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
In working with veterinary practice managers nationwide, I’ve found that many of them face the same challenges. Some of the problems could have been avoided with better preparation, training or communication, while others were inherent in the job. Here’s some insight into the top five challenges and how to respond.
1. A Lack of Direction
One of the biggest problems that practice managers face is a lack of direction and insufficient knowledge of the job expectations. Many managers told me they were hired or promoted to the position and simply told to “manage the practice.” What it all entailed wasn’t fully explained to them.
When hiring a manager, the practice owner must customize a generic job description or write one from scratch. Make sure the listed duties are clearly defined, such as “Responsible for hiring and training all CSRs” rather than “In charge of personnel management.” The more specific, the better. Such an approach will help the practice owner understand the capabilities and education needed for the manager to succeed.
2. Not Enough Support
Many managers report that their practice owner doesn’t support them. The manager tells the team one thing, and the owner says another. For example, one owner told the manager he wanted to stop fee discounts, so he asked her to write the policy, have him review it and then present it to the team. She did all that, but a few days later, a “good” client learned at checkout about the termination of a 10% discount. The manager was summoned and had to explain that rather than raise prices to make up for the discounts, the existing fee schedule would be followed. The unhappy client asked to speak with the owner.
Guess what happened next? The owner told the client he was unaware of the policy change and, of course, the client could receive the discount! The manager and client service representatives were mortified and demoralized.
What should the owner-doctor have done? First, he should have supported his manager and explained the no-discounts policy to the client. A manager will never succeed without the practice owner’s support.
3. Poor Time Management
Unfortunately, many managers are expected to simultaneously manage and “cover the floor” or front desk, which becomes a source of incredible frustration. The time needed to truly manage a practice depends on many factors, including the hospital’s size.
Let’s assume the job description calls for the manager to be “fully functional.” In a one full-time-equivalent DVM practice, effectively managing the practice might take 20 hours a week. With two or three FTE DVMs, the job could take 30 or 40 hours a week. Forty hours is full time, so asking a manager of a three-DVM practice to manage and serve as a technician or receptionist sets the person up for failure.
Managers must be able to control their time. They often were promoted from a technician or front-desk position, so other team members might ask the manager to pitch in. Unless the situation is of lifesaving importance, the manager needs to decline when asked to help. The team members will eventually figure it out and no longer ask for assistance.
4. Insufficient Training
Think about this: You ask someone to manage your practice, which might generate millions of dollars a year, but the person has no formal business training. Does that make sense? You wouldn’t hire someone who had never taken an accounting course to do your accounting, right?
Managers have many opportunities for business training, from community colleges to online courses to veterinary-specific classes. Practices should invest in their managers by offering financial assistance and other support to help them realize educational goals.
The ultimate achievement in veterinary practice management is the CVPM (certified veterinary practice manager) designation, which the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association oversees. I helped develop the program and write the initial test. When the certification was first offered, a candidate took oral and written tests. It’s now a strictly written test with serious pre-qualifications. Let it be said that CVPMs prove they have the technical skills necessary to manage a veterinary practice.
5. Not Enough Delegation
Many managers think they must do everything and that no one else can handle tasks as well as them. But, of course, that is self-defeating. Many managers are perfectionists, and I confess that I am, too. However, managers (and perfectionists) must learn to delegate effectively.
Delegation is not abdication; you’re still responsible for ensuring the task’s completion. When you think that only you can do something correctly and fail to delegate, you limit your ability to get things done, and you eventually burn out. Therefore, learning to delegate is a key to success for any manager.
A manager hoping to delegate effectively should be surrounded by “10” employees. By that, I mean think of your employees on a scale of 1 to 10. A “1” is someone who hasn’t shown up at work for three weeks and isn’t missed. A “10” is your best employee — someone who is a pleasure to work with and the person everyone turns to with a question or for help.
The concept of 10s says that if you rate your employees on a scale of 1 to 10, understand that you can help an “8” or “9” become a “10,” but you probably will never turn a “7,” “6” or “5” into a “10.” Unfortunately, many managers try to convert “7s” into “10s” and end up frustrating themselves and the employee. It is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Too many managers spend too much time trying to “fix” their employees instead of managing their practices.
Other factors might impair a manager’s success, but I’ve highlighted a few good places for managers and practice owners to focus.
DO YOU ASPIRE TO GROW?
The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s CVPM exam tests a candidate’s knowledge of human resources, the law, ethics, marketing, organization of the practice and finance. Learn more at VHMA.org.