Excuse abuse can spread through a practice like a lethal virus. Accusations and denials slow individual productivity to a
crawl, and teamwork tumbles as synergy and camaraderie die out. Clients who simply want a straight answer don't get one, and
worst of all, the veterinary team loses its focus on the health, happiness, and well-being of its patients. When excuse abuse
hits, everyone suffers.
Four management principles you can not work without
Eliminating the "it's not my fault" mentality from a practice isn't easy. It's human nature to want to blame someone else
when problems arise or something goes wrong. But there is a way to break the cycle. It starts by cultivating a new culture
in your practice—one that promotes individual responsibility and self-improvement. It also means taking concrete steps to
prevent mistakes, mix-ups, and miscommunication.
Whether you are a practice manager, head receptionist, or a respected member of the veterinary healthcare team, here's what
you can do to stop excuse abuse from crippling your practice:
Ten characteristics of well-functioning teams
Seek to improve yourself first. As a practice leader, you need to become a living, breathing example of what you want the rest of the team to be. Your motto:
"Do as I say and as I do." You set the tone for the rest of the staff, so be the first to admit, "I screwed up. Let's see how we can prevent
this from happening again." Today's great leaders know how to combine old fashioned integrity with state-of-the-art management
strategies to achieve maximum productivity—with minimum stress.
Step onto the front lines. The most dangerous course of action is to hide out in your little corner. You can't contribute effectively if you don't know
what's going on in the rest of the hospital—and how will you know if you work in a vacuum? Instead, practice what best-selling
author and business guru Tom Peters calls "management by walking around." Get an accurate picture of the work environment
firsthand by using your eyes, ears, and heart to understand practice dynamics.
Consider the source. If you do hear about a practice problem second-hand, determine if your source is reliable before taking steps to correct
the situation. Is this team member a chronic excuser or accuser? Or is this person a straight-forward, unblinking source of
accurate, unbiased information?
Catch people doing things right. Go out of your way to publicly acknowledge a staff member who quickly responds to a problem or circumvents a potential disaster.
Reward behavior you want to see repeated.
At the same time, draw less attention to harmless mistakes. Punishing team members for simple mistakes, like calling someone's
pet 'she' when it's a 'he,' stifles initiative and creativity and builds resentment. Instead, adopt the philosophy that "we're
only human." We're all bound to make mistakes—but let's learn from them and work hard to prevent those small blunders from
Give feedback not criticism. Criticism focuses blame and tears people down. It sounds something like: "You don't handle upset clients very well." Constructive
feedback, on the other hand, focuses on the problem and builds people up: "When we don't listen attentively to clients' concerns,
the problem tends to escalate. Here is what you can do to handle the situation better in the future."