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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
The Right Thing, The Wrong Way
By: Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR
interFace Veterinary HR System

Over and over again I’ve sat and listened as a practice owner or manager has told me about something they did that was “right”, but the way they did it was all “wrong.” The danger is, once you’ve tried something once and it failed, it’s difficult to get a second chance with your team. Here are some examples from real colleagues of mine:

  • The announcement of hiring a new additional veterinarian on staff as a celebration, when the team hasn’t gotten a raise in 3 years. “Why can’t s/he give us a raise instead with that money?”
  • The debut of a new peer evaluation system, when the team has some tension already, and now feel they are being asked to tattle on each other.
  • The addition of job descriptions, pulled from a resource, given to a team that has had no participation in making the document. “This isn’t MY job!”
  • Bringing in the topic of compassion fatigue awareness by focusing on the team members that are exhibiting the most symptoms.
  • Deciding to put a supervisor in place without consulting with the team affected.
  • Choosing a supervisor from the team, without posting the job to everyone.

Looking at just the last two, there is a way to accomplish this task without any negative backlash if certain steps are taken. Basically, this fits the philosophy of guiding them until they make the decision for you…making them think that THEY came up with the idea!

Typically a supervisor/head/lead, regardless of what position title you use for middle management, is needed when a practice has 3 or more team members in the same position. It’s all about communication. Once the team is so large that the practice owner or manager isn’t able to communicate with each individual in an effective manner, this supervisor can help disseminate information, and collect information from their team. The second point is what you use to gain team support of creating a supervisor position to begin with.

At a team meeting, with members of just that one position, ask them what their top frustrations are. For this example, we’ll use technicians. Let them vent, and you may hear things such as: “No one sees how heavy our workload is. Sometimes we’re the last to know about a new protocol up front. I’ve been asking for someone to help me with our software program. “

Then demonstrate active listening and repeat back what you heard: “So what you’re telling me is that you would want someone doing your type of job to monitor the workloads…someone to communicate what is happening in other areas of the practice…someone who knows your needs and can devote some time to training if needed.” Heads nod, and you roll into “It sounds like it would be good to have a team leader, someone to represent your interests, someone who understands your job, someone who will help fill the gaps in communication, right?” You’ve walked them through the process of coming up with the idea YOU had all along…but now they are on board, in support of the idea, and understand how this person will help.

Next, a decision will need to be made as to who to promote or hire into this supervisor position. Tell your team after the discussion above, that you’ll post the job opening internally before running any ads outside the practice. A very common mistake is deciding WHO you want as supervisor before you even give all team members the chance to throw their name into the hat. You may not feel that everyone is right for the position, but if your hiring process is effective, the best person will rise to the top and those who you think don’t have what it takes will fail to make it through the hiring protocol. Some team members will resent the fact that a person was hand-selected, even if they did NOT want the job themselves; they just want it to be a fair process.

Most practice owners and managers promote their “best” technician, or the most senior technician, without regard for their ability to learn how to be a member of management. When things fall apart, that “best tech” will find it extremely awkward to step back down into the team, so they will leave your practice. Make sure you’ve given the person you want, plus all others, a chance to demonstrate interest in the position. This way you’ll find the best fit for the job, and avoid much of the backlash that comes from creating middle management.

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR