Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is co-owner of Waltz Animal Clinic in Madison, Indiana, and a former Charleston, South Carolina, practice manager. She has spent nearly her entire life in the industry, earning her keep in her parents’ clinic before advancing into the world of veterinary management. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and is a certified veterinary practice manager.Read Articles Written by Abby Suiter
After more than 12 years of holding the same title at the same South Carolina veterinary hospital (and working with a handful of the same people), I have moved on to my next adventure: practice ownership in my home state of Indiana. The transition was planned 2½ years ago, and my replacement, the owner’s wife, joined the team six months before my departure and started training. Still, imparting to my successor all the information that lives within my brain proved to be challenging. Here is what I learned throughout the transition and how I would handle things if given another chance.
Detail What You Do
To organize the long list of items great and small that need to be passed from one practice manager to the next, consider having a written job description. Better yet, update or create an operations manual that includes practice-specific details that would help someone who takes your job unexpectedly. This resource is invaluable as it provides stability when a manager is out for any length of time, whether an uninterrupted vacation or a leave of absence. Commit to updating job descriptions and operations manuals routinely, and make them readily accessible to key teammates.
Unsure where or how to start? Check out the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s Practice Owner Tools at bit.ly/3wTT4ZB. The section includes the editable “Job Framework and Job Description” and the “Veterinary Practice Self-Audit Workbook and Document Organizer.” I ordered the latter and used it to guide conversations on mundane organizational topics. It also prompted me to note where the IRS determination letter and the articles of incorporation are stored and when the fire extinguishers were last serviced.
Consolidate Passwords and Contacts
Keep lists of passwords and third-party contact information up to date and accessible to the practice owners and managers in case of an emergency. The lists certainly should be passed to a successor in training. I did this in preparation for maternity leave, and I often referenced the lists after that. Documenting infrequently used subcontractor information, equipment serial numbers and warranty information was particularly useful. Password managers come in many forms and help keep up with the ever-changing security requirements of digital devices.
Carve Out the Time
Make sure your replacement’s training sessions cover at least the basics of all aspects of your job. Over the six-month transition, I found that so much of each workday was hijacked by broken equipment or human resources issues that we did not spend as much time as I would have liked on budgeting, strategic planning and marketing. Keep control by setting priorities and communicating to other team members the need for uninterrupted time.
Check Your Ego
Remember that training a replacement is not about you; it’s about your successor and the practice’s future success. I found myself, at times, feeling uncharacteristically defensive, arrogant or embarrassed when explaining my systems, thought processes and past actions. It’s OK to admit that something you do is antiquated or convoluted and would benefit from an overhaul. When you feel challenged, approach the conversation with poise and open-mindedness. Be cautious not to undermine your trainee’s confidence for the sake of padding your ego.
Give a practice manager in training the immediate and public authority over all aspects of the job. Establish a rapport between your successor and the practice’s owners, and define the boundaries and checkpoints that maximize trust and autonomy. As team members pose noncontroversial questions, coach your trainee in private and allow the person to lead the conversation. Have your successor, when ready, handle an angry client or make a protocol decision. Copy the trainee on all messages to the staff and clients to demonstrate the communication expectations. Make introductions to sales representatives and show how direct correspondence should be done.
Take the time to rid your office of unnecessary paperwork, such as decades-old invoices, educational notes, emails and spreadsheets. Check the rules on records retention before everything goes into the shredder. Give your replacement an empty file cabinet, email inbox and digital folder so that the person can save and organize notes and documents.
Encourage your trainee to find kinship among other managers, and make formal introductions within your network. Management can be isolating, but connecting with others who do similar work helps everyone feel less alone in the face of challenges. I enjoy networking through industry forums, Facebook groups, and local and national meetings.
Equip your replacement with trusted resources and the knowledge of where to find answers. Teaching the status quo helps a new manager complete tasks but does not promote critical thinking and progress. I found that while I would love to talk theory on a range of topics all day long, the barrage of information is not helpful to someone new to a position. Instead, explain what you do, how and why, and then, before any significant changes are made, suggest that the person dive into a webinar or a chapter from Dr. Marsha L. Heinke’s “Practice Made Perfect” reference guide.
Fake It Till You Make It
Finally, reassure your replacement that the job does not require knowing all the answers and getting everything right every time. Instead, the responsibility entails finding solutions, trying hard and learning from the inevitable mistakes and failures. I started as a know-it-all 24-year-old and had the humbling pleasure of learning every day all the things I did not know. My best advice for new managers is to tackle the job using confidence, humility, positivity and eagerness, and enjoy the many opportunities that lie ahead.
WAIT A MINUTE
The American Veterinary Medical Association maintains an updated list of how long each state requires veterinary records to be kept before their destruction. Learn more at bit.ly/3j82nRt. Similar information is available online regarding tax returns, human resources files and controlled-drug logs.