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Episode #572: 4 Steps to Follow When You Lose a Rockstar Team Member, with Heather Crockett

If you own a practice long enough, you will lose some great team members. How do you not freak out when that happens? To help you keep calm and carry on, Kirk Behrendt brings back Heather Crockett, one of ACT’s amazing coaches, with a four-step process to guide you through what to do, how to do it, and a better way to think when it happens to you. It’s not always horrible when a team member leaves! To learn why, listen to Episode 572 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Traction by Gino Wickman:

Main Takeaways:

It will be okay.

Take a deep breath.

Do a current assessment.

If possible, do an exit interview.

Assess all the people you still have.

Have a contingency plan (not a plan B).


“Yes, it’s true. It’s going to happen. There are team members [that] come to the practice that are the right people. They fit your core values. They get results. They do all of the things that mean a lot to you and to the other team members in the practice. Sometimes, those people leave. They move on. The reasons can range. Oftentimes, it’s because you did something to encourage them to become a better person or to pursue something amazing. And that’s okay too. We talk about how amazing leaders grow other amazing leaders. And sometimes, they hit a point where they need to move on and go somewhere else.” (2:49—3:33) -Heather

“Off of the heels of the pandemic, ACT Dental lost three of its top people — in a row! I was floored. And they were amazing people — still are — great contributors to our environment. Two of them said, ‘It’s just time to chart a new course. I’m going to start my own business.’ And they did. I’d love to sit here and say, ‘Yeah! I love giving people wings! I love it when they quit and start their own business, and I high-five them!’ In my soul, I say, ‘I’m so happy for you!’ But in my gut, I’m like, ‘No! Why? Not today!’ The third one said, ‘This has been unbelievably stressful. I can appreciate where you’re going. I just want a regular, predictable job.’ And I was so happy for them to do that. In the middle of it, I almost had another panic attack. So, I had a panic attack during the pandemic. I probably almost had a heart attack during this one. It’s going to happen, and you think the world is going to come to an end. And it doesn’t.” (3:48—5:03) -Kirk

“Kirk, with what you just said with what you experienced, you needed step number one right away: deep breaths. It’s going to be okay. It doesn’t always feel like it. But what I’m reminded of are your circles that you refer to with what I can control and what I cannot control. If you focus on what you cannot control, you’re going to drive yourself absolutely crazy mad. If you focus on the things that you can control, you’re going to be okay. We cannot control if a team member chooses to leave. Like, let’s not hold them hostage in the practice. No. It’s going to be okay. People are going to come and go. This is a reality of running a business, running a practice.” (5:21—6:04) -Heather

“During the COVID-19 days in the conference, we brought many people in that were experts on mental health. I am not one of them. One of the models that the World Health Organization showed us — it was powerful. Still use it today — was two circles. In the middle circle, you write what I can control. Outside of that circle is another circle. That’s what I can’t control. And what they taught us and everybody that was listening was, where is your focus? When your focus is on the middle circle, it’s a healthier day mentally, emotionally, and physically. When it’s all over the circle, it’s not so much.” (6:11—6:53) -Kirk

“You have to not do anything stupid. Don’t make any rash decisions in the moment. Take those deep breaths, know that you’re going to be okay, and realize that these things are going to happen. So, you just have to accept it and say, ‘Okay. Yes, it’s not ideal. And we had this happen before. So, it’s okay.’ And with these steps, you’re going to have a good plan of what to do next.” (7:42—8:10) -Heather

“Give space to your emotions. It’s valid to feel all the things. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to be relieved if it’s not a great team member. It’s okay to be disappointed that they left your practice as well. So, I would say, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel all of the emotions.” (9:13—9:33) -Heather

“When you have a foundation of core values, systems, good things — the more the foundation, the less the tree waves at the top. You’re like, ‘Okay, we’ve got a pretty good business here. We’ve got good values. We’ve got a good rest of the team.’ The less that exists, the more the tree is waving all over the place and you’re thinking, ‘I should just sell and get out of here. I don’t know if I should do this anymore.’” (9:36—10:03) -Kirk

“Step number two is to take a step back and do a current assessment. If there’s the potential for an exit interview, do an exit interview with the team member. See what worked and what didn’t work for them. Really get down to what their main issues were. Was there anything that they held back and they didn’t share with you? And then, look at the things that you could have changed about the relationship, if anything.” (10:08—10:40) -Heather

