New managers: Feeling cornered? Here’s help
Receptionists, assistants, credentialed technicians and even veterinarians are often given the title of manager without the benefit of a job description, clear goals or training. So I gathered some accomplished leaders for an online discussion about their fast-tracked (and often painful) introduction to management and what they wished they had known before taking the job.
I’m supposed to do what again?
“My first management job was inherited, and I was extremely green. I wish I would have understood what the practice owner was really looking for in a ‘manager.’ I was essentially a fireman running from one crisis to the next. I had no clue that a simple job description would have cleared my cloudy mind about my job.” —Anonymous
Before you take a management position, talk with your employers about what they want done and how they expect you to do it. This sounds pretty glib on paper, but talking it over will be enormously helpful to your initial success. Veterinary practice owners often think that they need a manager, when in fact what they really want is a personal assistant. Specific goals and expectations are critical to everybody’s success and job satisfaction.
“Learn to actually BE a leader before becoming a leader.”—Kathy Blue
You should also canvass your personality and see if you have what it takes to be a leader. Above all things, managers must respect the people they lead and want to help them to be individually successful at what they do. If you’re naturally a loner, leadership may cut across your grain.
“I was way too reactive in the beginning.” —Melissa Tompkins, CVPM
Many practice managers in my discussion admitted their shame about coming on too aggressively in their first weeks or months as leaders. They were quick to react: yelling, writing people up, or worse, giving people the silent treatment. All respondents wished that they had had more respect for the employees’ side of things and more empathy. And they wished they had paid more attention to the influence their actions had on workplace culture.
Part of the chaos
“When you’re the practice manager, you’re an HR manager, trainer, motivator, leader, financial manager, adviser to the owner of the practice, all-around decision maker, psychologist and so on. My MBA classes didn’t instruct me on how to deal with any of this.” —Allyson Corwin
Many practice managers admitted that they were promoted because they were the “steady Eddys,” or the ones who could keep things running in a pinch. In fact, they recognized that they were enablers—people who kept broken systems operational by pitching in here, there and everywhere when the practice sprouted a leak. In hindsight, they saw it as a recipe for burnout and hamster-wheel progress.
They learned the hard way that their chief goal was to create a work environment where individual team members could win on a regular basis. Why? Because individual success is paramount to an employee’s happiness and a company’s long-term productivity. Managers shouldn’t be on hand to put a catheter in when no one else can. They should be hiring for talent who can do it by themselves. They shouldn’t be spending an hour on the phone negotiating with an angry client. They should be growing employees who can interact with disgruntled clients just as effectively. Of the managers who participated in the discussion, 80 percent underlined the importance of responsible delegation.
“I call it the ‘remember me when’ phenomenon—the huge challenge of now leading employees who just yesterday worked beside you.” —Diane Franklin
Nearly every one of the managers who had been promoted cited the awkwardness of transitioning from coworker to boss. Their relationships to the people that they worked with had to be rebuilt. It was a lonely road for many that left them feeling introspective, doubtful and like they had no support. Their recommendation? Be sure your actions are fair, make sure your actions are in line with your practice’s culture and seek out the support of other managers through venues like Fetch dvm360 conference and the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA).
You don’t know what you don’t know
“Had I known that I would be taking on the role of practice manager, I would have prepped ahead of time. I could have started out with a baseline of information and not been so clueless about things like practice finance, HR, dealing with angry clients and so forth.” —Meghann Daley
Many regretted their lack of basic practice management knowledge going into the job. “I didn’t know anything about finance,” and “You shouldn’t throw someone into a management position in California without some kind of training in HR,” were just two of the numerous complaints along this line. Fortunately today, there are many resources available to practice managers of all experience levels. You can look to the VHMA, AAHA, and of course dig into vast amount of information available on the dvm360 website. (We’ve placed some of our favorite resources below—hint, hint!) Probably best of all, practice managers should review the qualifications for certification in practice management through the VHMA. Even if you never pursue the designation, the list will highlight the areas of management with which you should be familiar.