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Letting an employee go is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business. And if you’re an employee, getting fired is always a shock, even if you might be expecting it. In either case it’s even more challenging for dental practices, as the team is generally close-knit, and often a friendship develops between the boss and the employee. But the fact remains that to grow any business you need to be constantly examining and improving your team components. And, as an employee, doing your job well is not enough. You have to fit as a member of a team.

This is even more critical for dental practices because, if you subscribe to my way of thinking – that you are in retail health care – then you know that your team is your most essential marketing element. Without an amazing dental team, you cannot create a large base of loyal patients. No matter how great the dentist’s clinical skills, what the patient is going to remember is how friendly, courteous, thoughtful and compassionate the office team was.

I mention in my book Everything is Marketing the universal truth that every business owner

I’ve met has confirmed with me: we have never regretted firing anyone, only how long we waited to do so. We all wait too long. We wait until the disease has infected the entire body. And that’s a good metaphor. Very likely one employee is the deep-pocket perio infection in the practice, and you’re leaving it untreated. Would you do that with a patient?

My advice to the dentist or office manager is, pull the trigger now. There is someone better out there, and the team will take up the slack and respect you for having done it. (Side note: every day that person stays in your office the team loses a little more respect for you.)

Why do I say it’s an act of kindness? Because that employee needs to know that they are not performing at the highest level, and therefore will continue to be less and less employable as they grow older. It’s actually cruel to wait on your part. Let’s say they’re 35 now. Are you going to wait until they’re 40 to release them into the job market, with their bad work habits more deeply ingrained? It’s a wake-up call to get fired. It forces someone to do some self-examination.

Granted, they may not get the message right away. Denial is an easy trap (especially if you stink at what you do!) But letting them continue working for you is reinforcing that they don’t have to do a great job to keep their job. When I put it that way, it sounds like a pretty ridiculous thing to be doing, doesn’t it? Again, it’s cruel, or cowardly at least, for the business owner not to step up and let that person know that their performance is insufficient.

Remember, they don’t have to be a bad employee for you to terminate them. If they don’t fit as a team player, if they aren’t looking to improve their skills, if they don’t choose a great attitude every day, that’s enough. Because you need that from everyone. A dental practice is too small an eco-system to not have everyone performing and participating at the same high level.

On the other side of the fence, as an employee, getting fired delivers a clear message: whatever you’re doing wasn’t enough to keep your job. And you can have all the excuses you want about how stupid the dentist was to fire you, or what a crazy environment it was, or whatever you need to tell yourself to soften the blow, but the fact is, you didn’t fit. And in the end you can only change yourself, so embrace the message. Do some introspection.

Ask yourself, did I meet or exceed the expectations of my employer, or was I just doing enough to keep my job? Did I contribute to the positive culture of the practice? How did I treat the patients? Was I careless? Inefficient? Habitually late? Be brutally honest with yourself and resolve to change, or the next job will repeat the cycle, and you’ll be even older looking for employment again.

I know it’s a shock. But I’ve had a number of employees over the years come back and thank me for giving them that message, and getting them on track, by either finding a job that suits them, or fixing their attitude, or learning to be a better employee.

If you are the employee, this gives you a good perspective on how an employer thinks. If you’re not clear on what’s expected of you, it’s your responsibility to ask. It’s also your responsibility to get better at what you do, and contribute to the atmosphere and experience of the practice in a positive way.

If you’re the employer, be clear on performance expectations and, if it’s time, pull that trigger.

Check out my weekly blog,, for more marketing and practice management ideas.

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