How Long is Too Long?

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The Impact of Delaying the Inevitable

It is not at all uncommon for me to connect with a dentist who approaches me simply for advice, although often it is followed up by a full engagement.  The struggles and challenges vary, but one problem seems to be more and more prevalent; and that is the long-term employee who has actually stayed way too long. 

All too often when asked, “How long has this employee been with you and when did you realize that they were not right for you and your practice?”  I have heard things like, “Oh, about 25 years and I knew this wasn’t going to work about 24 years ago.”  The first time I ran into this I was shocked, but having heard a similar strain a number of times I am no longer shocked and have almost learned to understand the dynamics of why this happens.

Once again, we are back to the behavioral style of us dental folk.  We are not comfortable with change or confrontation, and in some cases to such a degree that we would rather deal with less than competent employees year after year than to either address their weaknesses or try to help them correct their inefficiencies.  After a while it gets to a point where the employer just accepts what “is” and learns to deal with it, at the expense of ideal practice culture, harmony, and effectiveness.  In some cases they are even willing to sacrifice good team members who leave the practice, unable to work alongside of the bad apple or non-productive, disinterested employee.

There’s no one “moment of truth” that puts the employer over the edge or gets them to a place where they know it is time to dismiss this person.  I haven’t been able to isolate one specific thing that seems to be the catalyst or “inspiration” that finally makes them wake up and realize that it’s time! I’m also amazed at how often I observe them saying goodbye to outstanding and valuable employees over and over again, knowing quite well that the contributing factor to their resignation is clearly based on the one employee that they also know is bringing the team and often the production down.

So are we slow learners?  Would a major catastrophe be something to get us going? What type of stimulus does it take to motivate an employer to do what they should have done many years ago?

I’ve written before about those dentist/employers that prefer to keep their heads in the sand. As for a recommendation going forward, there’s really no “secret”.  I think it’s just a matter of recognizing the problem team member and having the will to take action.

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