Veterinary Leaders: Start Tackling Your Issues Head On

Stop burying your head in the sand!

In an age of fake news, conspiracy theories and where the World Health Organisation must publish a Covid-19 ‘myth busting’ web page, is it correct to say that we live in a post-truth society? And, how does this apply to your conduct as a veterinary leader?

Well, sometimes it might be easier to ignore your problems (ie, bury your head in the sand) rather than deal with them head on. That ‘tricky’ employee you need to talk to? Pushed to the side. Those mistakes that keep happening? Swept under the carpet. 

You know that 10-minute consultations mean your new vet cannot execute thorough inspections, and this has already resulted in a misdiagnosis. But this has always been the system, and you are too stuck in your old ways to change it. You bury your head in the sand and hope that they eventually catch up. This is not only (potentially) detrimental to the service your practice delivers, but in terms of engagement. If your vets keep on making the same mistakes, they become disheartened quickly. Therefore, as a leader, you must act fast when you spot a problem.

How can you face up to the facts and stop being an ostrich? Read below for our five tips…

Evaluate your existing systems

If a system has been in place for a long time, you may be unlikely to question it. If everything is running smoothly, there is no need. However, if you notice that little mistakes keep getting made or that a procedure is not as efficient as it could be, then face it head on! 

Our guest blogger, Dr Sarah Keir, discussed this in relation to defensive medicine. Because it is common in the veterinary profession to have a fear of being sued or struck off by the RCVS, vets often think along the lines of what everyone else is doing when it comes to medicine, rather than trying something new and potentially progressive. If, as leaders, we are not willing to adopt an innovative mindset and to question existing practices, how can our profession ever evolve?

Think about how your existing systems align with your values. Some examples might be:

Do your systems allow for personalised client communication?
Are your systems easy to follow and up to date?
Does the ‘check-out’ at the end of a consultation match your exam room standards of care?

There are clearly many to explore.

Provide the correct team training

The training programs you provide your staff are part of a system. Ask yourself: does the training align with the mission? For example, if one of your goals is to increase client engagement, you will need to provide training that works on emotional intelligence and how to have successful interactions with clients.

Remember, the service you provide and the level of client engagement are two separate things, but they are intimately linked. The service is the collective activity taken to meet the needs and wants of pet owners, whilst the client engagement is the emotional connection they feel towards your practice.

Therefore, whilst assessing your systems is incredibly important for the service you provide, it is also vital to give training that will help with client engagement – the emotional side of being a vet. This will allow your team to have more successful conversations with clients, ultimately leading to increased compliance.

Have those difficult conversations

You have pinpointed a problem: one of your vets has a lack of emotional intelligence and does not have successful conversations with clients. Clients hardly ever follow the vet’s recommendations. How can you have this – potentially awkward – conversation with the vet and encourage them to take a training course on emotional intelligence?

This completely relies on your approach. Firstly, if you approach the conversation with a feeling of dread and assume it will be confrontational, then it almost certainly will be. Imagine you are talking to an old friend or a family member, and imagine the positive final outcome. The vet may not even know they need to improve their client conversations, and will be grateful you are supporting their development. Imagine all the animals’ lives that could be improved if you have this conversation.

Secondly, align the conversation towards what the vet values. If you know they are meticulous and serious when it comes to diagnosis, frame the conversation this way. For example, you may say: ‘I know you are incredibly meticulous when it comes to patient examination and diagnosis, and this is absolutely fantastic for their care, so I want to make sure clients follow your recommendations. But there seems to be some concern about the way clients perceive your advice. Can we have a conversation about that?

Once you get into this conversation it can eventually lead to making a plan of action to improve performance (Like taking a course on client communication or emotional intelligence.

Do you have the right people on your team?

Consider whether the people on your team share similar values to yours, and can really deliver the mission of the practice. Even better, have your values in mind when recruiting, and ask questions related to your values.

Make your values the heart of what you do, set clear expectations – both when recruiting and in everyday practice, and use these as the basis of performance reviews. Those that cannot live with and by  your shared values will likely go elsewhere, and those that can will feel bonded to the practice. Ultimately this is the best long term way to improve culture.

Kill your ego 

Ego runs rife in the veterinary profession, especially amongst leaders, and the sad thing is that it stilts development. According to Mikael Klintman, author of Knowledge Resistance, strategic ignorance stops leaders from learning from their team. They are simply not open to the idea because their ego has told them that they are bigger and better; any information from the team is simply not worth knowing.

Therefore, we urge you to kill  your ego and take genuine interest in your team. You never know what you could learn from them! Furthermore, creating this type of open dialogue means your team will be more likely to come forward with issues and ideas. As a result, you can take positive steps to resolve issues or take advantage of ideas quickly.

Linked to ego is the need for gratitude and passing your skills on. Give back to the profession by training your team  to be the absolute best they can. Foster mastery, and encourage your people  to come to you with ideas for their own development. What’s more, focus on your own personal development. You may be a leader, but no one will ever be the ‘finished article’. Embark on some introspection and consider the non-clinical skills that you need to improve. This may be time management, delegation, negotiation or emotional intelligence. Each of these factors, when mastered and executed, is likely to have a positive influence on the whole of your team.

There you have it: five tips to avoid being an ostrich. We hope this advice will help you to dig your head out from under the sand, a tactic to be avoided  when tricky situations arise. Better to be an accountable, proactive veterinary leader. 
If you enjoyed this article, then you may also enjoy and benefit from the VetX:Leaders programme, a complete training package that will teach you how to be the leader your team deserves.

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