When you promised to love, honor and cherish, somehow you left out ‘discuss daily production and collections’. It might at times seem like the biggest commitment in your marriage, but it can be managed and don’t let it take over.
So, the obvious question is, what comes first? Consider this, when your kids grow up, do you hope they will find a spouse that puts them first? Of course you do. So why should your marriage be any different because there is a dental practice involved? It doesn’t mean your kids or your practice or anything else come second. That’s a myth. What it means is that you are communicating and managing with one voice.
Speaking with one voice doesn’t mean you agree on everything or know what each other is thinking all of the time. It means that you agree on most things and, when you are not sure, or when the decision really falls with your spouse, you defer. You then tell the employee you will think about it, and then get back to them.
If you both work in the practice, and an employee asks for a day off but doesn’t like the answer, are they allowed to go to your spouse and ask again? I sure hope not. If the answer to the question is an obvious one, then answer it. If the answer should be delivered by your spouse, or if it’s a gray area and requires interpretation of rules or precedent, then talk it through and get back to the employee. Over time, you will get to know how each other responds and thinks, and your employees will come to expect this level of thought and consult.
For employees to have your trust and respect, they don’t have to agree with all of your decisions. They just need to know you have thought it through, considered it from their perspective, and are consistent from one person to the next.
Dividing the Responsibilities
Dr. Sara and I manage our dental practices in much the same way we manage our home, at least philosophically. We do what we do best, do what we can and should together, and things that we don’t like to do, or that are easily outsourced, we hire help in favor of saving that time for our top priorities.
At home, Dr. Sara is a much better chef, so she does most of the cooking. Through various jobs, I have quite a bit of exposure to technology, so I do most of that. Cleaning and yardwork are things we do together, but we also hire help. Much like when we started the first practice, when we were first married we did everything together. Now, with a few years behind us, we focus more on what we enjoy and do well.
At the office, our long standing line is “She doesn’t write any checks, and I don’t pull any teeth.” For the record, she is much better at writing checks than I ever would be at pulling teeth. But that is our division. I handle the business end, including personnel matters, and she handles the clinic. If issues arise that are unclear to us, we tell the employee we will get back to them and we discuss it together. We have lunch together twice per week, and go to breakfast every Friday. Never, ever do these issues weigh us down and we don’t spend all of our time talking about work. Getting each other’s opinion and trusting each other actually strengthens both our marriage and the practice. But the owner of that task gets the final say, and the other spouse respects it and moves on. If you make a mistake, you own it and fix it together. I was recently in a full day seminar with about 75 other dental spouses at the AADOM Annual Meeting, and someone used the phrase “work/life integration” as opposed to “work/life separation”. This is exactly the way it works for us.
Again, just like at home, in the beginning we both did everything. In the clinic she started referring out the procedures she didn’t like (mostly endo and extractions), as soon as she could afford it. In the beginning, I wrote every check and ran the wiring for our first network. Today we have a CPA as our director of finance and a healthy tech support contract for our 80 computers. Both at home and at work, we did what we have to do until we could focus on what we do best and what makes us happiest.
In the beginning we talked a lot about production and collections, but mostly as it related to what came next, and how we were going to move to our goals of being able to have the practice we want, where we could focus on what we do best. One thing we never talked about was collections or accounts receivable, for example. The reason for that was we didn’t want Dr. Sara’s perspective to be clouded by who wasn’t paying for their dental care. That was exclusively a front office job and we were to handle that while allowing her to focus on patient care. Then, and now, these conversations are frequent but brief. That is unless they are directly related to something we both really enjoy, like building another practice.
Trying to separate the practice from our marriage would be impossible. Integrating the two is very natural with the proper foundation and division of responsibilities. At work, Dr. Sara is allowed to be a care provider. Now with five locations and 70+ employees, Dr. Sara is also responsible for the quality of care everywhere. So, I don’t get to say when we grow. I get to say when we are financially and structurally ready to grow, she gets to say when make a move, because we won’t do it without being able to continue our quality of care. These are our established and agreed upon priorities.
The elephant in the room would be if one of you is trying to do something for which you are not qualified. Trust in what you are doing is essential. Do what you do well, and, if you don’t know it but it must be done, invest the time and money in training. Only then will you be able to defer to each other with confidence.
Our Vow is to Each Other
Our marriage vow is to honor each other, which we do at home and at the office through communication. We also work towards each other’s happiness by focusing on what we do best. Ultimately the strength and support we get from communicating, trust in decision making, respect for our roles and work to achieve each other’s fulfillment makes our marriage, and our business, all the stronger.
Our marriage comes first but that doesn’t mean other things come second. Our communication and speaking with one voice makes us stronger in our marriage and at the practice. It makes a better example for our kids and our employees and contributes to a happier home and office. Invest the time in yourselves and your marriage. It is that on which everything else is built.