The Secret to A+ Onboarding and Retention

By Dr. Craig Copeland

Your doctors are the heart and soul of your organization, so there’s nothing more important than hiring and keeping the right people. Success when it comes to retention isn’t tied to compensation or benefits, and it doesn’t come from recruiting people based only on their clinical qualifications. Dental skills can be developed, but creating the right culture isn’t as easy.

Solid retention starts by recruiting people who are going to fit in culturally, and who buy into everything your organization is about. At Community Dental Partners (CDP), we invested in creating a central guiding vision and a clinical constitution that permeates the entire organization. Everything we’ve done at Community Dental Partners comes from a culture built on relationships, not on transactions.

For us, that started by making an investment to create a culture that our doctors wanted to stay with. A huge part of that comes from having a vision with a definite structure that gives them a foundation upon which they can build success. That central vision is shared by everyone we hire and it makes it easy for our doctors, and prospective doctors, to see a realistic, tangible future where they can eventually own practices, in which they can grow and become a better leader, a better person, a better wife, father, husband — anything you can think of. That’s what we’re trying to drive and that’s what has led to great retention.

If you have a clear vision set out for your doctors, and if you’re relationship-minded, then everything will reflect that mindset and everything else will fall into place.

Transparency the whole way through

It all starts with transparency. From our first contact with potential recruits, we lay out exactly who we are and what we expect out of our doctors. But more than that, we show it to them.

All of our doctors are with us for a reason. So I always encourage new doctors who are coming in to ask everyone about everything – every side of it. I’d rather a potential new hire find out everything about us – the good, bad, and ugly – before they come in.

The reason is simple, I want them to come in day one and not have any surprises. I can do that because I’m confident in our culture and that we all share the same vision.

Know what you want out of your dentists

For us, the most critical quality is being a good culture fit for the organization – embracing the same ideals and having a desire to work toward the same goals. We don’t want transactional relationships with our dentists any more than we want them with people in our personal lives.

For me, the biggest joy is seeing other people in our organization succeed. Because as they succeed, we all succeed. That’s why I want someone that I can get to know – someone who I can mentor and get along with, and see them have success.

We created a document that walks perspectives through how we’re going to pay them. In fact, we even created a worksheet they can take with them to other interviews so they can compare our offer to their
other offers.

Since we’ve been giving that worksheet to the incoming docs, we’ve had a ton of success when it comes to onboarding the right people. Not only does it set expectations (both ways) from the start, but since we make those expectations known they first come on, we have fewer issues down the line.

Finding future partners

We have a saying, “What starts well, ends well.” While a resume can tell us about the person from a clinical qualification standpoint, the first step in our onboarding process is evaluating candidates from a culture fit standpoint.

Our recruiter goes through and asks the right questions. She doesn’t actually dive into the clinical part, but she’s the filter of that culture piece, and doesn’t let anybody pass unless they seem like they’re going to fit in culturally.

Another unique thing we are very adamant about is having the spouse be involved in every step of the recruiting. When we have dinners, we almost make it a requirement that the doctor bring his or her spouse, because at the end of the day, the spouse is going to be a huge part of any major decision.

The real light bulb moment for us was when we shifted our mindset from “hiring new doctors” to “finding future partners.” Having that mindset completely changed the way that we view them and the way they view us.

We start talking about the path to ownership while we’re still in the recruitment phase, long before anyone has even brought up signing any papers. There’s of course certain requirements that they need to hit along the way to that goal of ownership, but our full intention from the outset is for them to become partners with us someday, and we tell them that. The byproduct of that practice has been great retention rates.

When it comes down to it, the real secret to success isn’t enticing sign-on bonuses, perfectly written contracts, or hitting the right formula for compensation. Instead, success comes from building great relationships on the foundation of a shared vision. It’s how we get our doctors to partner with us, it’s how we get them to stay, and it’s how we help them succeed.

Dr. Craig Copeland is the Chief Dental Officer of Community Dental Partners and focuses on helping CDP’s doctors exceed in their careers, through mentorship, training, and strengthening CDP’s support systems.