Mentoring your Freelancers

Sometimes we don’t get to choose the work we do.

The market evolves, a need arises, a solution is requested, the observant product/service provider obliges.

Such an evolution has occurred in the area of mentoring hygienists, therapists and dental associates in mixed and private practice.

Over the years, much freelancer-bashing has been part of the daily conversation in dentistry.

My freelancer(s):

  • doesn’t produce enough revenue
  • is paid too much
  • isn’t “on the bus” with what I’m trying to do here
  • doesn’t attend those after-hour progress meetings
  • criticises, condemns and complains – often undermining my team morale when I’m not there

The reality is that those accusations could be made about a minority in every tribe – that’s an aspect of human nature and there are bad apples in every barrel.

However, the freelance relationship between dental hygienists, therapists, associates and their Principals gives rise to a special dynamic that can be very hard to lead and manage.

We have observed in recent years that the average pay for freelancers has been on the decline (read my blog post last Monday), reflecting the economic realities enforced by institutional investors.

In the good old days, busy Principals turned a blind eye to the unproductive and unprofitable 50% associate and/or the hygienist who was paid £35.00 an hour, whether or not there was a patient in the chair.

Not so in the world of Private Equity, accountants and tick-box area managers.

Back to my opening line, a need has arisen in the marketplace and that is to bring the best out of the freelancers you already work with (and I’m going to take the risk of being brutally transparent here) or replace them with freelancers who are an asset and not a liability.

So the requests I’m getting from existing and new clients is to work WITH the existing freelance team to develop their communication skills, to facilitate increased productivity and, where appropriate, to offer some personal coaching to develop their self-confidence.

It’s important here to make the point that such mentoring cannot be imposed.

The Principal cannot issue an edict that “you are going to be mentored by Chris Barrow – and that’s an order”.

But an invitation can be extended to enter the world of CB and listen to how he answers your questions about patient communication and personal development and then make a personal choice on participation.

I’m working with freelancer teams in an number of my client’s practices now and the format that we are finding most useful is an informal 2/3 hour session, repeated every 2/3 months, during which there is no “presentation” or agenda – simply an open group discussion on common problems in patient communication and how best to handle them.

Meetings are most often held early evening, straight after clinic time, so as to maximise billable hours.

Whether it’s sandwiches in the practice or a conversation over dinner in a nearby hotel, I’m enjoying the facilitation of these conversations immensely – and we are starting to see some positive results in the performance and behaviours of the freelancers who attend.

The benefit to the Principal is happier and more productive freelancers.

The benefit to the freelancers is the development of skills that will enable them for life.

The benefit to me has been a deeper understanding of the freelancer perspective.

Yet again, problems solved by good conversation.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

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