Independent Practitioner Today’s troubleshooter Jane Braithwaite gives her advice to a doctor’s question:
‘Our group is working very successfully and we would like to attract a new partner to join us. How do we find the right person and ensure the group continues to thrive?’
Firstly, congratulations on founding a thriving group where the partners are working well together and the practice is growing.
The decision to recruit a new partner is usually driven by an increased patient workload that needs to be shared by a greater number of doctors and this is a great position to reach.
Another reason might be that one partner wishes to reduce their workload, which will need to be picked up by a new partner.
Whatever the reason, recruiting a new partner often comes with some anxiety. When a tightly bonded group works successfully together, there is an understandable concern about introducing a new person to the group and potentially changing the group dynamics.
An ideal group is formed when all the partners have aligned goals. When the original group was created, discussions were likely held to identify common goals and objectives.
These goals may relate to the practice’s growth and utilising complementary skill sets to offer patients a wider range of services. There may also have been a goal to create economies of scale and reduce the costs of running individual practices by sharing the overheads.
Running a group is effectively managing a business, and the current partners will have agreed responsibilities for the various business functions, including finance, marketing and medico- legal responsibilities.
One of the most challenging aspects of running a group is ensuring all partners are satisfied with the financial arrangement.
While most doctors do not enter the profession purely for monetary rewards, they expect to be rewarded fairly for the work done and the expertise provided to patients. On day one, the group agreed on how finances will be managed, which will be important when recruiting a new partner.
In most cases, the group will have created a contractual agreement to state the objectives and goals of the group, clarify responsibilities and expectations and describe the financial model.
If this is not the case, it would be wise to do this before embarking on the recruitment of a new partner, forming the basis of a new partnership agreement to reflect the expanded group. The partners themselves can produce this or you may prefer to engage professional support via your accountant or a legal adviser.
Describe your ideal partner
A new partner can expand the group in more ways than pure size. Rather than just co-opting the first consultant that has the right experience and shows an interest, it is wise to consider what skills and knowledge would complement your own.
Is there special training or background that may help the group expand revenues and offer new services to patients in the future?
There is a job description for most jobs, defining the role itself and objectives and also clarifying terms and conditions. When looking for a new partner, a good starting point is to build a job specification based on your ideal world view of the right person for your team.
The specification will include the expertise and skills required, possibly similar to the current partners or possibly with a different and complementary set of skills.
Also state the group’s objectives, goals and aspirations so that you can assess if your new partner is a good fit in terms of their own ambitions. For example, if your goal is to continue the group for the next ten to 15 years and a prospective partner plans to retire in two years, there may be a better fit.
What administrative and management responsibilities would you expect your new partner to take?
This might be an excellent opportunity to review the administrative workload of the current partners and share the burden more fairly. You may also have new initiatives you wish to explore and your new partner could take the lead.
If some of the workload could be managed without the direct input of a consultant, you could employ staff – for example, a nurse or a healthcare assistant – to undertake tasks on your behalf.
This can help ensure that your limited time is spent on activities only you can perform. If you do not currently employ clinical staff, advice is needed to ensure that you are providing a service that is safe and well-supervised, including the provision of training and professional development.
You may also explore outsourcing more of the administration and management tasks to an appropriate specialist company. For example, your book-keeping could be managed by an expert in this field, with the added benefits of bringing their skills and experience into your business.
Finally, and very importantly, you must clarify the financial model offered to your new partner. Be clear and transparent. Refrain from the temptation to oversell the arrangements. It is far better to attract the right person with an honest and realistic plan than deal with disappointment later in the process.
Once complete, your job specification will provide you with a valuable tool to share with potential partners and also for you to use when short-listing and interviewing.
Revised partnership agreement
Once your new partner has accepted the role, a contract must be signed by both parties in the form of a revised partnership agreement.
As mentioned earlier, the partners can produce this or you may prefer to ask a specialist such as your accountant or a lawyer to draft the agreement for you.
Good communication is key to the success of any group. Diarise regular partner meetings on a monthly or quarterly basis and ideally face to face, at least for the first few months.
You may also choose one partner, in particular, to act as a mentor to your new partner, at least for the first six months. This could include monthly one-to-one review meetings, which provide an opportunity to review progress and for both sides to raise any concerns and address any issues.
Remember, it is normal for a new group to experience some challenges in the early months as described very helpfully in Tuckman’s stages of group development.
Bruce Tuckman first published his model in 1965 and described the ‘forming-storming-norming-performing’ model. His opinion is that it is necessary for all teams to work through every stage of the model, so prepare your group for the storming stage and embrace it positively.
Good luck. I wish you and your partners every success.
If you have any specific questions, you would like answered in upcoming editions, please do feel free to get in touch.
Jane Braithwaite (right) is managing director of Designated Medical, which offers bespoke support across accountancy, marketing, medical PA and bookkeeping