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Managers play a critical role in veterinary practices. Great managers are like the glue that holds the team together, driving growth and development. Toxic managers, on the other hand, get in the way of growth and fracture teams.

But what are some of the key things successful practice managers have in common? Is it their leadership style? Or perhaps their communication finesse? 

We explore below.

Seven Things Successful Managers Have in Common

Veterinary management tips

1. They Set Boundaries

It’s a veterinary manager’s job to run a practice, not act as backup for when things go awry with everyone else’s job (that job would be called the junk drawer if it had a title!). 

Yet with staff shortages plaguing the UK, US & Australia, the modern practice manager is too often expected (or prone to martyring themselves on the pyre of veterinary medicine) to fill in gaps that can’t be covered by other staff members. 

This bad behavior takes a high-value strategic asset and converts it into a short-term much lower-value tactical one. Managers who spread themselves thin by doing someone else’s job cannot perform their own unique set of duties. Frequently, these things include medium to longer-term high-value tasks that have huge upside benefits.

Good managers have boundaries that their teams respect because they understand their work is important. Learning how to say ‘no’ is, therefore, a key skill.  Such boundaries must be instituted early on to prevent issues down the line.

2. They Install Clear Protocols

Practice managers who implement practice protocols are far more successful than those who do not [1]. Why? Because they provide clarity and consistency in the expected workflows, so the team all know what is expected of them and those around them. This reduces the chaos factor dramatically. 

If practice processes are clear from the outset, training is easier and fewer mishaps will occur.

3. They Understand the Fundamentals of Conflict Resolution

Being able to manage conflicting personalities, tricky situations and confrontational clients is a real skill. Practice managers who can do this well thrive, but managers who cannot flounder. 

Common causes of conflict in the veterinary clinic include poor teamwork, bad communication, sub-par working conditions, and passive-aggressive behavior. Being firm but fair and addressing situations directly is the most effective way to handle conflict. Sweeping problems under the rug will over result in an angry blow up later down the line.

4. They Hire the Right People

The recruitment environment in veterinary medicine, at present, is less than ideal. But that’s in many ways just a convenient excuse. The best teams do not let scarcity allow them to make poor hiring choices. 

With more roles than people to fill, hiring the wrong person has never been more expensive. According to our estimates, hiring the wrong person can cost an employer multiple times their base salary (with that cost going up each year the person remains in their role). If you doubt this, then we’ll happily send you a spreadsheet where you can do the scary sums yourself! 

But how do you know if you’re hiring the right people? Great practice managers know what to look out for, and what to avoid. They choose people who have similar values and personalities that fit with those within the team, and they prioritize this ahead of technical skills.

As well as aligned values, other things good practice managers will look out for during the hiring process include:

  • People who take ownership of their actions.
  • People who can back up their experience with evidence.
  • Technical skill fits. 
  • Candidates with verifiable references.

For more advice on what to look out for during interviews, click here.

 

5. They Show Appreciation for Their Team

Great veterinary managers know that while the odd ‘pizza party’ can help team morale, regular acts of recognition are necessary for healthy, happy teams. Cultivating a general culture of gratitude can counteract toxic behavior and strengthen team relations. We strongly advise learning more about human needs psychology and also reading the Five Love Languages book as applied to business.

6. They Reward Good Behavior

When it comes to discipline, poor leaders tend to use the stick (fear motivation) rather than the carrot (reward). But good managers know that this isn’t always the most effective way to get stuff done. It rarely is. This Victorian factory relic needs to be consigned to the management tool bin as it does not fly with Generation Y onward.

Research suggests that when it comes to motivation, rewards trigger the ‘action’ part of the brain, whereas punishments set off the ‘avoid’ part. This is because when it comes to positive things, our brains want more of it and so signal ‘go!’. But when it comes to things that threaten us (deep water, poison… scary clients) our brains have evolved to ‘stop’, to avoid the threat altogether. 

It follows, therefore, that if you want something done, positive reinforcement is a better tool to use. But if you want something not to get done, negative reinforcement will, over time, cause paralysis within your team [2].

7. They Prioritize Their Team’s Development

Leaders who want more from their teams have to go the extra mile. 

Great leaders invest in their team’s skills and push them to challenge themselves. On a superficial level, this improves performance and client satisfaction. But on a deeper level, it can improve colleague relationships, and strengthen existing bonds between management and employees. People want to know their boss cares about them, and part of that is being helped to grow, so developing a mentoring relationship is vital.

The Secret Sauce to Practice Manager Success

There is no one size fits for managing a team. People have different styles, priorities, and expectations when it comes to leadership. But if you want to flourish at work (and in turn, help your team flourish) working on your leadership skills is the first place to start. 

We have two outstanding leadership resources which you can access for free below:

Saving Veterinary Medicine: Four Areas You Need to be Working on to Improve the Culture of Your Practice

Ebook: Experienced Veterinary Professionals Explore Five of the Most Important Factors Common to Great Leaders

Summary: 

  • Managers play a fundamental role in veterinary practice.
  • Those who set strict boundaries, instill clear protocols, and work on their conflict management skills (among others) will flourish at work.

References

1-  ‘Following policies and procedures, and why it’s important – PowerDMS.’ 18 Dec. 2020, https://www.powerdms.com/policy-learning-center/following-policies-and-procedures-and-why-its-important. Accessed 4 Feb. 2022.

2-  ‘What Motivates Employees More: Rewards or Punishments?.’ 26 Sept. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.

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