Editor's note: Sally McKenzie was a powerful voice in the dental industry until her passing in 2020. We're sharing this article in the spirit of having her high-quality and insightful work live on and continue inspiring readers. Read more about her legacy in the denal professoin form Chris Salierno, DDS.
You do your part to help every team member succeed, from providing guidance to offering the proper training. But sometimes, no matter what you do, certain people just don't work out.
Here’s a scenario that plays out in many dental offices. A problem employee completes the practice’s 60- to 90-day progressive disciplinary program, and nothing changes. If anything, the team member’s negative attitude and poor performance just gets worse, making it clear that it’s time to part ways. As the practice CEO you’ve documented everything, so now it’s just a matter of actually letting the employee go and moving on.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Firing an employee can be stressful, and it’s a situation most dentists prefer to avoid. Unfortunately, it’s an important part of your role as the CEO. Keeping negative team members who don’t contribute will only bring down the rest of the team and damage your practice. You need to surround yourself with talented employees who want to help your practice succeed, not people who hold back your practice.
Most dentists simply don’t know the best way to handle these difficult conversations. If you’re among them, don’t worry, I’m here to help. To make this situation as painless as possible, I suggest you follow these dos and don’ts.
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Let’s start with the don’ts
Don’t involve the rest of the team: When it’s actually time to fire an employee, the meeting should be held in private, though keep in mind you will want a witness present. The witness could be your attorney, office manager, or even your spouse.
When you ask the employee to meet with you, make it clear to him or her why you want to talk. It’s also important to schedule the meeting when patients aren’t in the practice. You certainly don’t want patients to feel any tension or run into the dismissed employee as he or she is leaving.
Don’t be vague: During this conversation, you need to make your intentions clear. You don’t want there to be any question about what’s happening. At the same time, remember to be respectful.
Don’t try to explain: At this point, the employee should know exactly why you’re taking this action. Everything was spelled out during the disciplinary period, when the employee had an opportunity to make the necessary changes. This isn’t the time to go into detail, or worse, defend your decision. Because it can be difficult to know what to say, I suggest you put together a script beforehand and stick to it.
Don’t apologize: You might feel bad for having to let someone go, but remember you’re doing what’s best for your practice and the rest of the team. Never apologize or say something like, “I know how you feel,” or “I don’t want to do this.”
Don’t place blame: This will only lead to trouble. Remember to keep the conversation as short and to the point as possible.
Don’t be defensive: As difficult as it is for you to have this conversation, it’s probably even more difficult for the team member to listen, even if the termination is expected. Be prepared for the employee to hurl accusations and insults. This might be difficult to listen to, but don’t engage. It isn’t a good idea to argue with the employee or admit to any wrongdoing. Again, stick to your script and remain calm throughout the conversation, even if the employee doesn’t.
Now let’s move on to the dos
Do pay the employee: Before the now former employee leaves, give him or her that final paycheck. If that isn’t possible, be sure to tell the person when to expect it.
Do escort the employee to collect any belongings: This is also the time to ask for the office key and collect anything else the employee has that belongs to the practice.
Do stay positive: Shake the employee’s hand and offer well wishes. But keep it brief. You want this person to leave the premises as soon as possible.
Do let other team members know what’s going on: If you don’t, the rumor mill will start churning, which hurts team morale and practice productivity. Call a team meeting right away to let staff members know who you let go, but don’t go into any detail about why.
Firing a team member is never easy, but unfortunately sometimes it’s necessary. Employees with negative attitudes who aren’t meeting expectations only bring down you and the rest of the team. Once you dismiss a problem employee who is holding back your practice, you’ll notice improvements that include happier and more productive team members and a more robust bottom line.
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2017 and updated regularly