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How to Manage Staff Expectations When Transitioning a Dental Office

How to Manage Staff Expectations When Transitioning a Dental Office

Buying a dental practice is often one of the most exciting and rewarding endeavors you will experience as an entrepreneurial dentist. It’s also a transition that comes with a fair share of challenges, and managing the staff is near the top of the list.

In short, the staff of the practice must be well informed of the upcoming changes. When the staff recognizes and embraces these changes, patients are better able to seamlessly follow the transition as well. 

Easier said than done, right? It’s not uncommon to see a great deal of emotion and potential pushback regarding the transition. You can greatly minimize worry and concern by meeting face-to-face with existing team members. In addition to getting to know these employees, this offers an opportunity to provide peace of mind and let them know you are not planning to make any immediate terminations. This can also serve as an informal way to learn from the current staff and gather feedback.

To help ensure you’re well-equipped to handle these challenges, below is some guidance on how to manage staff expectations when transitioning a dental office.

Once the Sale is Imminent or It Has Already Closed, Schedule a Transitional Meeting with the Selling Owner and Staff

It’s normal for some staff members who work for an outgoing practice owner to be concerned about their jobs and worry about impending changes that may lie ahead. One of the best ways to get ahead of these concerns is to schedule a meeting that includes the outgoing practice owner as well as the existing staff. 

Spend a Few Days On-site

A seamless transition begins with an understanding of how the existing staff interacts with each other as well as with patients. The best way to grasp this understanding is to spend a few days at your new practice. 

Shadowing current staff members enables you to gain valuable insight into the team’s work ethic and behaviors. Be sure to inform the practice before your visit, as you’ll want to make sure the current staff is expecting your presence without any surprises.

Share Your Future Goals and Expectations

An important first step to starting off on the right foot with your new staff is to clearly outline shared goals for the practice and any expectations you have for each team member. Invest the time to review the current job descriptions for each position and update them according to your practice goals. 

Once you have updated each job description as necessary, make time to meet with each staff member, and review any significant changes. If you feel any resistance or clear pushback, now is the time to understand why and sort out those expectations, or explore an external hire.

Acquire Feedback from Existing Team Members

Whether during your on-site visit or other transitional meetings, it can be of value to meet with each team member individually and ask them about their role. How they answer your questions will help you better determine whether they’ll be a good match for you as a prospective employer. 

To provide more specific thought-starters, here are a few questions that will reveal strengths and opportunities for improving existing practice operations: 

• What are the greatest challenges associated with your role?

• What are a few aspects that you enjoy about working for the existing practice owner/dentist?

• If you had the capability to implement three things to improve the practice, what would they be?

• How do you feel about working for a practice that values [insert your practice values, goals, expectations, etc.]?

Introduce an Employee Handbook that Documents Your Policies and Expectations

Developing an employee handbook that references any proposed changes is vital to establish your future expectations of the staff. A handbook can also help ensure that original team members are fully aware of your policies. 

Even if your proposed changes and expectations are minor, an employee handbook will prove to be a useful tool in helping both existing team members and future new hires understand how they will need to proceed in order to meet your shared goals and expectations.

Additional Staff Management Tips to Keep in Mind

In addition to the steps mentioned above, there are numerous considerations to keep in mind.

• Review compensation packages with the seller. Many selling doctors have been very generous, and it is difficult to match some packages. Find out which staff members need what benefits.

• Whether through transitional meetings or individual interviews, get to know each staff member, their expectations and needs, and share your thoughts for the practice.

• Determine staffing needs for your operational style. If you’re bringing in your own patients, you may need more staff. Conversely, you may need less if you want to run leaner.

• Conduct a cash-flow projection to help determine what, if anything, needs to be modified.

• Sometimes not knowing is worse than actually knowing and doing. Inform the staff as soon as possible about any changes in their roles, wages or compensation package.

• Determine the staff’s level of support, and remember, earning their trust takes time. Until then, rely on the seller’s trust in you.

• Engage staff on the positive aspects ahead and passing the excitement (and not the stress) of the transition to patients.

It’s important to remember that a critical part of the transition process is for the selling doctor to transition the staff, not all the patients. This is especially true if it’s a short transition period (3 to 6 months). If the selling doctor does a good job of transitioning the staff, the patients will follow.  Although the selling doctor will be able to transition some patients, he/she can’t transition 1,200 patients. Getting buy-in and support from the staff is the key to a smooth transition.

By keeping the current staff on board and happy, you can enjoy a smooth transition into your new role as a practice owner. No doubt, patients will appreciate seeing familiar faces. And with existing team members on board, you can earn valuable insight regarding the practice’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.

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