Lynne Nelson of Columbia Bank, a WSDA preferred lender, shares “Tips to tackling the transition process.”
Purchasing a dental practice is life changing. You are now a business owner and a manager of people. Never will it be more important to hone your interpersonal communication skills.
To help you navigate through this process, I have outlined some straightforward approaches that will help reduce anxiety and build trust with your new team. The goal is to alleviate the unknown as much as possible while taking a clear leadership position. Most staff want to know who their leader is, what they stand for and how things may change moving forward. The questions they sometimes ask are:
- Will my new boss still need me or will I be fired?
- Do I still get the same benefits and will I get my annual raise or bonus?
- What type of management style will they have? Will they be as nice to work for?
- Are they going to let me continue to be an expanded duties employee?
- Will they change our office hours?
- What do I tell the patients about him/her?
I am a firm believer in keeping everything the same for at least 6 months post transition so that you can gain a firm understanding of the current business model and protect the current cash-flow. There are very rare situations where this may not be possible but carefully consider any necessary changes as you could be placing current cash-flow at risk.
Speak to the seller about preparing the staff: Discuss with the seller your game plan for the transition. This is not time for the whole staff to get a raise. If it’s not due, then it’s not time. However, consider the current protocol and how that is managed. You may not want the top assistant to be told she won’t be getting a raise if it was due so discuss the impact of what is currently unfolding in the practice before you make any blanket statements. Be a part of the decisions moving forward. Find a solution that will garner the results you want.
Let the seller know your desire is to keep all staff that he or she would keep if they were staying. If there are staff that he or she would consider replacing, it’s a good time to discuss and ultimately this is up to you. I recommend keeping all staff until you have had a chance to evaluate. If you discuss and decide an employee needs to be terminated ask the seller to terminate before the transition if at all possible. Discuss how the termination will be handled.
The above bulleted questions are actually fears and you can remedy by meeting with the staff and delivering a message of unity. You don’t want valued staff to look at other options for employment based on fears. Once the staff knows of the impending transition, schedule a time to talk with them. You can speak to the above questions directly and with purpose. Think back to when you were in school or at your first job - you needed clear direction in which to operate at your best. Offer clear direction moving forward and it will go a long way to lessen the burden of the unknown.
If you have not made a decision on how you will transition current team benefits let them know your plan is not to reduce the current level of benefits moving forward, but that you are still gathering insight from your advisors and you will keep the staff in the loop as you get further along in the process. Reiterate that your desire is not to change anything unless it’s for the betterment of all.
Patient Communication: What messages do you want the patients to hear as the transition unfolds? This is a vital step in transferring the goodwill of the practice. If you don’t define this to your new team this can be awkward for them. If you give them an overall message to convey in their own words they will be much more comfortable in their delivery. Emphasize that a positive message will benefit the practice and provide comfort and confidence to the patients so they will meet you before making any further decisions about you.
Sample statements for your staff:
- We are excited for you to meet Dr. Smith, we like him and think you will too!
- Dr. Smith has the experience to care for all of our patients in the same way Dr. Jones has!
- Dr. Smith can’t wait to meet you, you are going to like him a lot! He’s gentle and kind just like Dr. Jones!
Current scheduling methods: Go through the daily schedule for the next 3 months and offer suggestions for scheduling in the future. If you need a little more time for exams because every patient is a new patient or if you require less or more time for certain procedures moving forward let the scheduling coordinator know and if you need him or her to schedule differently moving forward.
The above areas can make such a positive impact on the overall transition of your new practice. The more you share of who you are and what you want for the team and patients, the better off you will be in their reflection of your values moving forward. They are now your ambassadors and it’s up to you to equip them with the tools they will need to communicate effectively through the transition. My best wishes to you!
Lynne Nelson is a Vice President of Professional Banking servicing Columbia Bank’s growing client base of dentists, veterinarians and physicians in Eastern Washington. She has more than 25 years of experience in the dental industry and works with a team of dental experts across the Pacific Northwest to provide targeted insight and financial solutions. Connect with Columbia Bank’s Healthcare banking team today to learn more about lending for your dental practice.