Who Needs a Practice Manager?

As a technical services veterinarian, I had the privilege of visiting about 20 veterinary hospitals per week. During these meetings, I met with hospital leadership to discuss what was going well in their practices and identify areas in which my company could provide assistance to help their businesses become “even better yet”. While these meetings occasionally included veterinarians, my territory manager and I met most often with hospital managers. The following are observations based upon these conversations, as well as subsequent interactions with managers in my current role as a veterinary business consultant and speaker.

The term “manager” in a hospital is often applied loosely.

There are many reasons why there is no consistency across practices in what responsibilities this position represents.  The following factors represent the two most common challenges for maximizing the success of practice managers.

How managers are selected.

Often times, managers are promoted from within as a “reward” for longevity or because it is “easy” and not carefully selected for skills, competencies and potential. The outcome is a mismatch in the needs of the position and the ability of the selected individual to fill those needs. As leaders, we make these decisions based on an innate psychological bias that we as humans possess, which is over-rating capability. As described in his book Great People Decisions, author Claudio Fernandez Araoz explains that over-rating capability is “based on two incorrect assumptions. The first is that people can change more quickly, and to a greater degree, than they actually can” and secondly “that a high correlation exists between the motivation to perform and the actual capacity to do so.” He goes on to state that a strong interest in the position and high motivation is not enough to overcome a basic lack of key competencies, attributes and experience.

Managers should be selected based on a variety of factors, including emotional intelligence, their potential (can they continue to grow and adapt in an ever changing business climate, taking on larger challenges with an eye toward planning for the future?) and the alignment of their personal values with the hospital’s core values.  When selecting managers, the talents they possess should be carefully compared to the key competencies needed in the position.

The role of the manager in the veterinary hospital

The lack of clearly defined managerial priorities can sabotage the ability of a manager to perform even the most basic of responsibilities. In order for a manager to bring value to the role, there must be a clear understanding of the responsibilities the position assumes. Ideally, these competencies are defined prior to undertaking the search for the manager.

Once the manager is hired, it is critical that the veterinarians and owners get out of the manager’s way. It is difficult for veterinarian/owners to “let go” and allow the manager to perform their job. I believe there are many reasons for this, including the difficulty in trusting the person selected with a business tied so intimately to the veterinarian’s personal and professional well-being. Simply stated, veterinarians need to work to develop vulnerability based trust in their managers, viewing them as partners in working toward the continued success of the hospital. When this trust is developed, the tendency of the veterinarian to micro-manage dissipates.

Hospital owners do not work to “grow” their managers.

Just as with any position, it is critical that veterinarians provide ways for their managers to continue to develop, both professionally and personally. There are several ways to help managers realize their potential:

Mentor your manager

Mentoring is defined as an “employee training system under which a senior or more experienced individual (the mentor) is assigned to act as an advisor, counselor, or guide to a junior or trainee. The mentor is responsible for providing support to, and feedback on, the individual in his or her charge.”.

This is very different from micromanagement, defined by BusinessDictionary as “close, detailed, and often de-motivating scrutiny of employees’ work on a continuing basis”.

Create an agreement between the manager and the veterinarian that holds each person accountable to the other. Take the time to understand what the manager needs to be successful in their position, such as regular meetings with the leadership team to discuss business metrics, team performance and new opportunities.  Create a system so that the veterinarian/owner knows where the manager is focusing his/her time and provide on-going feedback to the manager. The manager should be involved in the daily operations of the hospital; the veterinarian should be observing from a 30,000 ft. level.

Provide educational opportunities for your manager

Seek out ways for managers to grow in their competencies and skills. This investment is one of the most valuable a veterinarian will make for their business and in fulfilling a very important mission of a committed leader, to help followers achieve personal and professional development and fulfillment. There are many educational resources available managers; see the resources list at the end of this article for ideas.

Encourage networking and collaboration

Support managers in developing a strong professional network. Having other managers and leaders as peer resources provides the opportunity for collective and creative problem solving and insight. Ways to achieve this are to encourage participation in the Veterinary Hospital Manager’s group. Encourage managers to participate in a local manager’s group. Consider joining a business group, such as VMG, that encourages veterinarians and their managers to work together to achieve specific business goals and attend meetings as a team (this is a critical component to realizing goals; if both the veterinarian and the manager are at the table together, they can hold each other accountable for reaching these benchmarks).

Who needs a manager?

I believe that EVERY veterinary hospital would benefit from hiring a professional manager.  Veterinarians are rarely trained in business and infrequently possess keen interest in this aspect of hospital ownership.  Oftentimes, the veterinarian relegates management responsibilities to a low priority item, giving attention to them after completing their primary roles as doctor in the practice. Professional managers are the key to developing a successful veterinary hospital. Their efforts directly impact the ability of the hospital to provide updated facilities, new equipment and continued staff training. This impacts the client experience, increased adherence to recommendations and ultimately, the health of our patients. Doesn’t a veterinary hospital deserve a dedicated caregiver too?

Resources

There are many great learning resources for developing managers. Below are a few of my favorites:

American Animal Hospital Association

  • Veterinary Management School (VMS)
  • Veterinary Management Institute (VMI)
  • AAHA Yearly Conference
  • Coming soon: Peak Executive Transformations (perfect for advanced level managers)
  • Webinars

Veterinary Hospital Managers Association

  • Webinars
  • Certified Veterinary Practice Manager Certification program
  • Regional and National Conferences

Patterson University

  • Virtual (on-line learning) and regional classes

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