new dental associateI have helped facilitate a lot of successful practice transitions over the years. I have also seen and heard horror stories of failed associateships and partnerships-to-be that never happened. Usually, these relationships collapsed for the same reason a lot of conflicts between people occur: mismatched expectations.

This is why any agreement with an incoming associate has to go beyond the usual boilerplate legal paperwork. It has to include a discussion of your “non-negotiables” – the expectations you have of a new dentist in your office.

I think a lot of owner-dentists avoid this kind of conversation because they want to avoid anything that could set the wrong tone for a new relationship. But it doesn’t have to come across as a list of demands; this is a conversation that should start by acknowledging that the new doctor wants to be owner one day, and you are going to do everything you can to mentor them along that path. With that in mind, you outline clearly, and in writing, the expectations you have.

(Click this link for three ways to fast track your associate to success.)

These non-negotiables will vary from practice to practice, but they can include things like:

  • Patient distribution: Which doctor gets to see which patients?
  • Continuing education: You can offer to split the costs of their education, while you reserve the right to select the education providers. You want the dentist who shares your practice to share your education philosophy.
  • Flexibility with hours: You have to be clear about your calendar priorities (such as your preferred vacation time) and what kind of schedule they should expect to work.

Of course, you as the owner should show flexibility when possible, too. If the new dentist has a young family and wants to take time off during spring break, for instance, it makes sense to work with them on that. In fact, I encourage you to ask them during this conversation what their non-negotiables are.

The point is to get it all out on the table right from the start. And again, this doesn’t have to come across as harsh or demanding. In fact for most people, the list of non-negotiables is going to be fairly small. But they are important to get aligned on. You can’t depend on each other recognizing unwritten rules or unspoken assumptions. Assumptions leave too much room for misunderstandings, and in my experience nobody ever regrets making it clear where they stand on the things that matter to them most.

(Click here for more practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)