Letting an employee go is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business. It’s even more challenging for small businesses, as the team is generally close-knit, and often a friendship develops between the boss and the employee. But the fact remains that to grow any business you need to be constantly examining and improving your team components.
This is even more true for dental practices because, if you subscribe to my way of thinking–that you are in retail health care, then you know that your team is your most essential marketing element. Without an amazing team, you cannot create a large base of loyal patients. No matter how great the dentist’s clinical skills, what the patient is going to remember is how friendly, courteous, thoughtful and compassionate the office team was.
Let’s add one more element. The dentist only has 30-35 hours a week to deliver dentistry. Beyond that it’s a physically overwhelming profession, and he or she will pay the price by shortening their career through exhaustion or disability. So how efficiently you operate during those hours is critical. I can pretty much guarantee you that someone on your team is slowing the whole process down, and everyone knows who that is.
Lastly, a dental practice is a sales organization. If you don’t believe or understand that, you haven’t read my book, and you also want to ignore reality. Dentistry is a great service, perhaps more valuable dollar-for-dollar than anything else people spend money on, but people have to be talked into taking advantage of it. And that requires everyone on the team be willing to effectively communicate the value of comprehensive care.
I mention in my book this universal truth that every business owner I’ve met has confirmed with me: we have never regretted firing anyone, only how long we waited to do so. We all do it. We all wait too long. We wait until the disease has infected the entire body. And that’s a good metaphor. Very likely one employee is the deep-pocket perio infection in your practice, and you’re leaving it untreated. Would you do that with a patient?
My advice is, pull the trigger. There is someone better out there, and the team will take up the slack and respect you for having done it. (Side note: every day that person stays in your office the team loses a little more respect for the dentist.)
Why do I say it’s an act of kindness? Because that person needs to know that they are not performing at the highest level, and therefore will continue to be less and less employable as they grow older. It’s actually cruel to wait on your part. Let’s say they’re 35 now. Are you going to wait until they’re 40 to release them into the job market, with their bad work habits more deeply ingrained? It’s a wake-up call to get fired. It forces someone to do some self-examination.
Granted, they may not get the message right away. Denial is an easy trap (especially if you suck at what you do!) But letting them continue working for you is reinforcing that they don’t have to do a great job to keep their job. When I put it that way, it sounds like a pretty ridiculous thing to be doing, doesn’t it? Again, it’s cruel, or cowardly at least, for the business owner not to step up and let that person know that their performance is insufficient.
And they don’t have to be a bad employee for you to terminate them. If they don’t fit as a team player, if they aren’t looking to improve their skills, if they don’t choose a great attitude every day, that’s enough. Because you need that from everyone. A dental practice is too small an eco-system to have anyone not performing and participating at the same high level.
The steps are simple: when you have an employee not performing, spell out in detail exactly what your expectations are from them for improvement, with a timeline, and do it in writing. And let them know that if they do not meet or exceed those expectations, after that time period they will no longer be employed. (I recommend 30 days max.) I also believe in giving severance, along with a detailed termination agreement. I recommend using a company like HR for Health to button up all these sorts of things in your practice. There is a proper and legal way to do this to protect yourself.
I know you hate doing it. I do too. But I’ve had a number of employees over the years come back and thank me for giving them that message, and getting them on track, by either finding a job that suits them, or fixing their attitude, or learning to be a better employee. So find that infection and treat it now. You’ll feel better tomorrow!
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