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“I’m Just Looking For A Haircut,” Or Why Culture Matters

Posted by Bill Robinson, ADAPT President & CEO on 11/17/20 8:45 AM
Bill Robinson, ADAPT President & CEO

Sell your dental practice to the right buyer

I used to go to an old school barber shop with the striped pole, containers of blue Barbicide jammed with combs, and lots of kitschy sports memorabilia. I loved that barber shop. And I loved my barber because he could tell that I was there to get my haircut and not to fill him in on everything that had happened over the last six weeks. When I got in the barber chair, it was all business. Our conversation consisted of, “Same as always?” to which I responded, “Yep.” I loved that.

My barber got into a disagreement with the owner of the shop and left. Even though I loved the feel of that barber shop, all the other barbers there wanted to chat while cutting my hair. At that time, I was in a sales job and talked to people all day long. I had come to appreciate my quick, efficient haircuts. After trying a couple of different barbers there, I left that “practice” to find a new barber who felt more comfortable to me. I now get my hair cut by Sergei, who speaks very little English – problem solved.

You may be wondering why I am talking about haircuts in the midst of a blog about dental transitions. I am not trying to draw equivalence between dentistry and cutting hair. Obviously, the stakes are much higher in dentistry. But I wanted to illustrate a point about how customers (patients) select their service provider.

Business, Clinical, Personal: Patients Have Preferences

There are patients who want a business or clinical relationship with their dentist. There are patients who select a practice because they just want to take care of their teeth, the faster, the better. Other patients seek a dentist who offers the latest cosmetic treatments or specializes in treating a particular condition. Still others want someone who connects with them on a personal level so they can share stories of their children or talk about golf during their exam.

There is no right or wrong “style” of dentistry. But once a practice is established, there IS a right and wrong style for that practice. One could call it the “culture” of the dental practice. (At ADA Practice Transitions, we call it “philosophy of care.”)

There are patients who seek out dentists who fall all along that cultural spectrum. When a new owner or associate alters the culture, they risk alienating the patients who had actively selected that style of dentistry. Those patients may then leave, searching for their own Sergei. (See examples of this in our What Went Wrong post.)

When a new dentist alters the culture, they risk alienating the patients who had actively selected that style of dentistry.

At ADAPT, we seek to match up dentists and practices based on that style. There are sound business reasons to pay attention to these factors. Any successful practice has gathered a core of customers who want exactly the service that practice has developed.

If a new dentist comes in who is dramatically different, that dentist will need to attract a whole new group of patients – especially if they are the new owner. Sometimes an owner dentist will hire an associate who is different precisely because they want to attract a new segment of customers. In that case, the doctors need to be aware that their style may clash with others on the team, such as the front desk, hygienists, and assistants. If key members of the dental team do not appear to be on the same team, the experience can be disjointed and confusing for the patient. That confusion may lead a patient to seek a new dentist.

Why Cultural Fit Matters

This issue of culture fit extends to all businesses. You have probably heard business management consultant Peter Drucker’s famous quote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Do not overlook the importance of a strong culture match when acquiring or joining a dental practice. In the research done leading up to the development of ADAPT, we heard story after story of why a practice, partnership, or associateship fell apart. Many of the stories included unexpected life events that were insurmountable. Beyond those unexpected events it was almost always a bad culture fit that led to the downfall of the practice.

Again, I want to emphasize that there is no single “right” or “wrong” culture or philosophy of care. What is important is recognizing what works for a practice and finding a match who can continue that legacy or help it grow.

What Type of Practice Do You Run?

Occasionally we hear that a dentist thinks he or she is not a good match for ADAPT because their practice is built on efficiency, not relationships. We actually need those kinds of practices to participate on our platform so that we can match them up with dentists who are seeking to purchase or join exactly that kind of practice. After all, there will always be patients who gravitate towards each type of practice – and dentists who serve them.

Think about your own practice. Can you articulate how you operate? What would your patients say? How would you describe it to a potential hire or buyer?

If you’re on the other side of the equation, looking to buy or join as an associate, what type of practice sounds most appealing to you?

If you are ready to start your own practice transition, create your free profile today. Your dedicated ADA Advisor will help you articulate your practice’s culture (or your preferred culture), then help you find the right match, with support and resources at every step of the process.

Create Free Profile

Topics: incoming dentist


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