Most dentists will, at some point in their career, either work as an associate or hire an associate. Consequently, it is a transaction type we deal with often, and one of the most common questions we field on the subject is, “how do we know if the there is going to a good fit between the host dentist and the associate dentist?” It is an excellent question. So let’s discuss some of the signs to look for and the right questions to ask to determine “the right fit.”
You may have heard the saying, “I searched the whole world over to find the perfect spouse, unfortunately when I found her, she was looking for the perfect spouse.” Associateships and partnerships are a professional marriage of sorts. It is not so much about finding the perfect individual (who may or may not actually exist), but rather having realistic expectations and clearly communicating those expectations to the other party. In our experience, we have discovered that many associateships do not work out because the parties had incongruent expectations and poor communication.
Also like a marriage, if the other party’s philosophy and values are not complimentary to your own, then you will likely have a difficult time building a long term, productive relationship. Philosophy and values need to be complimentary in order for the desired results to be achieved.
To increase your chances of success, both parties need to determine if they are on the same page relative to expectations, philosophy and values. Here are some examples of issues and questions both parties should consider before entering into any associate arrangement:
- Honesty. Are you honest in all of your dealings? Does the other party tell the truth?
- Integrity. Do you keep your promises? Do you do what you say you will? Does the other party?
- Consistency. Do you vacillate on issues or do you make a decision and stick to it? Are your actions congruent with your words? Are the other party’s?
- Compassion. Do you have a genuine concern for those you treat and those you work with? Does he or she?
- Skills & Knowledge. Are you confident in your level of knowledge and skill? Are you confident in his or hers?
- Conscience. Do you exercise good judgment and make decisions based on what is best for all concerned? Does he or she?
- Motivation. Are you motivated to always do your best? Do you inspire others to be and do the best they can? What about him or her?
- Humility. Are you willing to learn new things or is your way the only way? Is he or she teachable?
The best way to develop a sense of the other party’s character is to work with each other for a period of time first. Since that is not always practical, both parties could and should confer with references that have worked, or that currently work with the other party (e.g. staff, peers, colleagues, etc.). Another avenue one can explore to obtain insight into such questions is through professional personality profiling. Randy Austad, professional coach and founder of Follow Your Calling, a Denver-based consulting firm, suggests parties take a 360 psychometric personality profile that provides some revealing answers to the aforementioned questions. Albeit, it provides limited feedback, but it does help one understand the values and expectations of both parties.
You will notice all of the questions above are asked of yourself first, before they are applied to the other party. The goal of any associate-type arrangement is to create and maintain a mutually rewarding personal and professional relationship between two or more doctors. Unfortunately, too many associate arrangements are intentionally structured to benefit only one of the parties. Personal ego and selfishness will destroy a good relationship faster than anything else we know--including money! The only truly successful associate arrangement is one in which both the host and the associate feel they have been fairly treated.
Stephen R. Covey says there are three types of arrangements: win-win, win-lose or no-deal. However, win-lose arrangements only end up being lose-lose arrangements because the losing party will resent the other party and may even sabotage or negate the original transaction as a result. Problems often occur when one or both of the parties seek only their own interests with little or no consideration for the other or without considering the longer term impact of their actions. Sometimes negotiations result in one party achieving their ideal result, but at the expense of the other party, which ultimately ends up lose-lose.
Finally, we often counsel clients to check their “gut feeling” on any issue. If it does not “feel” right, then they should seek greater understanding and obtain additional information until it does feel right. And if they still feel uncertain about it, they should either ask for clarification or no longer pursue the transaction.
Given that so many dentists are likely to participate in some form of an associateship—either as the host/employer or as the associate/employee—it is important that they have a clear understanding of what constitutes a “good fit” with another professional, as well as how to find the right person. If you find yourself in such a situation, hopefully the content of this article has provided you with a good foundation for evaluating potential candidates for your practice.