7 strategies for finding and keeping great associates

7 strategies for finding and keeping great associates

Live these mantras to build a strong clinical team.
May 01, 2008

Craig Woloshyn, DVM
Good associates are rarer than hen's teeth, so how do you attract them to your cozy practice and keep them? Don't worry—I've distilled the wisdom of many conversations with owners and associates into these seven mantras. Chant them regularly until they make sense and work for you. They will lead you on a path to peaceful relations with associates. A bonsai tree and a yoga mat are optional.

1 I speak, therefore I do.

We all believe that our word is iron, but when business and financial decisions become difficult, our promises sometimes become squishy. When you hire an associate, you should state all of the employment details in writing. Then, when you have a dispute or difference of memory, you can both refer to the written contract. Contracts are legal documents, true, but they're also records of the agreements you and your associate made on that romantic evening when the world was a bright and pretty place and she agreed to work overtime for you.

Associates aren't always experienced with contracts and negotiation, so you need to take the lead. Be fair—what would you accept if you were in her shoes? Agree on that and don't ever renege. There's nothing more disillusioning to a team member than a boss who's soft on his word. Keep your promises.

2 They do it, they get paid for it.

Too many owners either don't understand production pay or use it unfairly to their advantage. Set up a fair percentage and write down everything the associates get credit for. Let associates check their production on the computer at any time. Give them a method of recourse when staff members make mistakes.

And most important, be generous. If you find yourself quarrelling over who gets credit for a CBC, you've already lost the battle—the doctor will soon be gone. Give your associate the benefit of the doubt; the money in question is usually minimal, but the goodwill is inestimable.

3 If they'll use it, they can have it.

I like to close my surgeries with handmade sheep-gut sutures that have been pounded on ancient granite stones by a small tribe in the upper Amazon. My associate uses sutures made out of materials I can't spell and thinks I'm frozen in time. Choices of sutures, antibiotics, and vaccines can easily become major bones of contention around a hospital—not because of consistency of medical care, but because of simple preference.

If your associate wants something new—and it's not a serious issue that compromises consistency of care at your clinic—get it. Maybe the whole clinic will start using it eventually. The only requirement should be that the doctor dispenses it at a fair price. Your associate will be happy, your patients will be well treated, and you'll make more money. After all, new medicines and products are generally more expensive and have better profit margins.

4 What gets rewarded gets repeated.

You want your associate to stay with you for a long time, become an integral part of the practice, and eventually run the place while you lounge around on your yacht. Well, one of the most effective ways to help associates grow is to compliment them and brag about them.

Pat them on the back when they complete a particularly difficult case. Tell clients about their knowledge and skills. Put their names on the door and on business cards, and put their diplomas on the wall. Associates—like most everybody else—thrive on a diet of well-earned praise.