Practice Smarter columnist Mark Opperman is the president and founder of Veterinary Management Consultation Inc., director of veterinary practice management at Mission Veterinary Partners, and founder of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. His column won first place in the Florida Magazine Association’s 2020 Charlie Awards.Read Articles Written by Mark Opperman
Going into the pandemic, I expected that veterinary hospitals would be financially devastated. Clients would not bring in their pets, practices would close and employees would be let go. Well, I could not have been more wrong. Veterinary practices are doing very well financially. In fact, many are seeing increases in income like never before. Although invoice numbers are down, most practices are seeing a significant increase in the average client transaction (ACT) and professional client transaction (PCT). Amazing!
This, along with the Payroll Protection Program’s loan-forgiveness provisions, has significantly affected veterinary hospitals’ bottom lines.
From a practice perspective, the real problem is not income but the toll the pandemic has taken on employees. Many team members report being overworked, burned out and highly stressed. Even though national unemployment is high, finding qualified individuals to work is difficult, putting more stress on the veterinary team.
What can you as a practice manager or owner do to help your team through these exceedingly difficult times? Being exceedingly busy themselves, managers and owners are many times not aware of their employees’ hardships until it is too late. So let’s stop a minute, take a deep breath and look at things from your team’s point of view.
The most common complaint I hear from team members is that they are not informed as to what is going on. “Is the practice doing well?” “Are we about to go out of business?” In addition, policies change seemingly every day, but team members aren’t told until they are reprimanded for doing something wrong.
Those are common complaints I hear. It’s not fair to your team members. They need to know what is happening. Now more than ever, you need to hold team meetings at least once a month, and probably more often in most practices. Meetings with all the doctors and between the manager and owner also are needed. I know that scheduling meetings is difficult in these busy times, but the need for them is more important now than ever before.
I’ve found the best time to conduct team meetings is normally from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Attendance should be mandatory, and team members need to be paid for their time. Owner-manager meetings are best held at breakfast before the practice opens, and the same goes for doctor meetings. Make sure to create an agenda (and stick to it) and cover all the topics. I always make sure to start my meetings on time and end them on time.
You might consider other forms of internal communication. Many practices use apps like Slack, Google Hangouts, Flock or Microsoft Teams, to name a few. (I have used Slack for many years in my company.) These programs allow you to create channels so that messages can be directed to specific individuals in your practice. You can write to all the customer service representatives, technicians or doctors, or to the entire team. Employees have one source to keep them informed and up to date.
How well would football and baseball players perform if they did not know the score until the game was over? That is the way many employees feel. They have no idea if your practice is doing better, worse or the same. This is not fair to your team members. They deserve to know, and hopefully, they wish to be involved in your practice’s success.
What information do you share with your team? At many practices, it includes:
- Monthly gross income and expenses.
- Profits or losses.
- The number of new clients.
- ACTs and PCTs.
- The bonding rate, or the rate at which clients return within 18 months of their last visit.
- The numbers of transactions during the month.
I know some practice owners are reluctant to share too much data, but consider this: Your team members run end-of-day reports. They have a calculator and can figure out your gross income. If you don’t share the other side of the equation, they will think you are a millionaire. So, remember that no information turns into misinformation.
Your team members probably have been working their you-know-whats off. They likely are under a lot of personal stress, and things in the practice change daily. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Saying “Thank you” or “I really appreciate …” is a good start, but the sentiments need to be spoken sincerely and not just be something you say at the end of each day. You can show your team that you care in many ways. One practice brought in an ice cream truck. Another practice had a masseuse give neck rubs to anyone who wanted one. Another team went to an escape room after work. (Everybody had a blast and talked about it for weeks after.) You also can order lunch for the team or give everyone a gift card.
Be creative and let your team members know that you appreciate them. Many times, what’s important isn’t what you do but rather the fact that you did something.
My Incentive Program
For years, I have recommended my company’s incentive program. The veterinary practices with whom I consult report that the program is more effective now than ever before.
The program has two components: financial and performance. On the financial side, we normally take 10% of the increase in year-over-year quarterly gross. So, if your practice’s quarterly gross went up by $40,000, you put 10%, or $4,000, in the employee incentive fund.
On the performance side, each employee is evaluated. We use evaluation forms developed for each position in a practice. Each form has 20 specific criteria — subjective, not objective — worth five points each so that the employee can score up to 100%.
An employee completes the form first. Then, a direct supervisor fills out the same evaluation on the employee and obtains input from the practice owner and doctors. At that point, after an open discussion of the evaluation with the employee, a final score is determined. That score will then be adjusted based on the hours worked.
The charts at bottom explain the incentive program in detail.
The math might seem a little complicated, but focus on the program itself. First of all, there is no discrimination. A kennel assistant’s bonus can be as much as the manager’s or technician’s; it all depends on their evaluations. That’s the way it should be. One person’s position is not any more important than anyone else’s.
I have some caveats if you use this program. First, the team member must have been employed throughout the three-month period to qualify. Second, an evaluation score of 70% or greater is required. The reason is simple: You shouldn’t reward bad behavior.
Along with the incentive program, I suggest scoreboarding the practice to let the team know how this month’s income compared with last month’s. Also, discuss what can be done to improve the revenue or services. Work as a team to bring your practice to the next level of performance.
Practices that used this incentive program during the pandemic reported amazing results. Income is up dramatically, so employee bonuses are up dramatically, too. Employees might be tired, but they also are motivated and feel appreciated.
We should feel blessed to be in this profession. Many companies have gone out of business or are about to do so, and many people have lost their livelihoods, yet veterinary medicine is doing well. We are lucky, but we need to remember our teams and show them how much we appreciate them for all they are going through.