Generational differences in your dental practice

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generational differences
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Generational differences can cause tension in a dental practice. But combining the experience of an older partner with the energy of a younger partner can achieve the best outcomes for both parties. By Shane Conroy

Generational change can be a major source of tension for dental practices. It’s a common story. An older partner has an eye on retirement and one foot out the door. But that’s causing tension with a younger partner who wants to invest in the future and grow the business. 

So what do you do when one partner is stuck in ‘save’ mode while the other is firmly entrenched in ‘spend’ mode? Sought-after dental practice management consultant and business coach, Julie Parker from Julie Parker Practice Success, says generational diversity—if managed appropriately—can be a positive force. 

“The experience of an older partner combined with the energy of a younger partner can be much better than the alternative,” she explains. “If you have two older partners who don’t want to invest in new technology and techniques, then they’ll be at risk of falling behind trends. But if you have two younger partners who are too eager to invest in new equipment without doing their homework, then they’ll likely go out of business.”

Ameena Basile, a practice management specialist and the founder of Dental Management Expertise, agrees that embracing a growth mindset even late in your career can deliver strong results for all parties.

“Having a good balanced business plan that both partners agree on can be a win-win. The older partner may receive greater profits before retirement and a better sale value for an up-to-date practice.”

However, turning generational tension into money in the bank requires the right management strategy. 

Get on the same page

Communication between partners is key. You need a shared vision for the practice, and that may require negotiation and compromise. 

It’s similar to a marriage. We’re talking about a legal partnership where both people involved agree on some things and disagree on others. But it won’t be successful if there isn’t an intention by both parties to be flexible.

Julie Parker, Julie Parker Practice Success

“It’s similar to a marriage,” says Parker. “We’re talking about a legal partnership where both people involved agree on some things and disagree on others. But it won’t be successful if there isn’t an intention by both parties to be flexible. You need to give a little to get a lot.”

Parker adds that both partners need to clearly articulate how their viewpoint will help to deliver on shared goals. And this requires some homework. 

“A younger partner may think an older partner is just being obstinate and difficult, but they are probably not seeing what you’re seeing,” she says. “If you want people to get on board with your ideas, you need to do some research and articulate the benefits clearly.”

Basile adds that an effective way to do this is to formalise your ideas for the practice in a business plan.

“A business plan can set out what the younger dentist wants to spend money on, and what the profit margins may look like,” she explains. “If you can show the investments are likely to improve productivity and profit, then it may be a win-win.”  

Find your crossover point

Agreeing on a shared vision is one thing, but seeing eye to eye on setting new equipment, training and marketing budgets can be a little more challenging. Parker suggests a tried-and-tested negotiation technique she’s been using for years. 

“If the younger dentist wants to spend money and the older dentist doesn’t, there doesn’t have to be a definite ‘no’ on everything,” she says. “It’s about setting a range. What’s the least each partner believes should be spent, and what’s the most? Compare these two ranges and chances are there will be a crossover point. 

“If there’s no crossover, then I think it’s worthwhile for both partners to redefine what their vision is for the practice. Once you’ve got that clear vision, all the other decisions are far easier. It becomes all about moving towards the realisation of that shared vision.” 

If you have two older partners who don’t want to invest in new technology and techniques, then they’ll be at risk of falling behind trends. But if you have two younger partners who are too eager to invest in new equipment without doing their homework, then they’ll likely go out of business.

Julie Parker, Julie Parker Practice Success

Parker says that if the older partner is still opposed to spending any money, some reassurance could be all they need to get them over the line. 

“It could be that the older partner doesn’t want to have to learn a new technique—like Invisalign, for example—late in their career,” she explains. “But once they are reassured that this is just one aspect of the practice and their days can continue however they choose, then their perspective may change.” 

See opposition as healthy

Disagreement can cause tension, and people under tension can get emotional. Parker says that recognising opposition is healthy can help ensure emotion doesn’t begin to cloud your decision-making. 

“Opposition to our ideas helps us make smarter decisions,” she says. “When we are excited about a new technology, for example, we tend to focus just on the benefits. However, we do need to incorporate potential drawbacks and mitigate any risk that is involved. In that way, an opposing view can help both parties make more balanced decisions. Recognise that you are in opposition on many things, but that’s what makes the business work.”

If you still can’t see eye to eye, it could be time to call in an external coach or consultant like Parker or Basile who can act as an impartial mediator. 

“A mediator can help to put the focus back on the big picture and find a solution that’s best for the practice and therefore best for both partners,” says Basile.

“It’s all about facilitating healthy discussions and a happy partnership that keeps the practice moving forward,” Parker concludes.  

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