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Issue: 9 - Sep 15, 2009
Making Good Business Choices
By: Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting
Making Good Business Choices
Welcome back to my Veterinary Practice Team Environment article series! The goal of this article is to show you how when we work together, we can make your practice team soar!
In my previous two articles, we focused on first finding the right people to join the team, and then getting the team members vested in the practice and keeping them energized. I assume you went through all the proper steps to assure your team is on board with your practice’s goals and its vision - Congratulations! Your practice must be one of the best places to work!
But we still have a few loose ends to tie up to assure your practice maintains its success, so this article will showcase the following solutions in achieving this goal: hosting successful team meetings, tracking your business numbers, and guaranteeing you’re making good business choices.

First, let’s finish up our discussion from last month on the importance of team meetings. To get optimal results from your team meeting, it is critical you focus on two items: establishing a meeting plan, and assuring that your meetings have a purpose and are constructive. Without these items, your results will disappoint you and your team members.

Some keys to hosting a successful team meeting are:
·         Starting and ending on time
·         Having the room set up in advance (i.e. make sure there are plenty of chairs for all the attendees)
·         Using your pre-planned agenda/meeting plan
·         Designating someone to take the meeting’s minutes
·         Discussing old business first
·         Designing action plans for the tasks that stem from the meeting, and setting a timeline for when these actions are to be completed
·         Archiving the minutes from every meeting in a place accessible by all participants
·         Paying your team members for their attendance, this is a business meeting and you should treat it as such
·         Making sure everyone at the meeting has an opportunity to participate

Investing in successful team meetings doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. The important thing is that you perform these steps at every meeting to keep your team motivated, engaged and productive so that they can in turn produce the results that you and your practice desire! Develop a template to guide the meetings and remember to use it to record the minutes.

How many times have you heard a business management consultant proclaim "Numbers talk”? It might seem like the buzz phrase du jour, but it's been proven true time and time again by experts in the business world. Often I am asked: “What is the value of monitoring hospital statistics?” It is simple – it’s the best way to keep a pulse on patient care, compliance, client service & satisfaction, and the health of the business. Simply put; it tells everyone what's going on in your practice.

Here are some areas of your business that you should always be observing:
·         Percent of payroll (aka your #1 expense)
·         Cost of goods sold (aka your #2 expense)
·         Lab income to expensed lab
·         Food income - food - expensed food
·         Growth of practice
·         Net of business
Tracking your business can be done by using an Open Book Management (OBM) style. It's a management technique created in the 1990’s that was taken mainstream by Jack Stack and John Case. In a nutshell, OBM allows employees access to all relevant financial information and key performance indicators (such as profit and loss statements, balance sheets, expenses, etc.) so that they can make better decisions on the job. These numbers are compiled and calculated on a "scorecard" that gives owners and employees an at-a-glance view of the business' current performance and financial state.
Harvard Business School leaders have said OBM, or Scorecard Management, has had the greatest impact of any business idea in the last 75 years. OBM gives practice owners and management teams a step-by-step way to measure performance at every level of the company. Through OBM, employees have a better understanding of a business' financial health, and they have a stake in how it performs. It helps them understand how a business works and conditions them to think like business owners. It's exactly what every veterinary practice needs to create a winning culture.
Some examples of items to include on your Patient Care Scorecard are:
·         Completion of puppy and kitten series
·         Following CDC recommendation fecal for fecal testing and de-worming
·         Monitoring the success of your Senior Wellness Program
·         Pre-anesthetic and pain management Compliance
OBM empowers and encourages your team members to share information that will, in turn, create a happy, dynamic, successful team and business. To create this practice culture, you as the leader have to believe in OBM and get your team to embrace it. In doing so, this culture will transcend to all parts of the business: hiring, firing, equipment investment, profit building, and so on. Explain to your team members that they will be positively impacted by the OBM process, and that the skills they learn will help them in their professional and personal lives. In addition, they will begin to feel like more a part of the practice as they directly share in its successes and failures.
But there are challenges. Let's face it, we see a lot of turnover in veterinary medicine. People get involved because they love animals but they don't realize it's a business as well. Practices are constantly losing their knowledge base. In turn, veterinarians need to be more savvy with their hiring protocols to land dedicated people. OBM will help you with performance incentives and employee retention.
In order to implement OBM into your practice, you must follow certain steps:
·         Meeting with your team
·         Teaching at every opportunity
·         Tracking performance with scorecards
·         Building trust in your team
Teamwork is essential to OBM. As Bob Levoy says, "You can't lead the band and play all the instruments." You need a team to be successful. People are not as committed to work on the practice as they are to work in the practice. Think of your scorecards as bowling pins at the end of your bowling lane. OBM yields in a better bottom line, creates team loyalty, and boosts compliance when your team knows what you expect. With OBM, you get the best results when your team knows what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how you do it.
Remember that when you’re tracking your clients, you’re taking a good look at how your current clients are promoting your business. If you’re not getting a lot of referrals in, ask yourself these questions:
1.       How long is a client in your hospital from walking in the front door to leaving for the parking lot?
2.       How long is a client waiting to be seen once greeted by the CSR?
3.       What is my client retention rate or bonding rate?
If any of these answers are less than you desire, gather up your fabulous team and see what you can do to fix a problem area(s).

