Parents, children and practice management.
by Paige Worley, CWA Digital Communications
Dr. John Jackson’s dreams came true when John Morgan, one of his two sons, decided to pursue dentistry. The older doctor started thinking about the possibilities. “I asked him what he thought, and he said ‘I want to come back and practice with you,’” Jackson said. “Of course, I was thrilled at that prospect.”
Starting the journey
Jackson’s son will graduate next year, giving him time to prepare for the transition. When a practice transition involves family members, building the foundation of the business relationship is essential.
Brian Bortz, a partner at CWA, has worked with multiple clients to transition children into the family practice. “In a practice transition, a parent’s relationship with a child doesn’t automatically change once a business contract is signed; both parties need to work at having a genuine business relationship,” he explains. “The biggest issue is that the parent and the child never view each other as associates or partners. So when there are directive decisions to shape the practice, the child will always defer to the parent.”
The root of the issue is developing a business relationship outside of the established personal relationship. To help create the foundation of the business relationship, Bortz recommends treating the child as you would a third-party associate.
Another way the parent can facilitate a business relationship is by taking a backseat and letting their child make managerial decisions, which is an important skill for long term professional success. If the child is allowed or feels pressure to defer all the decision-making to the parent, it can be destructive.
“I’ve seen it absolutely stunt the professional development of the child,” Bortz said. “The senior doctor needs to give them the opportunity to make those decisions, and even make mistakes, because that’s when the junior doctor has an opportunity to learn.”
By empowering the new doctor to oversee work such as staffing, managing payroll, or running practice meetings, they can more easily step into leadership roles with the team. This foundation for a business relationship is essential to overall success.
When professionals cannot separate personal from business, it can be detrimental. Bortz said he’s seen it break many partnerships. “I always advise the parent and the child to pretend they are not related when they walk in the door each morning,” he said. “But it’s not easy to do.”
Dr. Jackson talks about splitting shifts with John Morgan to give him a chance to call the shots. “I think it’s good for him to work when dad is not here, that way he’ll feel a little more ownership,” Jackson reasons. But part of his dream is practicing with his son, working together some, if not most, of the time.
He also anticipates changes in how he approaches bigger picture decisions like building expansion and his transition into retirement when John Morgan joins him at the office.
Separating business from personal
Executive Coach Delta Shuman specializes in entrepreneurship and has a history of working with family businesses. If issues are not addressed quickly once the family gets involved it can critically harm the practice, she says.
In fact, she says it will usually harm the practice before it will harm the relationship because that’s what families will try to protect first. Shuman has seen professionals let bad behavior at the office last longer than usual to protect the family relationship. This behavior can permeate into the overall culture of the office and patient’s experience.
To mitigate these issues, she suggests setting clear boundaries and communicating constantly. Communicated standards for all involved can help navigate issues in the future. Making sure to discuss each person’s ultimate career goals and where they currently stand is also important to overall success.
“If family is motivated to be there, and they are in line with the vision, and the person giving direction has the full ability to do so, then it’s going to be great,” Shuman said.
The older doctor will guide the vision and help the professional development of the younger doctor. One of the most impactful things the older doctor can do is introduce patients to the younger doctor in a positive way.
“You empower the younger doctor by letting them have one-on-ones with patients,” she says. “To have a great, genuine hand off from their parent and the parent completely removing themselves is the best thing you can do.”
The older doctor should also take on more of a coaching role. A coach or mentor helps the person find the answer themselves by guiding them, instead of telling them the answer. In this position, the older doctor can help maintain the professional boundaries and empower the new doctor to bring his or her ideas to the table. This method creates an appreciation relationship, instead of a task oriented one, she said.
By using clear communication, professional boundaries and utilizing both parties expertise, the business venture will be set up for success.
Turning a dream into reality
Navigating the new relationship dynamic is a challenge, but there are many benefits to the new doctor. They reap the benefits of the established practice, including name recognition, which is valued as a goodwill asset. Goodwill is an asset that is predetermined and valued at the time of sale.
The new doctor also gets to carry the legacy of the family practice out. As Dr. Jackson readies his practice for his son, he looks forward to the future of the family practice. He anticipates some challenges that come with doing business, but has a new outlook on his career. He’s actually considering postponing retirement to have more time to practice with his son. Working with his son will be a breath of fresh air, he says.
“I think under the circumstances, I’m going to have the best of both worlds,” Jackson said. “I cannot think of a better blessing.”