You took your time. You analyzed the business. You performed a thorough search. And you hired a new dental associate all on your own. But despite your time and effort, a couple of months have passed, and you suspect that your new associate may not work out.
While enlisting the services of a professional recruiter could have helped you avoid this situation all together, the scenario described above is not uncommon. Sometimes employees simply do not mesh with the practice. Whether it’s their work ethic, patient interactions or embellished experience, it can be frustrating to practice owners to realize that a new associate isn’t performing up to the standards that you had expected.
Practice owners do have some options, including termination. Below is a process that you can follow to help improve your new associate’s performance or cut ties (and your losses).
Directly address specific concerns
The first and maybe most important step is to directly address specific performance concerns with your new associate. It would be unfair to continually hold someone accountable to a certain standard if that person is unaware of what that standard is. Document specific instances where you believe the new associate could have performed at a higher level. Clearly present this to the associate and explain how you would have preferred he or she handled the situation. Be direct. And be honest. You cannot expect to see progress from an employee that hasn’t been provided clear examples of how they are falling behind.
Create a plan
Assuming that you are the more experienced professional, it’s reasonable to expect a new associate may simply lack the experience or knowledge to perform at the level you expect. Creating a plan for improvement and following that up with regular associate evaluations at 30, 60 and 90 days will establish clear expectations. Regular evaluations will demonstrate progress, or the lack thereof, and allow you to see which way this relationship is going to progress.
Offer continuing education
If you believe the associate is making progress with regular evaluations, investing in continuing education courses or in-office mentorship/coaching from a senior dentist makes sense. Providing your new associate the tools to succeed may just be the motivation that he or she needs to improve.
Any time an employee is underperforming and in danger of being terminated, it’s best to document all communications. Regardless of the efforts you make to help the employee, if fired, there is always the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit. To protect yourself, you should document all conversations and implement some basic human resources best practices. If you are unfamiliar with these practices, consult an attorney to learn how you can protect yourself.
Termination time? Speak plainly
Because of the time, effort and investment you have dedicated to your new employee, firing an associate is typically the last resort. But if you find that termination is necessary, be direct, professional and continue to document everything. Deliver the message, say goodbye, and thank the employee for his/her work.
Consult your associate agreement
Be sure to review the contract you have with your associate, front to back. Read in detail what it says regarding termination. It is extremely important that you consult the agreement and follow the terms and conditions established in the contract.