Recruiting and Retention of Millennials — A Lesson From the Australian Outback

The Lesson
In the Australian outback, the cattle are reportedly kept on a ranch by either building a fence encircling the perimeter or by building a well in the center. The first approach represents a culture of confinement and restriction. The second approach epitomizes a culture of attraction.

The DSO “Outback”
According to the Pew Research Center and population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, this year Millennial population totals will overtake those of Boomers as the millennials become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Numerically, their numbers will swell to 73 million as Boomers decline to 72 million. Thus, many businesses and industries are faced with the need to adapt to the reality that the majority of their potential labor pool is comprised of this unique demographic. DSOs are no exception to this labor pool population shift.

The growth of every DSO is limited by a variety of restraining factors: adequate capital, scalable systems, new patient numbers, etc. Solving the tactical obstacles that are common to all businesses is imperative. However, it does not negate the inescapable reality that a DSO’s growth will ultimately be limited by the ability to attract and retain dentists from the same, finite millennial labor pool. The limited supply within the Millennialized labor pool is our new “Outback.”

The astute Aussie rancher builds a well. Deloitte encourages this same concept when they note—the shifting employer-employee relationship now places the onus on company leaders to create what they call “an irresistible organization.” In keeping with the original analogy, millennials have identified a particular “well” which they find both “attractive” and retentive.

The Practical Application
Current consensus amongst leading behavioral and talent development specialties agree that this generation is not just desiring, but demanding that their employers provide them with mentors. This is a significant “well” that they seek.

Atenga Insights found that 67% more Millennials than Baby Boomers report that “having a great mentor” is an important employment factor. This sentiment was echoed in a recent issue (March 15, 2019) of the Wall Street Journal, in an article offering advice on how to locate a list of employers with good mentoring programs. Thus, for the DSO desiring to create a “well” that both attracts and retains the millennial demographic (plus others), a robust relationship-focused mentoring program offers the opportunity to create a significant USP, i.e. the unique selling proposition, that differentiates you from your competitors.

The emphasis on relationship-focused mentoring is especially true in dentistry, for dentistry is a relationship profession. Just as a patient will see through a treatment plan that is based upon the needs of the doctor, instead of their needs as the patient—doctors will see through a mentoring plan that is based upon the needs and goals of the organization, instead of their needs as an individual. The goal of any genuine mentoring program must be the individual, not the organization. Failure at this key point will yield a well that is brackish.

The University of Wisconsin offers 4 practical tips on modern mentoring strategies for Millennials.

1) Use virtual mentoring
Millennials grew up alongside the internet. Instant messaging and social networking are staples of the millennial existence, and their ease with technology has transferred into a preference for social and virtual learning, according to Harvard Business Review.

2) Listen actively to all levels of the company
According to Forbes, Millennials respect those who listen to their ideas and have an appreciation for their abilities. Millennials who are more involved in their work and understand where they fit into the “big picture” are more likely to be engaged and are more productive.

3) Create a mentoring network
Forget the stereotype of a grey-haired patriarch imparting knowledge to a burgeoning youth. Today’s ideal mentor is defined by the consumer: the millennial mentee. This younger demographic has an appetite for information from every variety of mentoring sources. The 1:1 model of mentoring should no longer be viewed as the only approach; not all mentoring has to be personal or intimate. Millennials are used to a constant stream of feedback from online friends and total strangers on the internet, so consider creating a space where your employees can “crowd source” feedback in a similar way.

4) Go beyond with career and life mentoring
Harvard Business Review reports that millennials expect their bosses to help them not only them navigate their career path, but also help them to blend work and life. This would extrapolate into a caution for mentors to not confine their mentoring relationship exclusively to work or career issues. If the mentor-mentee relationship is restrained to only work-related tasks and performance, it is too easy for the relationship to unintentionally decline into a transactional culture. Offering mentoring on “life path” issues helps to reinforce and preserve the goal of having a relationship-focused mentoring program.

A fifth bit of advice not contained in the University of Wisconsin’s recommendation, would be to dutifully invest in continuous training of your mentors in the art and skill of relational mentoring and even partner them with professional mentoring coaches as a resource.

Once a mentoring “well” has assisted in attracting (recruiting) Millennials, it will also help to retain them. Deloitte surveyed 7,700 millennials and found that:

“Loyalty to an employer is driven by understanding and support of Millennials’ career and life ambitions, as well as providing opportunities to progress and become leaders. Having a mentor is incredibly powerful in this regard.”

They further quantified that statement by noting that Millennials intending to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent). Julie Kantor, chief executive of training and development for the firm Twomentor is even more direct in her assessment, “If you don’t mentor your millennials they will leave you.”

The Question
In the opening analogy, it was identified that building a well as the epicenter epitomized a culture of attraction. So, the relevant questions become:

  • “Are you building and nurturing a well that attracts the now largest segment of your labor pool?”
  • “Does your current allocation of resources validate your well as central or peripheral to your organization?”

Dr. Mike Rakes, author and educator, insightfully offers this observation:

“Culture of any organization is defined by what fills the spaces between its people.”

The data surrounding Millennials would justify a contextual paraphrase of that statement to read: The culture of any successful DSO will be defined by the mentoring that fills the spaces between its people. Such a culture will be measured by retention, rewarded by revenue, and establishes a legacy that is reflected in ease of recruitment.

W. Mark Hodge, DMD

Dr. Hodge received his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1985 from the Michael Cardone, Sr. School of Dentistry at Oral Roberts University. Throughout his 30+ year dental career, Dr. Hodge has worked exclusively in a group practice, including 26 harmonious years with the same dental partner. Eight of those group practice years included working in a DSO environment, supported by Heartland Dental.  Upon affiliating with Heartland Dental, Dr. Hodge served as Clinical Director of Clear Aligner Therapy (2011-2018).  During his tenure, Heartland’s Clear Aligner Therapy volume grew tenfold.

As a nationally recognized speaker on topics of patient communications & team engagement, Dr. Hodge helps doctors and teams navigate healthy relationships and futures in a group dentistry environment. Since 2005, Dr. Hodge has been an active member of Align Technology’s Teaching faculty and currently serves with both their Global and Special Markets faculties.  Additional dental profession service positions include co-founder of the American Academy of Clear Aligners and founder of

Dr. Hodge and his wife, Kathy, have four children and eight grandchildren. Hobbies include camping, snow skiing, and international travel.


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