The Jameson Files

July 1, 2004
Selecting your practice's partner—Dr. Ren Egbert discusses how to enter into a partnership.

by John Jameson

This month, Dr. John H. Jameson and Dr. Ren Egbert discuss selection and evaluation of candidates for practice transition.

Dr. Egbert is a practicing family care dentist and president of Select Professionals, a firm that specializes in the selection and evaluation of candidates for dental associate and partnership positions. Dr. Egbert resides in Milford, Ohio, and can be reached at r.egbert@ worldnet.att.net, by daytime telephone at (513) 831-1446, or by fax at (513) 831-8155.

Dr. Jameson: After the birth of a practice, we have to move on to the hope of making the practice live forever, which includes many transitional processes. As we see in most practices, this includes the formation of an associateship that, at some point, can evolve into a leveraged buy-in or partnership of some sort. However, there are very important things to consider in evaluating the decision of whether or not to start down the associate doctor path. How does one get started exploring that decision and know he or she is talking to the right person?

Dr. Egbert: The decision to hire an associate is based on a long-term strategic plan for your practice. As with any life decision, you want to gather as much information and make as well-informed a decision as possible about the "right" person. We have all hired staff persons who we thought were the right people and found that, at some point down the road, we had to release them from employment. Most dentists use the same process to hire another dentist that they've used for every other employee, and it often results in the same failures. To discover the right person, you must first take an in-depth look at yourself as the hiring dentist. Many people do not have the expertise or training to understand how they will interact with a potential associate or partner in the practice. We all have blind spots and tend to see what we want to see, especially if our candidate pool consists of one or two choices and we feel pressure to hire. In the practice transition process, it is often the established dentist who has the most changes to make. The ability to mentor an associate, give up control, and allow another to flourish in an environment you've created is difficult and fraught with many challenges. So, while conducting a thorough interview process and hiring the right person is critical, it is also vitally important for established dentists to understand their own personalities, expectations, and goals. It is extremely useful for them to understand how they will interface with this specific person over time. The process we use in Select Professionals is similar to corporate America's uses of a human resources service and psychological testing to hire the best person for the job. Dental practitioners should invest the same amount of time, energy, and money in doing the same to ensure success.

Dr. Jameson: So, crossing the t's and dotting the i's of the senior or hiring doctor is first. Making sure that person has a clear vision of what they're really looking for and knowing who they are personally is a very interesting insight. What strategies do you follow to look internally at the hiring/senior doctor?

Dr. Egbert: Well, an essential step in the Select Professionals process is a series of questions for the hiring doctor. They are designed to evaluate the vision and goals for the practice, highlight areas that are or are not working in the practice, and clarify expectations for the practice and for the potential associate. The doctors will need to look within themselves and ask "What am I willing to accept? What am I not willing to accept?" They need to review each area of their practices and decide what are their conditions of satisfaction for job performance. In evaluating a potential associate, you want to match his or her condition of satisfaction and personality with yours.

Dr. Jameson: This reminds me of some of the excellent research Dr. Jim Collins has done recently about relationships in the workplace, especially with regard to initiating a professional relationship — or "getting the right people on the bus" as he would say. You're saying that the person in the leadership position needs to do some soul-searching to determine not only what his or her personal needs are going to be but also what the vision and goal of the practice is going to be for the future. Is that right?

Dr. Egbert: Yes, but the ability to accomplish that depends on each individual. Some are more reserved and others more outgoing, and it is an art to draw out from each person the important and relevant issues for understanding his or her needs and goals. Most dentists have no formal training in psychology or personnel assessment.

Dr. Jameson: This is a great starting process. Once you've gone through these initial steps, what are some of the first steps you'll take for the candidate's integration process to make sure they're on board with the doctor's vision for the continuation of the practice?

Dr. Egbert: I ask the potential associate and the hiring dentist similar questions. For example, "What are their expectations and goals? What do they envision for themselves personally and professionally? What are their feelings and attitudes towards continuing education? What is their managerial interest and style?" We ask all the questions necessary to expose the issues that need to be understood. We then take each question and compare the two doctors' responses. Additionally, our psychologists evaluate the individual personalities to better review the implications for a partnership. We also complete a background check of the potential associate. Once we have gathered all the information, we coach and counsel them to create a strategy for a successful long-term relationship.

Dr. Jameson: Well, it sounds like a process that would work. But, as we look at the economics for establishing this kind of relationship, what type of statistics have you been able to come up with that prove this process is really of value?

Dr. Egbert: Cain, Watters, and Associates, a CPA and financial planning firm based in Dallas, works with hundreds of dentists across the country and estimates the cost of a failed associateship at a minimum of $50,000. This would probably be substantially more if this failure was at the partnership level. Failure rate of a dental associate or partnerships is purportedly 70 to 90 percent of practices. The financial costs of failure are often not as difficult to bear as the emotional distress. The effect on your team morale and patient goodwill can be devastating. You have created a two-person practice and if the relationship fails, you have extra staffing, more work demands on you, and overall chaos. The upfront investment you make in choosing a firm like Select Professionals is nominal compared to the expense of a failed associateship.

Dr. Jameson: Describe the rest of the scope of your service, beyond emotion and financial return.

Dr. Egbert: To reiterate, the SP process includes a background check, profile questionnaires for both doctors, a personality evaluation of both doctors, and a partnership development assessment. Throughout this process, we counsel our clients to discover if this candidate will be a successful associate or partner for their practices. Many phone consultations are included to assist in their understanding the implications of relationship issues on the practice and a successful partnership. The steps can vary for each person's needs, but it is important that all steps of the process be conducted before the individual is hired. We all know the heartache of having to fire an employee, and this is multiplied many times over in the case of an associate.

Dr. Jameson: Do youoffer a similar processfor potential employees?

Dr. Egbert: Occasionally, if we have worked previously with the client, we modify our process for the given position and make a recommendation to hire or not to hire.

Dr. Jameson: With our personal and interpersonal relationships becoming more sophisticated and the many mandates about hiring and managing a "politically correct" practice, this information becomes imperative.

Dr. Egbert: Yes, the interpersonal relationship is one of the biggest reasons for failure. It is similar to a marriage, with Select Professionals offering a pre-marital counseling service to enhance success and avoid divorce. When we do an evaluation, our clients and candidates have a jump start on a successful relationship and a deeper understanding of each other as individuals. The established doctor can hire with greater confidence and feel comfortable adding the new doctor's name to the sign out front.

Dr. John Jameson is Chairman of the Board for Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental consulting firm. Representing JMI, he writes for numerous dental publications and provides research for manufacturers and marketing companies, as well as lecturing worldwide on the integration of technology into the dental practice, and leadership. He also manages the technology phase of the consulting program carried out by JMI consultants in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He may be reached at (877) 369-5558 or by visiting www.jamesonmanagement.com.

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