Selling Your Practice: Leading Change When Transitioning

November 17, 2020
Todd Petersen

Todd Petersen, CEO of VitalSkin Dermatology, discusses how to best lead your team through change when selling and transitioning your practice.

We’re almost at the end of our “Selling Your Practice” series. Last month, we discussed completing your due diligence, legal documentation, and final negotiation stages. If you’ve finished them, you’re almost at the end of your transition journey as well. 

But even as the technical phases of your transition wind down, there are still some important things to consider. You may be feeling good about the process so far, but if you’ve communicated everything to your team, how are they feeling? If you’re selling your practice to another doctor or partnering with a support organization, it’s going to be a change for your team. With change comes uncertainty and uneasiness.

Transition is the inner (psychological) process through which we come to terms with change. When our situations change, we transition by reacting and adjusting as needed. As you bring change to your team, it’s important to carefully manage the transition process.

Preparation is Key

Take a look at the personalities, culture, and current processes/systems in your practice. Based on those, how much of an impact do you think this change will have? For the personalities, will they adapt easily, or are there some that will be particularly fearful and resistant? If so, what are the main factors that will cause this fear and resistance? For your processes/systems, will these fit easily with the change or will more of an adjustment be needed? Asking these questions will help you plan and communicate more effectively.

When planning, involve key people and seek out their input. These could be trusted senior team members, colleagues, mentors, etc. Use their feedback to modify and refine your implementation plans.

Effective Communication

After your preparation, it’s time to communicate the big picture to your team so everyone understands the rationale behind it. But don’t oversell the benefits, either. As much as possible, provide your team with options within boundaries, as people need to maintain some sense of control.

When communicating change, consider the four P’s (Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part)1:

  • Describe the purpose, the reason the change is needed, and why the decision was the right thing to do. Be open about both personal and professional reasons for making this decision. Share the conditions that led to the decision, and why this particular change was preferred over other solutions or alternatives.
  • Discuss the big picture, or a broad vision that provides a sense of what the long-term desired outcome is.
  • Talk about leading the transition plan with their input and involvement. It’s ok to acknowledge that change is always challenging and will take time to get used to.
  • Address the part they play in this change, and how their engagement is valued.

Here are a few other ideas for communicating:

  • Be open. Your team will likely have some fears and concerns. Be sure to be understanding and authentic when addressing these fears about change. That will go a long way with easing their uncertainty.
  • Portray the right attitude. Be realistically optimistic. Show that you believe you’ll succeed, but also that you have to make success happen together. Emphasize things like effort, careful planning, persistence, and choosing the right strategies as one team. This will help unify your team in meeting the challenges of change. 
  • Engage and partner with team members that have the highest positive energy. Leverage their help to orient others toward the change.
  • Listen to and acknowledge resistance. Make sure your team knows their opinions and thoughts are being heard.
  • Introduce humor and fun into the planning when possible. Transitioning into change is important, but it can also be an enjoyable experience that builds on your teamwork.
  • Help your team members see the roles they can play in leading and implementing change.

Bridges Transition Model

The Bridges Transition Model is a helpful tool for understanding and working through the personal and human side of change. It lists three stages of change: Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. Created by William Bridges, the Bridges Transition Model has been used by leaders and management consultants for more than 30 years.2

You can use this model when building your transition and communication plan. Here’s a detailed look at the stages:

  • Endings: This initial stage is the process of ending and leaving behind the way things used to be. Even if change is positive, there is still some loss felt and something that’s ending. People are reluctant to give up what feels comfortable. During this stage, people often feel shocked, angry, fearful, sad and in denial. Productivity can start to lower as people let go of what’s familiar.
  • Neutral Zone: This is the in-between stage when people are on their way to a new beginning. They’re starting to accept the change and move forward; however, they still feel confused, frustrated, skeptical, and apathetic. Productivity is typically the lowest during this stage, as it’s an ambiguous and disorienting time where people are adapting.
  • New Beginnings: This is when people accept the reality of change and start identifying with their new situation. People start feeling excited, energized, and committed, and productivity rises again.

Change is never easy for any of us, but with the right plan and communications, you can make the transition much smoother for your team. Build the right plan before your post-effective date with input from trusted colleagues, advisers, and team members. Determine what kinds of things people are losing and define how behaviors and attitudes will need to change.

Once you communicate the big picture, you can also plan smaller group meetings and daily briefings to continue discussing losses, review the four Ps of change, and define what is/what isn’t changing. When you’re a few months in the transition process, look for successes to share to build momentum and help team members move through the neutral zone.

All in all, be there for your team during this period. Listen to them, understand where they’re coming from, and work together to make the transition a unifying experience.

References:

1. Haneberg, Lisa, Organizational Development Basics. ASTD Press, August 2005.

2. Bridges Transition Model. William Bridges Associates, https://wmbridges.com/about/what-is-transition/. Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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