What About Your Staff? How to Protect Them When Your Dental Practice is for Sale

Most dentists who are putting their dental practice for sale are concerned about what will happen to their staff after the transition. You’ve put your staff together carefully, worked with them closely for years, and developed personal relationships with them. Its right to worry about their well-being. However, you don’t want to let that worry cause you to make a decision that can jeopardize either the practice transition or their jobs. For these reasons, you need to be careful about how they are informed and provided for before, during, and after the transition.

Why the Buyer Wants to Retain Your Staff

Don’t assume the dental practice buyer will want to fire your staff. A prospective buyer most likely has a strong interest in retaining them. After all, your staff have been working in your office, meaning that they know the files, the systems, policies, and procedures, and, most importantly, the patients. A prospective buyer isn’t going to want to disrupt the flow of a smoothly running practice— an important component in what makes your practice successful, and, therefore, a desirable dental practice for sale. A change in doctor is enough change to foist on your patient base. Most buyers correctly realize that a change in staff may be too much for patients and can have a negative impact on patient retention through the transition.

When Putting a Dental Practice for Sale, Confidentiality is Important

A breach in confidentiality regarding the sale of your dental practice has the potential to sink the deal. This is the last thing you want and you need to protect against it. And although you may not relish the idea of keeping news like this from your staff, it is in their best interest that you do until the time is right.

While a prospective buyer will probably want to retain your staff, you have to consider the situation from the perspective of your staff and your patients. It’s a major change and change can be frightening, especially in an employment context. As the doctor at the end of a long career, you have a perspective that is very different from that of your staff. You once either bought or started a practice and know what it means to have a competent, experienced, and professional staff to support you. Your staff members have probably not had the same experience and may (not unreasonably) be concerned about their job security.

Because of this, you need to be concerned about the news of your dental practice for sale being public. If staff members become skittish, you run the risk of a couple of different negative outcomes. First, you need the news of your dental practice transition to not be public before you choose to make it public. If your staff doesn’t fully comprehend how a little idle chatter can impact the transition, and, by extension, their employment, you run the risk of a staff member mentioning the potential sale to a patient. Once that patient hears about the transition, will they want to stay with a new, unknown doctor? Or will they want to find someone else in the community that is trusted? If that patient knows other patients, will they tell those patients? How will they react? If you start losing patients before the sale is final, how will that impact the financing? Or the willingness of the buyer to go through with the sale?

Second, if a staff member is concerned about job security, they may immediately begin seeking other employment. Having a turnover of staff during your transition is problematic for a couple of reasons. It means you are going to have to be hiring new staff while trying to sell the practice. Those new staff members are going to need training and time to get up to speed on your office practices and procedures, which will impact efficiency. This is not something you need to deal with at that time, nor is it something you want the prospective buyer to see you grappling with. Also, changes in staff can impact patient retention. Your patients interact with your office staff more than with you, and their experience with staff will inform their opinion of the services being offered. So even if the news of the sale of your dental practice is not public, the turnover in staff can have the same negative impact on patient retention.

When Putting a Dental Practice for Sale, Timing is Everything

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of timing in every aspect of your dental office transition, from when to put your dental office for sale, to when to hand over the keys and walk away for the last time. When to inform your staff is an essential part of this process and needs to be carefully considered. On a personal level, you may feel a loyalty to your staff that compels a desire to let them know as soon as possible. You must, however, do what will be in their best interest, which is to not inform staff until certain aspects of the transition process are locked down.

You need to be the one that is making the transition decisions. As discussed above, you may be the only one in the office that has previous experience with a dental office transition. In addition to risking staff defections or gossip about the sale, you also run the risk of staff talking to the prospective buyer outside of your presence. This would give them influence over the sale and the buyer that they should not have.

In addition to telling staff too early, there is a risk of telling them too late. If you wait until after the sale is final, your staff may feel betrayed, like they have been sold along with the practice to a stranger. You need to have a period of time before the sale is final to be able to inform staff, introduce the new doctor, and allay their fears. This way, your staff has time to address their concerns with you, get to know the new doctor, and prepare for the change.

How do you find the sweet spot? You should consult with your practice transition specialist about how to pick the right way and time to inform the staff. A rule of thumb, however, is that you inform staff after the buyer’s financing is in place and a purchase agreement is signed. This gives you, as the seller, a reasonable degree of confidence that the sale will close, while having time to work through your staff’s issues before closing the sale.

A common practice for doctors who have put their dental practice for sale is to call a staff meeting and inform everyone all at once. Your dental practice transition specialist can help you prepare for this meeting. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the dental practice transition specialist to run this meeting, given their experience with transitions and the common concerns that arise.

Although you may have a desire to speak to each staff member individually, the likelihood is that after you tell the first staff member, the rest will be informed while you are speaking with the second staff member. This robs you of the ability to present it equally to all staff members, to answer questions, and address concerns uniformly. You need to be able to control this message. After the staff meeting, if individual staff members have particular concerns, you can address those one on one.

Don’t Worry!

If you follow the pattern laid out here, you may be pleasantly surprised at how well your staff responds to the news about the dental practice for sale. You can introduce the buyer to your staff as a properly-vetted candidate who is well-suited for your particular practice. You can present to the new doctor with confidence, as a positive change for the practice, the staff, and your patients. This can go along way to calming concerns and making the transition easier for everyone. For more on this topic, read our post about How Staff Should Be Informed about the Sale of a Dental Practice.

ddsmatch Southwest: Dental Transition Specialists who Can Help You With Staff Concerns

At ddsmatch Southwest, we bring the experience of hundreds of successful dental transitions to work for you. We’ll do whatever we can to make your transition a successful one, including advising on, attending, or even running the meeting when you inform your staff about your dental practice for sale, whichever will be the most helpful to you, to your staff, and your buyer. Contact us today to find out how we can help you meet your dental practice transition goals.