Practice Management News and Views from around the World – June 2010

The Invisible Rope

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A four-step workout plan for resolving employee disputes

by Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM

If you are like most practice owners and managers, you probably spend most of your time on “people problems.” One of the most challenging problems is deciding what to do when employees don’t get along with one another. How can you sort through the torrent of “he said/she said” accusations and figure out what is really going on?

What follows is a helpful technique that family counselors use. You may want to borrow it the next time you notice that employees are not getting along. This is how it works:

Step One: Confront the Behavior

Call the two employees into your office. (If whole departments are at war with each other, call the supervisors into your office.) Tell them how unhappy you are about their behavior and that you expect them to turn things around.

Step Two: Talk it Out

Remind them that they are professionals. Tell them that you expect them to listen to each other and work out a solution. Ask one of the parties to begin by explaining his/her issues. Tell the other party that they need to listen and that they may not interrupt. When the first employee finishes, reverse their roles. The benefits of this approach are that it is very difficult to misrepresent things when an outside party is listening and the technique forces the two parties to listen each other’s perspectives.

Step Three: Hold Employees Accountable

Once the two have heard each other out, tell them that you have a lot of confidence in them. Tell them that you expect them to come up with a plan to work well together from this point on. Give them two days and set an appointment for them to tell you how they plan to turn things around.

Step Four: Follow-up and Follow-through

Make sure to keep the initial meeting (in Step 3). After that, you will need to hold short weekly “check-ins” to ask each employee, in front of the other, how things are going. This ensures that they remain accountable for the new behavior and it relieves you of the role of playing policeman.

Gradually phase out the appointments as the new, positive behavior takes hold. During this process, make sure to compliment the employees on their hard work and the good example they are setting for the rest of the staff. This rewards and reinforces the new behavior. On a broader scale, it signals to all that this is the kind of cooperative culture you expect in your practice.

Fairness is important. Beware that one or both of the employees may try to wheedle back into your good graces and make a case for him/herself outside of the slated appointment times. Do not let that happen, lest you inadvertently give the impression that you have “favorites.” Do give the process time to work: Things usually don’t turn around overnight, but it is amazing how often employees are able to solve their problems when you give them a chance.

There is no fail-proof method for resolving employee disputes, but the four-step Workout Plan is a good one for confronting bad behavior. This technique also takes you out of the “Solomon” role of deciding who is right and who is wrong. Finally, it puts responsibility for professional behavior back where it belongs, on the employees, themselves.

You can click here to visit the DVM360 website

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Vetpol celebrates 1st birthday!

Launched last year to unite the whole veterinary community, Vetpol® has just celebrated its 1st birthday. “We are delighted with the response and feedback this far” says Caroline Johnson, joint founder of this social, business and networking site. “We have members representing every role in veterinary practice as well as suppliers of products and services to the profession on board; many find it invaluable for networking, sharing resources and keeping abreast of what is going on. Participation in opinion polling is easy and fun and also provides the profession with some useful insights”.

Still in its infancy, plans are afoot to develop Vetpol further and a number of developments are expected later this year. So, if you are a member of the veterinary community and want to see what all the fuss is about, log on and register at www.vetpol.co.uk

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NCVEI and CareCredit® Provide New Financial Policy Builder for Veterinary Practices

Veterinarians now have a free online tool to help increase treatment acceptance and reduce miscommunication about payment preferences. The new Financial Policy Builder at www.ncvei.org/financialpolicy was created by CareCredit with the help of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI).

“A written financial policy is an important business component for any veterinary practice. Clients need to understand payment options in order to provide the best care for their pets and veterinarians need to be compensated for their services to keep their practice economically sound. A financial policy allows practices to communicate payment options without confusion,” says Dr. Karen E. Felsted, CEO, NCVEI.

The Financial Policy Builder helps the entire veterinary team clearly communicate the practice’s financial guidelines in order to:

  • Eliminate “fear of cost” and increase treatment acceptance
  • Help clients understand the payment options offered by the practice
  • Increase client satisfaction by minimizing confusion and miscommunication

“We are honored to partner with the NCVEI on this program,” says Doug Hammond, Senior Vice President, CareCredit. “As the nation’s leading client payment program, we recognize how important it is that clients know and understand their payment options. The new Financial Policy Builder enables a veterinary practice to customize a policy to their payment preferences and implement the policy immediately.”

