Ask Shawn: 5 solutions to save your veterinary practice

Ask Shawn: 5 solutions to save your veterinary practice

Whatever the problem, Shawn McVey can help. See what he has to say about these five veterinary team dilemmas.
source-image
Oct 03, 2011

medications

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, (pictured above) is a member of the Firstline and Veterinary Economics editorial boards and is CEO of McVey Management Solutions in Chicago.

1. How to build a better team

Q: I'm the manager of a small veterinary practice with no 'superstar' team members. Employees fail to follow through on tasks, and I find myself putting out fires on a daily basis. But the practice owner is reluctant to fire anyone. What do I do? —SEARCHING FOR SUPERSTARS

DEAR SEARCHING:
This is a common problem for veterinary practice managers. There are plenty of incompetent team members out there and plenty of practice owners who hang on to these underperformers out of unwarranted loyalty. To address the problem, ask yourself the following "diagnostic" questions, which will help shape your conversation with the practice owners:

> Does your job description call for you to work on the business or in the business? If it's to work on the business, you need permission to manage employees.

> Do the hospital's mission and values support your actions or the owner's actions?

> How does the system reward this behavior? What is the result of the practice owners undermining you and your support staff?

> Have the practice owners properly trained and set expectations for team members?

Find the answers to these questions, and then take them to the practice owner. Ask him or her what you're expected to do when the two of you hold different expectations for team members. Hopefully, you can find a middle ground. If not, it may be worth considering whether your talents would be more appreciated at another practice. —SHAWN

Don’t miss your chance to see McVey live during his Power Hour "Muscle up and achieve more with stronger personal leadership" at CVC in San Diego on Oct. 29, 2011. Visit http://thecvc.com/ to register today.

(Click here to continue to next page.)

lilly

Getty images

2. Problems with the practice owner's wife

Q: I'm a practice manager having trouble with an employee. She's lazy and unprofessional, and does almost none of the duties she's expected to handle. The problem: She's the practice owner's wife. When I approach him about it, he just says, "She's the boss." What else can I do? —UPSET AND UNDERMINED

DEAR UPSET:
This is a terrible situation to be in and, unfortunately, it's not uncommon. Try these approaches to handling the problem:

First, ask the practice owner if you can coach his wife on performing her tasks. Hopefully she'll improve after some additional training. If the practice owner doesn't agree to this, ask him if he's ready to accept the situation like it is, with her actions upsetting you and other employees.

If this doesn't convince him that something has to change, create a 6-month report that illustrates why the problem is so pressing. Analyze figures like turnover rates, tardiness, and complaints from clients or employees, and then show these to the owner to illustrate how his wife's actions affect the practice.
Finally—at the risk of upsetting the practice owner—you could meet with the employee and ask for her perspective. Tell her you'd love to cut her some slack, but you can't set a bad example for the rest of the employees. Describe the problem in detail and how you'd like her to change.

If all of this fails to correct the problem, it might be time to look for a new job. You have few other options and you've lost power.

One final question to ask yourself: How old is the practice? If it's a newer practice, the owner could be employing his wife only until revenues pick up. If it's an older practice that should already be established, perhaps he's just trying to avoid a tough conversation with his wife. —SHAWN

Don’t miss your chance to see McVey live during his Power Hour "Muscle up and achieve more with stronger personal leadership" at CVC in San Diego on Oct. 29, 2011. Visit http://thecvc.com/ to register today.

(Click here to continue to next page.)

insecticides

Getty images

3. Tired of babysitting my veterinary team members

Q: I've worked as a practice manager for 10 years and I still can't get people to take responsibility. What can I do to encourage my team members to step up to the plate? —Burnt-out

DEAR BURNT-OUT:
Have you heard the phrase, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink"? The same concept can be applied when dealing with an unproductive team. You can teach your team members how to complete their job duties, but you can't make them do anything. Frankly, if you've gotten to the point of babysitting, it's most likely because you haven't held your staff members accountable in the past. Now a culture has developed in which they accept their subordinate role and don't try to rise to higher professional levels.

You shouldn't have to ask your team members to take responsibility. If they're not fulfilling their job requirements, it's probably because they don't understand what's expected of them. Or maybe they don't buy into the vision and mission of your practice and therefore aren't upholding a standard that exemplifies it. Try explaining and writing down exactly what you expect from the team on a daily basis. Remind them of the practice's mission—if they buy in, they will change. For those who don't, you don't have a choice; they need to go.
—SHAWN

Don’t miss your chance to see McVey live during his Power Hour "Muscle up and achieve more with stronger personal leadership" at CVC in San Diego on Oct. 29, 2011. Visit http://thecvc.com/ to register today.

(Click here to continue to next page.)

cleaning

Getty images

4. Communicating to change a control freak

Q: Our practice owner refuses to delegate work to team members. How can we convince him to share the work and restore his sanity—and ours?
—Willing to Pitch In


DEAR WILLING:
Some people just refuse to let go. To convince the practice owner that team members are perfectly capable of handling certain tasks, the first step is to list the five most important aspects to the practice’s success. Whatever factors you choose—training, marketing, financials, e-commerce—give the practice a grade for each item. If you’re getting a lot of Ds and Fs—or any Ds and Fs, for that matter—it’s time for a change. And part of that change starts with the practice owner’s willingness to delegate tasks.

Show the grades to the practice owner and say, “We’re not doing as well as we could. If you delegate to us, we can help improve these grades to As. You’ll have more help, we’ll be happier, and our patients and clients will be happier and healthier as well.” Most veterinarians aren’t used to getting less than As, so your practice owner will likely want to do what’s necessary to help boost the practice’s grades.—Shawn

Don’t miss your chance to see McVey live during his Power Hour "Muscle up and achieve more with stronger personal leadership" at CVC in San Diego on Oct. 29, 2011. Visit http://thecvc.com/ to register today.

(Click here to continue to next page.)

Getty images

5. Advice for a new practice manager

Q: I'm getting ready to take over as practice manager. It's my first leadership role, so I'm a little intimidated. What are the biggest things I should avoid in the beginning?
—NERVOUS NEWBIE


DEAR NERVOUS:
The dumbest thing a veterinary practice manager could do is start working at a practice without a plan. So plan, plan, plan. This is especially true for larger practices that bring in more than $750,000 in annual revenue. Set strategic goals—one-year, three-year, and five-year goals—then determine your budget and figure out what you need to do to meet those goals. In addition to setting yourself up for success down the road—after all, you should always know where you're going and how you're going to get there—doing this will help you focus on your duties as a manager. Without a plan, your team members will run the practice and you'll spend your days putting out fires.

The next step to making your transition successful is to keep the lines of communication open at all times. That means talking to your practice owner about where he or she wants the practice to go. Instead of running the practice aimlessly, wondering if you're managing the right way, talk about the practice owner's visions, ideas, frustrations, and goals. If the two of you are on the same page, you're on your way to running a successful and profitable practice.
—SHAWN

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, is a member of the Firstline and Veterinary Economics editorial advisory boards and is CEO of McVey Management Solutions in Chicago.

Don’t miss your chance to see McVey live during his Power Hour "Muscle up and achieve more with stronger personal leadership" at CVC in San Diego on Oct. 29, 2011. Visit http://thecvc.com/ to register today.