“I do love the exit interview when you can get it. You’re not always going to be able to get it. And then, if you do get it, the second question is, ‘Did I really get some authentic feedback?’ And so, I did that with those team members. I’m like, ‘You’ve got to help me. This really hurts. Can you give me some coaching?’ And I always preface things good, bad, or indifferent with, ‘You can’t hurt my feelings.’ I’ve been saying that for a long time because it doesn’t always lend itself to everybody telling you the truth all the time. But what it does do is it opens it up for more of that. And so, when you do an exit interview, you can start to assess, ‘Wow. I probably should learn from this experience.’” (10:43—11:27) -Kirk

“People don’t leave practices. They leave people. And so, there are some things you can control, and you can’t control. But when I can diagnose like, ‘Wow, they left me,’ my next question is, ‘How do I not do this again?’ And this is the part that probably hurts the most, the current assessment.” (11:30—11:53) -Kirk

“What can I now learn from this, moving forward? From this experience, what can I take from this in order to improve myself and become a better leader?” (11:59—12:09) -Heather

“Remember, you’re the business owner, if you’re the dentist listening. And no one could make as many mistakes as you and stay employed as long as you have. If you’ve turned over your team three or four times in the last couple of years, what’s the constant here? It’s you. So, we’re not here to beat you up. What we are here to do is, every change process starts with telling the truth, getting some feedback. That’s why it’s essential to have a coach.” (12:11—12:40) -Kirk

“[If] you don’t have a coach and you lose one or two good team members, you start making up your own story if you don’t have that feedback. And oftentimes, the story that you make up is not a good one. But if you have somebody from the outside looking in saying, ‘Okay, let me tell you what happened there,’ you can be receptive. You’re not always taking the information and liking it. Some of my favorite people in the industry always start with telling me something like this, ‘You don’t have to like what I’m going to tell you.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, here it comes.’” (12:43—13:16) -Kirk

“This is your humility check. This is your, ‘Okay, what can I do?’ Look inward for a minute so that you can have a better outward mindset.” (13:26—13:35) -Heather

“Step number three. Let’s talk about the people that you still have. Let’s assess those people. Are they fitting our core values? Do they get results? What can we do now that we’ve gone through step one and two without making those rash decisions? Is there someone within the practice that can now help to fill this current void?” (13:44—14:09) -Heather

“My favorite thing that happened — even when this happened to me — I had someone raise their hand and say, ‘I want that job.’ I thought to myself, ‘But you’re in another department.’ They said, ‘I think I can do this job.’ And they shined in it. There are hidden opportunities that you don’t see yet. And people, when they want to be a part of it — remember, you’re now recruiting internally. Somebody knows that role. They think they can take the role. They want the role. That’s a good move for you.” (14:33—15:04) -Kirk

“There’s also the purging of over-functioning type of things. So, this is another instance. You might have somebody that’s an office manager. They do a lot. You’ve told yourself they do so much here. And now, one day, they’re not there. You’re like, ‘Okay, who’s going to do all this work?’ And you think to yourself, ‘Okay. Well, we got it all done in a day or two.’ So, you don’t have to run out and hire a very — it’s always good to have somebody in that role if your practice is big enough. But you don’t have to make the rash decision to hire somebody and fill that void of that salary right away. There are times you can say, ‘Okay, listen. There are some things we can outsource.’ In any change or any system, I think this is a good process to go through, like what can we systematize, what can we automate, what can we outsource? Are there any of these things that we can outsource that might fill this void for now?” (15:05—15:59) -Kirk

“This is a great opportunity to go back to the drawing board with your Function Accountability Chart. So, let’s look and see, in the organization, who does what, what are their roles, what are their titles? Perhaps we do have, or we did have, too many people. And there may be an individual that is ready to rise to the occasion and fill that void.” (16:10—16:30) -Heather