I’d like to sum up this article with my proven steps to making good business choices:
1.       Remember your mistakes and understand how you can avoid repeating them. Let’s say you did a search in your client database of senior pets and you sent them a letter saying it was time for them to come in and begin their senior program. This mailing might cost you around $300. But what if the letter didn’t make your clients with senior pets coming running through your doors? Then clearly this marketing method was not the right way to promote that program, or the right choice for that group of clients. And now Dental Month comes along and you do another search and you send another letter to your clients, and you get the same unproductive results. At this point, you should be reevaluating the marketing method you’re using and make a change. Simply sending letters that don’t get a response are a waste of time. You need to sit down and figure out another method of contacting your clients (i.e. sending postcards or e-mails), or work on a new design for your letter to catch your reader’s eye.
2.       Be “conservative” about change. You can’t change everything all at once, you need to decide what you want to change and prioritize it.
3.       Know your customers and what they want. You need to know your clients and what they want for their pets. You need to know how your client is bonded to their animal, and you can’t communicate to all clients the same way. You need to take the time to note which of your client’s animals are guide dogs, which are tried and true members of the family, and which live out in the barn. With this information, you will be a success at providing the best care for every patient, every client, every record, every time at that practice.
4.       Manage your growth and leverage your assets. We all have limited time and financial resources, so once you’ve prioritized and set your change at a reasonable level, look at your assets and your resources (aka time, energy and money) and find the best way to grow from there.

In closing, I have found that the greatest way to make good business choices is with due diligence; by tracking the numbers and knowing what’s going well and what’s not going well. After all, that’s what tracking is all about!
I hope you have found this series to be informative, educational and of course, FUN. I wish you luck with your newfound knowledge and I have faith that every one of you will find success with my tips and tricks.
After twenty one years of managing in the veterinary field, Louise S. Dunn started Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, which provides technical assistance to practice teams to meet their strategic plans. SVMC works with a wide variety of practices. They range from large specialty hospitals ranging from 1-100 team-member companion animal referral centers, to  mixed animal hospitals to single veterinarian practices. Ms. Dunn has held practice management workshops at many veterinary schools. She is widely published and speaks internationally and nationally. (Including ACVIM,TNAVC, CVC, WVC, AAHA, VSIPP and AVMA.)   She serves as an officer of VetPartners, is a member of the AAHA Leadership Practice Management Advisory Committee, the VHMA, VESPA and AVMLA. Louise brings a unique combination of business skills, in the trenches experience, knowledge and tools to the veterinary industry. Her passions include her family, veterinary practice management, kayaking and the New England Patriots. Louise was named WVC 2007 Practice Management Educator of the year.