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    Why dental associates often fail

    Viewing an associate as an apprentice rather than a subordinate can make a world of difference.


    The context of an associate

    My particular method of distinguishing a context starts with language. Language is the construction material of a context. The current definition of an associate is “a person with limited or subordinate membership in an organization.”

    Consequently, inherent in the context of associate are the words — and the meanings implied by these words — limited and subordinate. The definition of limited: “Confined within limits; restricted. Limited success characterized by enforceable limitations upon the scope or exercise of powers; lacking breadth and originality.”

    The definition of subordinate: “Lower in rank or position; a person under the authority or control of another within the organization; treat or regard as of lesser importance than something else.”

    How would an associate feel working inside a context where he or she is held as limited and related to as a subordinate?

    Read more: How to succeed with millenial associates

    Following this contextual trail, what language is spoken? Again, language is the fabric of culture. What language is consistent with the context of limited and subordinate? The language, in this context, is wholly transactional.

    A transaction is “this-for-that”; an exchange of something for something else. Negotiations are required, as are concessions and compromises — giving something up to get something. It’s a win-lose game.

    In a transactional language, where it is “this-for-that,” you have contracts, defined compensation percentages, goals, targets, SOPs, KPIs, per-hour production numbers, incentive numbers, performance assessment ratings, and so on. Numbers are impersonal. Numbers don’t care. Numbers are indifferent. The language of transactions is impersonal, detached, measured and emotionless.

    Observing the transaction language as the construct of the context dictates that strict management be deployed. How would you like to work in a place where you were limited and subordinate, where you are constantly under strict management, given that it is always and only about the numbers?

    If the context is made up of language that is purely transactional — a language that is mechanical and non-caring, with no emotional content, based on win-loss, and “do what you’re told” — is this a place to which an associate would be committed?

    And you wonder why associates behave the way they do. Look at the context of your dental enterprise; this might shed a little light on why associates are unhappy and underperform. Why the turnover rate is as high as 20 percent per year. Why associates usually turn over every five years or less. The context of “associate” is suppressive and exploitive.

    There needs to be a shift in context.

    But how do you shift the context? How do you strategically and consciously create a context that will improve associate recruitment and retention?

    My method is to look at other existing contexts with basically the same elements that produce entirely different results.

    Up next: The context of an apprentice...

    Dr. Marc Cooper
    Dr. Cooper's professional career includes private periodontist, academician, researcher, teacher, practice management consultant, ...


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