“[Heather’s] thing was, you’ve got to have a plan B. And I told her, ‘Heather, no! Plan B is for wimps.’ So, I tell my kids — please hear me. I’m not trying to be right. I never think plan B. Maybe that’s one of my problems. I think there’s only plan A. You don’t come up with a plan B. But what we’re really talking about is when plan A doesn’t work. What’s the new plan A? That works better for me. Or a contingency plan. ‘We’re working with this. What I’m working on isn’t working anymore. Now, it’s time to go to a new plan A.’” (17:59—18:33) -Kirk

“I’m on board with a contingency plan. I think that this step has to include — you have to be honest and address this with the team. So, the big elephant in the room, you have to address it. And the sooner you address it with the team, the better. After your 24 hours or 48 hours of having all the emotions and being able to think about it and process what’s happening, then you’re going to address it head-on with the team and say, ‘Okay. What’s our contingency plan?’ This is when the team is probably going to come out of the woodwork, the right people, if you have the right people in your practice. They’re going to start stepping up. ‘Well, I can do this. I can scan documents. I can make confirmation calls. I can do . . .’ And you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with those people in your practice that are going to step up to the plate and help out.” (18:36—19:21) -Heather

“Plan B might be more than a people plan. It might be a business plan. There were some offices that we coached that when COVID-19 happened, they said, ‘Listen. I’m going to go the no-insurance route.’ And so, they pulled the trigger on the last few insurances and never looked back when or if they lost some key people.” (19:22—19:47) -Kirk

“Another one might be like, ‘I’m trying to build this bigger practice. I’ve lost two amazing associates. I’m not going down that route anymore because what I’ve taught myself is I’m not good at keeping associates.’ So, they rethought their business plan, kept it simple, and became more profitable that way. That’s not for everybody. But what you can do in a new plan, or a contingency plan, is rethink your future here.” (19:48—20:12) -Kirk

“Dentistry is an amazing business. You’re not stuck to somebody else’s rules. So, when bad things happen, it’s good to, number one, take a breath. Number two, take a current assessment of the situation. That’s why I think it’s critical to have a coach or an advisor, somebody that can help you think through the numbers, the emotions, and maybe what happened. Number three, take a look at the people that you have and say, ‘Okay. What do I do here, and how do I better strengthen this group?’ Then, number four, does this all make sense with how we’re going to move forward in the next couple months? I think, at the end of the day, it’s good to know that you’re always going to be okay.” (20:15—20:54) -Kirk

“I ran into a dentist that I worked for for almost ten years. Long ago. Great, amazing man. Like a second dad to me. I learned so much from him. I ran into him at the Utah Dental Association Convention here in Salt Lake a couple of months ago. He was speaking with a young woman I’d never met before, so I went up and said hello. He introduced me. She’s his former assistant. She’s in dental school. So, as his dental assistant, did she leave the practice? Was she an amazing assistant? She’s now in dental school and wants to buy his practice. So, it’s not always horrible when a team member leaves. It’s an opportunity.” (21:20—22:11) -Heather

“When you start putting your brain in the right place, on the other side of the fence, good things happen.” (22:40—22:44) -Kirk

“Prepare yourself mentally because this is going to happen. And follow the steps. Take a deep breath, come back and revisit this podcast, follow the steps, and you will be just fine. And if you really feel like you’re anxious about it, give us a call. We would love to help you through it.” (23:26—23:44) -Heather


0:00 Introduction.

2:36 Why great team members leave.

3:34 Step 1) Take a deep breath.

6:05 The two circles, explained.

7:38 Think before you act.

9:09 Give space to your emotions.

10:06 Step 2) Do a current assessment.

10:40 Learn from the exit interview.

13:42 Step 3) Assess the people you still have.

17:45 Step 4) Have a contingency plan.

21:20 Look for the silver lining.

23:21 Last thoughts.

Heather Crockett Bio:

Heather Crockett is a Lead Practice Coach who finds joy in not only improving practices but improving the lives of those she coaches as well. With over 20 years of combined experience in assisting, office management, and clinical dental hygiene, her awareness supports many aspects of the practice setting.

Heather received her dental hygiene degree from the Utah College of Dental Hygiene in 2008. Networking in the dental community comes easy to her, and she loves to connect with like-minded colleagues on social media. Heather enjoys both attending and presenting continuing education to expand her knowledge and learn from her friends and colleagues.

She enjoys hanging out with her husband, three sons, and their dog, Moki, scrolling through social media, watching football, and traveling.


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