“When you're finished changing, you're finished.” — Benjamin Franklin
Change is part of life: Most of us will face changes in our workplace that weren’t part of our plans. Even if we stay with the same office for many years, change occurs—staff come and go, and even the boss may not be a permanent fixture, because dentists sell their practice and retire. How can we cope with such ups and downs? Here are eight tips for dealing successfully with the challenges of a practice transition, and thriving professionally.
1. Accept it.
Change is inevitable, whether we want it or not. If we don’t accept it, we make our lives unduly hard. Facing and accepting change can lift us out of a rut and stop us from getting too set in our ways. The news that your boss has sold the practice may come as a shock, but don’t feel offended; dentists who sell their practices are usually obligated to keep the negotiations confidential until the sale is completed. You might also grieve the loss of the familiar, especially if you feel plunged into uncertainty. Seek support from your network of friends and co-workers, who might have advice or experiences of their own to share. If you enjoyed a good relationship with the retiring dentist and will be staying on after the transition, it’s nice to organize a celebration for the departing owner, which could also include a welcome for the new boss.
2. Keep an open mind.
Although you’ll still work in the same location it will now be a different practice, because it reflects the new leadership. There are various approaches to running a practice and all of them could be valid because there’s more than one way to perform any task. For example, each dentist has his or her own approach to treatment planning, depending on their past experiences, and preferred techniques and materials. There are usually a number of treatment choices for any given case, yet all of those options could be acceptable.
3. Be flexible and adaptable.
Ask yourself: “Is the way things were done for the past several years really the best way? Is there room for improvement?” There might be other methods for doing things, which could be just as good—or perhaps even better. Don’t compare the old ways with the new, or say, “The old boss never did that.” View this as a learning experience. New ownership also gives you a chance to voice ideas that the previous boss might have rejected in the past.
4. Be willing to gain knowledge and learn new skills.
Your new boss might introduce different equipment or offer new services. It’s not easy to move beyond your comfort zone to learn new techniques, but it is worthwhile. Mastering new skills will boost your morale, benefit your patients and enhance your career.
5. Be supportive.
A good dental hygienist is a key figure in patient retention. If you’re a long-time employee, you’re likely to have a rapport with the patients, who will value your opinion of the new owner. You can do a lot to ease the transition, and encourage patients to see the new dentist by telling them about the positive qualities of your new boss (without taking anything away from the doctor who has left).
6. Be respectful and diplomatic.
Especially in front of the patients and other staff! Patients are perceptive—they notice tension, which makes them uncomfortable and undermines their confidence in the practice. Often the dentist who is selling remains for a while … which might work well, or might not. New owners want to assert their leadership, while the previous doctors sometimes feel ambivalent: Their well-laid plans to sell the practice and retire have come to fruition, yet when it becomes a reality, it can be hard to let go. If these individuals clash, avoid getting caught in the crossfire; be diplomatic and don’t take sides.
If you have any concerns about changes that you think could be detrimental, or you would like to understand the rationales and practice philosophy of your new employer, arrange a time to discuss these matters in private, in a rational, reasonable manner.
7. Be acquainted with current regulations, and know your rights.
There is good in every profession, and it is generally in your best interests to be supportive of your new boss. However, regrettably, there are some bad bosses who treat their staff poorly, or disregard regulations and proper standards. If you suspect that new protocols might violate employment law1 or contravene current regulations or standards of practice2 in clinical care, infection control,3 or health and safety,4 investigate to find out what is applicable in your jurisdiction. Seek legal advice if necessary.
8. Renovate your résumé, and nurture your network!
Keep your options open and update your résumé, even if you’re not planning to leave. Many of us who have worked in one place for a long time tend to become comfortable, so it’s probably been years since we gave much thought to our résumés.
The process of creating a renewed résumé facilitates self-assessment. Try a different design and layout! There are now many attractive templates for dental hygienists.5 Showcasing your credentials, skills and accomplishments in a fresh format will highlight your value as a professional.
In addition, developing a professional network locally and on social media yields numerous opportunities; this forms part of your “safety net.” The possibility of having to get back out there to seek a new position can be daunting, but a good résumé and great network are super confidence-boosters, which keep your finger on the pulse of the job market. This empowers you because it gives you options and ensures your readiness to seize new opportunities.
This article draws largely on my personal experience and conversations with colleagues. Having worked in the same office for 25 years, I am currently with the third principal dentist/owner of this practice. I hope that these tips are helpful to those undergoing major changes in their workplace. Such a momentous transition can be turned into a positive force, which enhances your professional growth and job satisfaction.