5 steps to protect your business during a partner dispute

During the last 15 years of coaching dental practice principals I’ve worked with many successful (and some spectacularly unsuccessful) partnerships. These days when a partnership asks for help, it can sometimes be a bit of a heart sink. Why? Because a sole owner will (usually) make decisions faster and lead the practice more effectively than a group of principals.

Some partnerships are thrown together, with the participants finding themselves sharing a practice because one or more retiring partners have sold up and are now long gone with a large cheque. The partners often have different objectives, are at different life stages and live with different beliefs and values. So it’s not really surprising that they struggle to agree in partners meetings about the way forwards for their practice…

The real problem (for me and for their practice) is that when they disagree nothing happens, nothing gets done and the same problems persist, the practice continually suffering from a lack of leadership and direction.

In an ideal world partnerships would be comprised of like minded people at the same life stage with shared beliefs and values, however in practice this is pretty unusual!

Very often partnership disagreements are about money. Here’s a recent example. Two partners are in a medium sized family practice with new patient numbers on the decline, and one partner wants a new website and wants to support the new site with online marketing — the costs are likely to be £6k for the site and £1,500/month going forwards on online marketing. The older (and busier) partner doesn’t see the need to invest (asking “what’s in it for me?”) and his veto means that he gets his way. In other words, in this example the person who says no has the power.

I don’t believe that you can grow and develop a practice in this way where the partner who says no effectively makes the decisions. Instead, partnerships like this one need a fair and workable mechanism for finding a way forwards when partners disagree. The real goal here is to get the right decision made for the practice and for the partners to make good decisions quickly, allowing them to move on to the next one.

So, here’s a five point plan to follow if you and your partner(s) disagree:

  1. Consider the proposal that needs your support and take two pieces of paper (or two screens). On the first, write down the proposal and from your perspective all the pros and cons. Try to understand from your partner’s perspective why they want to pursue this route forwards. Ask yourself, will this course of action improve our practice? On the second sheet/screen write down exactly how the proposal makes you feel (your emotions).
  2. Discard the second sheet and just focus on the first (the proposal).
  3. Ask yourself honestly: Why do you dislike your partner’s proposal? Is it wrong for the practice or is it wrong for you? What does the practice need to prosper/move forwards? If it made no difference to you, would you support this proposal? Could this be the right course of action for the practice and is it that you can’t support it because of the effect it might have on you personally?
  4. If you don’t want to take this road because of discomfort or hardship for yourself, ask yourself, is there a workaround so that I can mitigate this discomfort/hardship and/or get what I want as well?
  5. Then see if you can propose a modified proposal that allows the business to have what it needs and allow you to compromise so that you mitigate any hardships for yourself.

My intention here is to have you do the right thing for your practice and find a way of reducing any deleterious effects this might have on you in the short term.

When I’ve sat on the boards of corporates the directors rarely agree about how to solve a problem, however by the end of the meeting they have found a way forwards. This is critical or the business will simply stop moving forwards and the directors know that it is their responsibility to come up with the right solution for the business, not the right solution for themselves.

If you still find yourself standing in the way of the business developing/growing, ask yourself, “How would I feel if my partner was doing this to me?” In one practice I know of, one partner has just bought the other one out, such was his frustration at their inability to agree on how to move the practice forwards. Although this sounds extreme, the practice is now rushing forwards with a whole host of changes that will safeguard its future. Without them it would gently shrink, losing profitability and sale value.

Don’t let this happen to you and your practice. If you would like some help with your partnership, contact me for a chat about your situation.

m. 07770 430576

e. simon.hocken@breathebusiness.co.uk

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