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
My tenure at Daniel Island Animal Hospital is drawing to a close. (More on my impending move in future articles.) As I work to organize the practice for success in my absence, I look for ways to enhance my teammates’ involvement, empowerment and motivation. My skills in organization and delegation are being stretched.
I have succeeded before with delegation. My colleagues are autonomous enough during their daily routines that contacting me at home can be avoided. I regularly take uninterrupted vacations and have even stepped away from the office for a month or two a few times. In our not-quite three-doctor practice, the leadership team consists of myself as practice manager, a part-time office manager, a part-time inventory manager, a lead technician, a lead receptionist and the owner, who serves as medical director.
Over the years, my teammates frequently expressed their desire to grow professionally and take on more responsibility. However, I sometimes struggled to delegate meaningful work, schedule appropriate office time and budget compensation. We lost sharp employees who moved on because I failed to provide them with career steps. I am largely at fault for the lackluster results from my previous attempts at delegating responsibilities.
With a renewed sense of urgency and commitment, I am setting out to morph our traditional hierarchy into a synergistic, decentralized network of veterinary professionals championing the practice’s mission. To get there, I must stop hoarding all the managerial responsibilities and start cultivating my teammates’ passions and skill sets.
I am trying these 10 strategies to build my team.
1. Identify Strengths and Interests
It’s tempting to think first of senior employees when important responsibilities are assigned, but such a hierarchical approach can put people in ill-suited positions and discourage eager junior employees. Instead, ask all employees where their interests lie, what strengths they can utilize and what skills they need to acquire as they search for the perfect fit. An early investment in entry-level employees can unearth valuable assets.
2. Spread Out the Mundane
Let’s face it, veterinary clinics are filled with less-than-desirable duties. However, don’t dump all your worst tasks onto one person under the guise of enhanced responsibility. Instead, divide chores among several people or use a team-based approach to promote unity.
3. Outline the Big Picture
When delegating a task, start by painting the larger picture of how the task’s successful completion would support the hospital’s goals. For instance, when someone is put in charge of managing product coupons, explain how promotions are leveraged to encourage client compliance, which in turn improves a pet’s health. Show how rebates help the practice price competitively and dissuade clients from shopping elsewhere. Disclose how profits from recaptured sales are used to pay better wages, upgrade the practice or lower the cost of medical care. Suddenly, those employees are not just tasked with submitting manufacturer coupons but also actively helping patients, clients and their teammates. The task’s importance is now the base for its accomplishment.
4. Lead Situationally
Delegation is an inherently hands-off style of leadership, but its execution should be tailored to each employee’s needs. As one who hates to be micromanaged, I often fail to recognize the amount of direction and support that my team needs to tackle new challenges with confidence and vigor. While I feel my open-ended approach is a way of being flexible and trusting, delegated tasks can appear insurmountable to those who lack the necessary authority, self-motivation and assurance. To bridge the gap, incorporate various leadership styles to fit personal needs and aim to advance your mentee from a participatory employee to one who is actively engaged and contributing.
5. Define Success
Take time to outline the goals of an employee’s new responsibility and set expectations. Put into words what success includes. Consider using the SMART goal framework (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) to guide the conversation.
6. Provide Resources
Encourage a thirst for continuing education by providing an allowance and scheduled paid time off for attendance. Share article links and suggest reputable Facebook groups to join. Create uninterrupted time for on-the-job training, and define who in the practice is best equipped to answer questions.
7. Set Deadlines
Make goals time-bound to generate priorities. For less tangible responsibilities, define needed timely actions. In the case of leadership roles that strive for improved morale and cohesiveness, consider a timeframe in which you would like to see a team meeting, a group bonding activity or completed performance evaluations. As deadlines are met, set new targets for sustainable progress.
8. Create Checkpoints
Schedule regular check-ins and microdeadlines. Checkpoints can be used to ensure that progress is being made, to remind employees of the project’s importance and to make course corrections. Use digital workplace tools such as Slack, Trello, Google Drive or Microsoft Teams to nimbly create accountability and document communication channels without drowning everyone in face-to-face meetings.
9. Provide Feedback and Support
Display interest and genuine concern by engaging openly during check-ins. Resist undermining fledgling growth through directive behavior, and instead be emotionally supportive through words and actions. Respond with constructive criticism that is balanced with praise. Hitting these points has been shown to best encourage intrinsic motivation, an imperative component of autonomous progress.
10. Applaud Success
Plan for how a delegated project’s success will be celebrated and rewarded. Remember to match the praise to the type best received by the individual and be prepared to prioritize it in future comparable scenarios. A handwritten note? Accolades at a team meeting? A social media shoutout? A gift card? Time off? A financial reward? Regardless of the selected acknowledgment, don’t forget to do it.
Through meaningful and administrative delegation, veterinary teams can do more than management teams can do alone. Tap into your workforce to find hidden passions and new perspectives and to take your hospital to its next level.
Do you struggle to determine responsibilities that can be delegated? Consider these options to get you started.
- Accounts receivable
- Controlled substances
- OSHA regulations
- Equipment maintenance
- Team education
- Team lead
- Marketing management
- Benefits administration
- IT troubleshooting
- Accounts payable
- Patient-client-team experience
- Pet health insurance
- Hospital cleanliness
- Community engagement
- Charitable outreach