Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

I had an interesting conversation with my assistant last week that I want to talk to you about.

Let me first tell you that I have almost no turnover in my office. I have an assistant who started working for my dad when I was 9 years old (that is a 37-year tenure). My other assistant has been with me for more than 19 years. My front desk superstar has been with me for 16 years. My hygiene team has been with me for nine, seven, and five years.

I would say we mostly are a pretty tight group. I have one assistant who feels like she can talk with me. She can tell me what the vibe is in the office, and she can tell me when I am being difficult to work with.

Here is a little more information before I tell the story: I worked with my dad for 18 years before I bought him out about 2½ years ago. We use to make fun of him because he was always wound up so tight. He always would talk about production and stress out every week when it came to paying the bills. This stress would be his personality. He would not be very fun to hang around, and it would show in the way he would do dentistry.

The other day, the assistant who is comfortable talking with me sat me down and told me how I was becoming in the office. She told me that I am starting to become my dad. She was not saying that she didn’t like my dad, just that I am taking on that personality—the one that drives someone to work hard, not be appreciative, and be no fun.

In my office, we have production goals. If we meet certain, very attainable goals, my staff can make a $200 bonus per person, per month (and I pay the taxes for the bonus). There is no crazy formula; it is not based on collection (we collect 98 to 100 percent anyway), and there is no performance grade. I think last year, we made our goal 10 times.

Our office is doing very well. But my staff members see this: that our office did “X” in production for the year. They know that an average office will run about 75 to 90 percent in overhead after everyone is paid. So they know the ballpark figure of what I make.

They also know that two of my four kids go to this school that costs more than their salaries (they know because I complain about it all the time). They know that I am trying to pay down debt as fast as I can. (Because I say that too and tell them we will have an awesome party when the office debt is paid off.)

I am pushing everyone to work hard, complaining about openings in the schedule, and complaining about no-shows, but to them, it probably seems to be a bit of the “rich getting richer.” And when the rich get richer, is a small bonus at the end of the month enough?

I have always been this fun-loving person. I have always been fun to work with and for. The office is doing so great. It is like a well-oiled machine. We have been so blessed to do what we do. People really like what we are doing here.

But I have to admit that this year has been hard.

My home bills are at an all-time high (and I mean high). We do not have consumer debt, but my household has a lot of output, which puts major pressure on me.

So the question I have for you: Am I my brother’s keeper? What do we owe the people who help us?

Are you a person who believes, look, I take all the risk; I took out the million(s)-dollar loan to make this happen. The profit is mine. Do you believe their job has no risk and that they get their salaries and bonuses, and what else do they want? Or maybe do you feel like whatever you give them will never be enough? Do you believe they are half of what makes this thing successful, and I will give them more of my take because they deserve it?

Regardless of how you feel, I think this is worth discussing. I will try to be less of an ogre at work. I want to be easier to hang around and more fun. I will try to get my house in order so I don’t have to be THAT GUY at work. I am going to work hard at making my staff feel appreciated.

Tell me your thoughts. Have a great day.

John Gammichia, DMD, FAGD


Anonymous said...

You are not alone with your thoughts. I have 2 kids in college. Tuition bills take up much of my personal profit and I sweat out some of the big monthly office-related checks. Health insurance premiums just went up 20% (for about the 5th year in a row) and I told my small staff that I simply can't absorb it. I had to pass on the increase to them and told them to shop for less expensive insurance if they could find it. I've historically tried to be everyone's "friend" in the office. While this is nice, it has also led to employees taking advantage of my let-it-go attitude and has allowed the inmate to run the asylum. I had to put my foot down with one employee and fired her. That was my first firing in 20+ years. I had many sleepless nights over it. Being a friend to your employees is nice, but doesn't necessarily make the office run more productively.

Andy Alas, D.D.S. said...


Although I have not had the honor of meeting you, I feel as though we've gotten to know each other through our writings.

My blogs are sometimes humorous (at least I like to think so) but I will be totally serious here.

From what I gather from your blogs:

You give your staff (expensive) gifts for Christmas

You give them a Christmas bonus

You throw a great Christmas party for your staff and spouses

Your staff gets paid vacation time

In your latest blog you state that you give your staff bonuses (I'm OK with that) but you pay the taxes on that bonus (I'm not OK with that, seriously, who pays your taxes for you?).

Do I have my facts straight?

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Do you really wonder why you are stressed?

Let me tell you a story. Like yourself, I was an associate dentist for many years. I was the cool, care-free dentist. In fact, my dentist friends would often ask, “Why haven't you bought a practice?”

My response was usually, “because everyone who owns a practice is always complaining and telling me how miserable they are.”

After over a decade of owning a practice I can state that I was a brilliant young man. I had such true insight. Wise beyond my years.

Yes, I now own my own practice. Young Andy was right.

If you want to be the care-free happy dentist that you once were, sell your practice and be an associate. Period. That is why corporate dentistry brags about their work-life balance.

If you insist (like I do) to write your own ticket, then your staff needs to get used to the grumpy new you.

John, did I just write a whole blog in response to you? Perhaps. But your Dad lived in a different dental world. As I've explored in some of my blogs, it's a whole new ball game now.

Your friend,


Anonymous said...

I am a fairly new graduate , about 4 years out of school and work as an associate. A few of my friends have bought practices. I am however looking everywhere for answers on whether I should go down that path or not. I think it ultimately comes down to -for how long can you guarantee you will work in the current office?
Would love to read a blog/blogs on running a practice nowadays vs working as an associate.
Thank you.


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