Working with family members? They might be hurting your dental practice

Many dental practices employ family members. The important thing to remember is that they know the rules and don't receive preferential treatment. This helps all team members get along.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 11 Ignore Boss 1

Owning a family-run dental practice can be profitable and rewarding. It’s pretty amazing to achieve your goals with the people you love by your side, especially when you know they’re doing their part to help you succeed. Yes, these practices can be very successful. But if you’re not careful, they can also crash and burn.

The problem is, family businesses tend to be very complex. Emotions and family dynamics often take over, clouding judgement and keeping a practice from meeting its true potential. I’ve seen it happen many times through the years. But I’ve also helped these practices find success.

Do you feel like your family might be holding your practice back? With a few changes, you can turn your struggling family-owned practice into a thriving one. Here are a few ways your family employees might be hurting your practice, and some advice on how to fix it.

They’re not held accountable
Your brother the office manager comes in late every day, and your sister the financial coordinator takes two-hour lunches. They don’t think much of it; they’re family after all, so it’s fine if they’re a little late or need extra time to run errands. Not only does this hurt practice efficiency and production, your other team members will notice, and that could lead to unwanted staff conflict.

How do you avoid this? Make sure family members know from the beginning they won’t get a free pass. That means your sister can’t waive fees for neighbors and friends, and your brother can’t show up late every day. Just like everyone else on the team, they must be professionally trained and be held accountable for their actions. Provide them with detailed job descriptions so they know exactly what’s expected of them, including what tasks they must complete each day.

You don’t have a system for giving out raises
Trust me, you don’t want your brother to corner you to ask for a raise if he hasn’t earned it. While you’ll be tempted, saying yes will send your overhead costs soaring. That’s why it’s important to make it clear to all employees how performance will be measured and under what circumstances raises will be given.

They’re not a right fit for the role
Sure, you love your sister, but that doesn’t mean she’ll make a good financial coordinator. Before you hire a family member, determine if he or she has the skills and temperament for the job, just like you would with any other employee. Remember, even if they’re family, hiring someone who isn’t equipped for the role will lead to stress and frustration, not to mention it will cost you money.

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No one brings up problems
This is pretty typical in a family-run practice. Family members don’t question one another’s decisions or actions or push for change because they don’t want to start a family argument. The problem is, this will just lead to bigger issues down the road. The solution? Create an environment where all employees feel comfortable bringing up any issues they have. Stress the importance of addressing conflict and working together to make positive changes that move the practice forward.

I don’t want you to think hiring family members is always a bad idea. It is true that owning a family-run practice presents many challenges, but these practices can be very successful when handled properly. I’ve seen many husband-wife, father-son, mother-daughter, and brother-sister setups succeed. What’s their secret? They deal with business issues as partners, not as family.

That’s right. If you want to own a thriving family-run practice, you have to remember it’s a business first and a family operation second. This can get complicated, but it’s worth the extra effort. Excellent communication, clearly defined job descriptions, and trust are all key elements of a successful family-run dental practice. When it all comes together, you’ll find you have a productive practice and a large bottom line.

Need more guidance on how to improve your family-run practice? Please contact me and I’m happy to help.

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Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at (877) 777-6151 or at

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