To get started, simply visit www.ncvei.org/financialpolicy or www.carecredit.com/financialpolicy and follow the prompts to create customized financial policy documents, including:

  • A Written Financial Policy which provides all payment options available to the client, includes any additional fees that might be the client’s responsibility, such as returned checks and cancelled appointments and is provided to all clients prior to treatment and included in new information packages and/or Puppy and Kitten Kits
  • A Payment Options Form – Reinforces the practice’s commitment to make payment for services as simple as possible, and confirms the client’s commitment to pay the treatment fee when the balance is due

Veterinarians, as well as their clients, have embraced CareCredit because it provides a convenient way to spread out the cost of veterinary care, for expenses large and small. Today, more than 8 million people have used the Convenient Monthly Payment Plans for their pets and themselves.

The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues was founded in January 2000 with a mission of raising the economic base of veterinary medicine. A wide-ranging group of benchmarking, pricing and communications tools, as well as other resources are available, free of charge, at www.ncvei.org. The commission is a not-for-profit organization, governed by a board of directors representing the three founding organizations: American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)

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International Veterinary Marketing Seminar, Dover Veterinary Hospital, Bogota

Report received from Ignacio Merida Isla DVM

Despite a flight cancellation due to the cloud of ash and a whole day delay on the traveling date that brought uncertainty to the organizers, the first International Marketing Seminar took place on the 13th of May at the Sheraton Hotel in Bogota, Colombia.

The seminar was a great success for the number of professionals that assisted (around 120) as for the review obtained from them about the topics and quality of the lectures. The event sponsored by Bayer and Purina ProPlan lasted a whole day and covered different topics related to the management of the veterinary clinic. These topics were very welcome because they presented the veterinarians in Colombia to concepts, not only about marketing, but leadership in the clinic, conflicts managements and financial advice as well.

The commercial exposition attracted around 10 companies presenting their novelty products.

This experience confirms the importance that management topics are acquiring on both sides of the Atlantic. Assis VBA hopes to repeat the experience and to continue opening markets in the New Continent.

I would like to thank to Henry, Harold, Yadira, Rodrigo and all the rest of the people that made me feel very welcome in Bogota and made this event possible.

You can click here to visit Ignacio Merida Isla’s website

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Are You Being Unreasonable?

from an article by Diederik Gelderman

I had a very interesting conversation with a Veterinary practitioner this week who, when asked what the year ahead (2010) would look like for him, replied that he figured it would look pretty much the same as last year, but with some incremental improvements in turnover. His plan, he explained to me, was to keep doing pretty much the same thing as he had been doing all of this year, and he therefore would expect similarly positive results.

A pretty reasonable position to take right? …Wrong!

You see, what he had failed to consider is that right now we are living in truly exponential times. The amount of information available to people every day is growing at a rate our grandparents couldn’t have dreamed about, and our children are growing up into a future that is impossible to even conceive of.

New trends, popular opinions, technologies, innovations and fashions that used to take a decade to catch on across the world can now become global in a matter of weeks, days or even hours. The only constant we can count on would seem to be… change.

In short, what worked for us this year has absolutely no guarantee of working for us in the year ahead, and by taking a ‘reasonable’ view of our business and our business plans for the future we run a very real risk of being shunted out by unforeseen competition, left behind, made redundant or unnecessary, or even simply overlooked.

So what’s the alternative to being reasonable about our plans and our future?

The alternative is simply to follow in the footsteps of every great innovator, leader, inventor or achiever and decide now that you will refuse to buy into ‘reasonable’ popular opinions, refuse to accept ‘reasonable’ limitations on your business growth or personal achievements, ignore ‘reasonable’ excuses as to why you shouldn’t (or can’t do something), and choose instead to explore the world of what is possible.

In short, it is my contention that your job for 2010 is to become unreasonable!

Are you prepared to do that – really?

I guarantee – this will take a lot of courage!

