If you are a dental practice owner and feel like most other practice owners. Then the task of finding a new employee is a tiring and stressful one. Presumably, recruitment is in the same category as many other administrative tasks: it's extremely rare they inspire you as much as fixing teeth.
Not only is recruitment not a "wow" task, but the task is put under further stress by a number of issues, which I will try to outline below. Just as I will offer some advice on what to do to get around these more easily. The issues are of a nature that presents some unfortunate challenges for dental practice owners:
There is an extreme shortage of qualified people, which makes it extremely difficult to attract applicants for the clinic's vacancies in the first place.
Salaries of employed dentists are unsustainably high in relation to the revenue of the average dental practice (Too many dental practices balance on the edge of deficit when they employ dentists. This is an issue that can be addressed. But it requires a focused management effort)
Several dental chains have begun enticing other clinics' staff with cash bonus schemes, in a desperate attempt to attract staff members and dentists.
Over the past few weeks, I have described some of the steps the dental office can take to make it easier to attract the right applicants for the office's vacancies.
This week's content
This week's post will therefore be about the methods dental practices are up against in the battle for talented staff. I will also look at what clinics can do to guard against these unsavoury practices.
The blog is written based on my own observations in the market and therefore bears the mark of my subjective interpretations.
Conditions in other industries
The IT industry is known for fighting hard for the most competent specialists. Here, it is common to offer extreme bonuses and salaries to entice competitors' employees to change jobs.
Back in 2011, my clinic had started working in earnest with digital treatment workflows. Developments in dental software that could handle complex 3D algorithms were starting to take off for real. All the big players in the dental industry were starting to wake up to the direction developments would take in the following years. So they all wanted to be part of the battle for the future of digital platforms for dentists. At that time, there were supposedly 3 IT specialists/engineers in the world, with some very specific skills in dental 3D algorithms. They all worked freelance and could define their own salary. Which means they typically cost a few million euros for a task that might take them 3 months to solve.......... The industry thought the potential was so great that they decided to pay!
The long-term strategy
Some years ago, a DSO began to register how it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit dentists and dental hygienists. The dental chain therefore launched a massive charm offensive aimed at dental students. It marketed itself massively and set up very attractive development programmes for new dental graduates and dental hygienists.
The challenge was - and is - that this is a long-term branding strategy. You have to wait for the students to finish. They have to take employment (which they did and are doing in fairly large numbers) and then report back to their peers at the schools how great their employment has been.
It takes time.... a long time.
That's time the chains don't have when faced with an acute staffing shortage.
Another DSO admitted early on that the chain's brand internally in the industry was so bad that it almost seemed hopeless to get native dentists. They therefore decided early on to work with a recruitment agency that attracts workers from abroad. As it is the language skills that often pose the biggest challenges. This chain has set up an onboarding process that includes training in the native language.
The short-term strategy
Due to the acute shortage of dentists and dental hygienists, several dental chains have taken inspiration from the IT and dental industries. They have simply chosen to embrace some of the less-than-sophisticated methods. Some of them have therefore started to offer their own employees a "finders fee". This means that employees who locate and entice a skilled, qualified employee to transfer to the chain receive a substantial cash bonus for their efforts.
Those dentists who have chosen to change jobs on request are also awarded a substantial bonus in 2 steps. 1 bonus is paid on the first day the employee shows up. The second half is paid after a pre-defined period of employment.
The amounts paid in bonus are of a size that makes it difficult for the small dental clinics to participate. However, for the dentist or dental hygienist who chooses to change workplace, the bonus is of a size that does not batter more than it could be quickly earned back in a good dental office anyway.
The relevance for the small dental practice
Does this mean that we might as well prepare for a future with small dental practices where all dentists are co-owners and large chain dental practices where all employed dentists choose to apply for jobs?
I do not think so. There is no doubt that this would be a dream scenario for the DSO's. Because the moment this situation occurs, the big dental chains will be able to define the salary and employment conditions of employed dentists.... We see evidence of this in markets internationally where the market share of dental chains exceeds 70%.
Advantages of DSO's
It is worth noting that the chains have a few advantages:
They have a well-thought-out onboarding programme with structured continuing education programmes that are particularly attractive for new graduates.
They have the liquidity to pay the "finders fee"
They are sized to accommodate to some extent a desire for specialisation or regular career paths similar to other types of companies.
As a small clinic, it can be a bit overwhelming to be confronted with all this. However, it's worth remembering that it's rarely the salary alone that makes employees move.
Is salary the primary motivation?
When an employee moves to another company, there are usually other and more weighty arguments than pay behind the decision. Even if the moving employee may cite the salary difference as the most important when asked. This is a much easier explanation than having to formulate an answer that is linked to a feeling about the culture of the clinic or a vision that is lacking or not in line with the employee's own vision.
I wrote a bit about the importance of dental practice culture and vision in regards to recruitment in last week’s blog post. There will be an elaboration on the blog shortly. Here I will describe how practice culture and the leaders vision can have a decisive influence on the success of a new hire. As well as how to work with these elements to create a better team and ensure the right people are hired into the practice.
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Make it easy for your practice
You don't have to be a big dental clinic to offer your team great structured training. All you really need to do is sit down and define the competences you want your team members to have. From there, it is relatively easy to draw up a training plan that a new employee must go through to achieve the desired level of competence. In larger organisations, this training plan is called onboarding.
Once the practice has developed a description of the individual work areas, the required employee competencies and what training and continuing education courses support these. The whole recruitment process becomes much easier going forward. Because now the practice has a roadmap that just needs to be adapted to the new employee. Just as it will be easier to determine how well an applicant fits the position. As the job description is now very clear.
If you manage to find an employee with 80% of the desired competencies, it is easy to identify which competencies need to be trained during the recruitment process. Here, it is typically a matter of training the person up to the standards of the dental practice first - which typically takes 6-12 months. After which the practice can easily select the courses and training sessions from the training plan that are covered under the remaining 20% already defined. Not only that, the employee may come up with laternative and better suggestions on how to achieve the competences the practice needs. This can then be added to the written practice protocol for the next time the practice needs to hire someone to an equivalent position in the practice.
The benefits of a specific plan
I hope it is clear how the dental practice can more easily show a potential applicant what skills the employee is expected to master. This is combined with a specific plan for how these competencies will be acquired and implemented in the employee's daily life.
This approach makes it very concrete for an applicant as to what is expected and how the practice will help the employee get there. Such a roadmap demonstrates professionalism but, just as importantly, it also unveils how the clinic is purposefully striving towards its vision. It makes it easier for each applicant to decide whether or not the position is right for them.
Save several thousands of Euros/Pounds/Dollars
Why it's super critical that an applicant is a perfect fit for the clinic's culture and vision and what the consequences can be when a dental clinic hires an employee with a bad match. I'll write about that here on the blog next week. It's knowledge that can easily save several thousands of dollars/euroes/pounds.
Don't miss the blog posts - sign up today. To do so, click on "login" in the top right corner of the menu and follow the instructions. An email with a direct link to the latest post will then be sent once a week.
Can't wait until next week to get specific tips on how to optimize your chances of attracting dream candidates to your practice? Then feel free to call or write me directly. Over the past year, I've helped design job postings that have been able to attract just the right candidates in areas that, on paper, have unusual difficulties attracting highly specialized professionals.
Many kind regards