needs time to learn to like you and respect you as a dentist and an individual. Making changes gradually will give you time to uncover the abilities of your staff. The book "Leading Change," by John P. Kotter, advocates developing a core constituency that will help you spread and implement your changes to the rest of your staff. Developing a core constituency takes time.

2) Give them a vision — Write a compelling vision statement for your practice and share it with your staff. There should be more to life than the daily routine and collecting a paycheck. Staff members who truly want to help you develop a visionary dental practice will stay with you forever. Staff members who do not support your vision need to go.

3) It is not about you — You have taken eight years of your life for education. You are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. This practice will shape the rest of your life. You must understand that your staff does not care about any of this. They do not care how many nights you spent studying. They do not care about your monthly bills. If you want change to happen in your practice, you not only must let your staff know how the changes will benefit the patients, but also what is in it for them.

I have known several doctors who have experienced a total staff meltdown. While they all experienced incredible stress, they also found that their practices were better and more profitable within six months. While the situations I have heard about have universally led to practice growth, you do not want to experience a staff meltdown if at all possible. I believe the doctors who experience this are ultimately successful because they have no other choice. If you can change your practice dramatically without experiencing a staff meltdown, your practice will flourish.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or e-mail to drmike44@aol.com.

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