Take for example, a client of mine, I’ll call her Mandy from Melbourne. Mandy is a recently qualified Veterinarian who has for some time been eager to commence seeing clients and patients privately, but she has lacked the funds, mentoring and knowledge to go out and start up on her own.

Mandy approached me in August asking to join my coaching Program. She explained that although she wasn’t making any money out of practising yet (aside from her current wage of course), she felt that being part of the program would be exactly what she needed to get started.

Now, if you know me you would know I’m not in the business of taking coaching fees from a client who can’t afford them, but nor am I in the business of discounting either. So taking Mandy on as a client was a tricky one for me and I allowed her into the program only on the strict condition that with my help she would create a template practice and launch her new business within 3 months and then be “cost neutral” within two months of commencement of the new business.

The catch here of course is that there is almost no start up practice that is cost neutral within 2 months of start up. Most practices take 6 months to get to this stage and many aren’t even there at 12 months. So for Mandy to achieve this target in 2 months …and yes, both Mandy and I knew at that time that in her financial situation this was a highly unreasonable request to make of her.

Three months later, and I’m very happy to report that not only has Mandy created a flow of patients and a steady income stream for herself that is not only covering her coaching fees but showing a growing return on investment, she has become a confident and valued member of the coaching program.

As a coach, I get excited about where someone like Mandy can go in her career, and particularly about the contribution she will make to the human-companion animal bond and the health of our society. As well as the literally thousands of people she is destined to touch in the course of her newly founded career.

It is a sobering thought for me that had I taken a reasonable line with her in our first conversation, and had she taken ‘reasonable’ advice from friends and family and waited until she had the money to invest in coaching and mentoring, she might still yet be working full time for someone else and her contribution and her passion for her own business could have stayed on hold.

You can click here to visit Diederik Geldermans website

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Work On – Not In – Your Business

by Ray Silverstein

There is a bridge every entrepreneur must cross in order to grow a business beyond a certain point, a point where they must transition from “doing” to “leading.” It means stepping back from day-to-day operations and slipping into the role of overseer.

It also means learning to delegate more significant responsibilities to your employees. But for many entrepreneurs who view their business as their baby, this is more easily said than done.

Let’s go back in time to when you first formed your company, when you were involved in every aspect of running the business. As your firm grew, you needed help to get things done, so you began hiring

You started by delegating specific tasks and duties to your new employees. Hopefully, as they proved themselves to you, you started giving them larger projects and eventually turning over actual responsibilities.

Learning to delegate is an ongoing journey. Half the battle is hiring people who you feel comfortable delegating to. The other half is creating infallible work processes. Some of this simply comes down to good communication. In many small businesses, employees wear many hats. As a result, they are not always sure what their top priority should be. It’s your responsibility as the boss to tell them:

  • What their tasks and responsibilities are, and which of them take priority over others.
  • What doing a good job looks like. Don’t expect workers to instinctively know; it’s up to you to define and describe it. Provide good direction; be specific and give examples.
  • The limits of their authority, which might include budgets, time frames, and resources at their disposal.
  • Reporting criteria. How often do you want to get an update? What should it include? Do you want it in writing, or is a verbal report acceptable?
  • Where workers stand in terms of their job performance. You can’t expect people to make improvements if you don’t provide feedback.

Even if you haven’t created formal job descriptions and performance reviews–which many small businesses don’t–you can still communicate this information to employees.

But what if you don’t have the right people in place and aren’t comfortable delegating certain tasks?

You can provide training designed to get employees’ skills up to par or shuffle employee positions around. Some employees don’t want the responsibility of thinking; they want to work on autopilot. Perhaps there’s a place for worker bees in your organization?

If there isn’t, and nothing is working, you may have to take that difficult step of replacing them with people who will accept responsibility eagerly. That’s leadership at its toughest. Once you put the right people, programs, and processes into place, your business should practically run itself. It is at that point that you can safely disengage long enough to provide the vision essential to your company’s long-term growth.

That being said, delegation is never abdication. Rather, it’s learning to work on the business instead of in the business. Good leaders know when to get out of their own way.

You can click here to visit Ray Silversteins website

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