Employment with an independent practice or dental group is a big decision. Many associates focus only on their employment contract and ownership potential and don’t fully absorb the office culture until after they’ve made a commitment. Clicking well with another personality is a good start, but you can’t know for sure until you live it—unless you know what to look for.
So how do you know if a potential practice will be a place where you will thrive? Is this a business that focuses on positive growth? Will the owner take advantage of the endless opportunities available in this golden age of dentistry in America? Or are they happy staying in a tiny box?
We don’t have all the answers here at Dentrepreneur Solutions, but we can tell you some indicators and red flags to look out for.
The Iceberg Rule
When interviewing a potential employer, remember the iceberg rule. How much of an iceberg is visible above the surface? About 10 percent. Think of the iceberg as the office culture and climate. You will get the opportunity to see some evidence of the attitudes and dynamics that characterize an operation, but most of the revealing details are not going to be immediately evident.
You may not get the opportunity to swim below the surface and take a full survey, but you can pay close attention to what you do see, and let your gut instincts help you notice any red flags.
Vision and Enthusiasm
When you meet with the dentist, you’ll naturally have a conversation about the future. If he or she is looking for an associate, they are most likely scaling their practice up, and have a vision for clinical development in the months or years.
Don’t be afraid to get into the weeds in this conversation—but pay close attention to how passionately and reflectively he or she talks about the future, at least as much as you pay attention to any specific plans for development.
If there are specific plans, try to gauge how invested he or she already is. Has the research been done, and the wheels are already in motion? You can be genuinely excited for an upcoming change for a decade before that change ever takes place! What you want to see is evidence that the practice has already made positive changes in the past, and is in the midst of continuous growth in the present.
Red Flags – He or she is overly self-effacing or dismissive of grand plans. The view of growth potential as “pie-in-the-sky” is not the mark of someone who is ready to disrupt the paradigm and take bold steps into the future.
The Big Picture
As much as you are selling yourself, you are still looking for a good match, in terms of:
- philosophy to patient care
- willingness to innovate
- valuing self-reflection
- responsibilities to your staff
- management style
- balancing pragmatism with idealism
If you haven’t done so already, take some time to identify what makes you unique as a professional, and ask your potential employer to share his or her style with you.
You don’t have to be a perfect match, of course (friction can be a great innovator), but major philosophical differences are better identified before a contract is signed!
Red Flags – If your entire conversation is limited to “this is how we do it; here’s what you’ll need to get used to” then you are not dealing with someone who recognizes the potential you bring. A good prospect should be thrilled at the idea of bringing new blood into the office and excited to learn about your unique background and approach to patient care.
A Culture of Empowered Individuals
The presence of staff that are clearly valued and respected to share their best qualities is one of the most important indicators of a culture of progress. Period.
As you meet the office staff and absorb a general impression, it’s important to remember that first impressions are often wrong. A silent work environment may as easily be a sign of harmony as it is a sign of simmering tensions. You may very well be misinterpreting what a powerful glance means if you aren’t familiar with a person’s mannerisms. Don’t be content to just observe staff interactions you see during your visit.
I always recommend associates take a little time to talk to everyone you can find, one on one. Ask what they like about their job and their work environment. Find out what they would like to change. Ideally, you want to get a general sense of confidence and positivity from most of the people you talk to.
Some good things to look for in staff:
- Evidence of cross-training and shared responsibility
- Evidence of mentoring, either formal or ad hoc
- Regular opportunities to share ideas and reflect on practice goals
- Free and welcome communication between all staff members, both formal and informal
Red Flags – Hesitance to answer questions about their job and work environment can indicate staff are not accustomed to having their voice heard or their opinions valued. Similarly, staff who seem overly interested in persuading you to work there may be evidence of poor leadership and mismanagement.
Trust Your Intuition
Being plain-spoken and direct is not a sign of a poor leader. However, negative comments, a lack of empathy, or a general sense of disdain for one’s patients or staff should not be tolerated.
The best workplaces for associates are going to be places that are organized, reflective, and forward facing. Employees of all levels should be valued as leaders in their own right, and as respected cogs in well-oiled, constantly evolving machine. You should feel confident that your new workplace meets these criteria, both intuitively and overtly, before you make any commitments.
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