Tearing Up a Contract

Ophthalmologist and optometrist associates can be valuable assets to a booming practice. Good associates help fill the gap between demand and the practice owner’s availability. That is why it can be disheartening to learn that an associate is choosing not to renew their contract. The immediate impact could be thousands in lost revenue and a practice that is suddenly less accessible to its patients.

There is a right way and a wrong way to react to an associate who does not renew a contract. Below is some advice to keep in mind in the immediate aftermath of an exiting associate.

Control Your Emotions

Good or bad, this is a business decision. Emotions will be involved with any long-term relationship, business or personal. Associateships are no exception. You’ve invested a lot of time, money and energy into your associate, and it is impossible not to feel a bit of a gut punch if they decide not to renew. As hard as it is to hear, do not take this personally. Keep reminding yourself that this is a business decision and not an impetuous choice. Rather, it’s more likely that your associate has spent a lot of time pondering his or her next professional step and a lot of energy conducting industry research to make a thoughtful career choice. Taking this as a personal offense will only create unneeded stress and reflect poorly on you as the practice owner.

Understand Why

Asking this one simple question — Why? — may be the most beneficial step that a practice owner can take. Speak with your associate to identify the reasons they have decided not to renew. This will be a valuable learning opportunity for you and provide feedback on which to build your next associate relationship. Understanding why may also help you avoid losing additional employees. If the associate’s motivations for leaving focused on poor work conditions or a less-than-ideal work environment, you need to know. Maybe the reasons are grounded in reality, and maybe they are not, but understanding that at least one of your employees feels this way is crucial information that will impact your management decision-making in the future. If, however, the exiting associate cites professional reasons rather than an unsatisfactory workplace, you can worry less about the work environment and more about encouraging professional development and career progression.

Next Time

In your quest to understand why an associate is choosing to leave, if you learn that his or her reasons are professionally motivated, this experience can provide beneficial lessons for your next associate relationship. Finding a star associate doesn’t happen every day. When you have a hard-working associate benefitting the practice’s revenue stream, it is certainly in your best interest to convince the associate to stay with you for as long as possible. Before coming to an agreement with your next associate, you may consider a higher commission rate or more responsibility. Practice owners can also offer minority equity ownership, profit sharing and/or stock options. How are the benefits you offer? Have you provided enough paid time off? Talk to your incoming associate about shaping his or her work schedule to better complement their lifestyle. Successful associates are hunting for professional progression. Consider offering high-value continuing education courses to challenge and reward an associate.

If an associate is worth it, be thorough and aggressive in presenting options to convince them to stay with you for as long as possible. Skilled, trusted employees can be hard to find and even harder to retain. You don’t know when you’ll have another star associate in your practice. Plus, turnover is typically more expensive than bumping up an associate’s pay or offering additional benefits. Associate vacancies can easily cost a practice tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of months.

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