Heather has spent over 25 years in small animal practice, teaches veterinary technology and assistance programs, and is the author of Front Office Management for the Veterinary Team. She lectures on topics ranging from grief management for health care professionals to nutrition, inventory, communications, and veterinary team management. She has also written several articles and participated in published roundtable discussions on these topics.
Currently, Heather provides consulting services for veterinary hospitals and is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary University and VetMedTeam. She serves on several advisory committees and is the Program Chair of the Technician Program at the North American Veterinary Conference. Heather was named the 2014 Veterinary Technician of the Year and Continuing Educator of the Year for 2016 at the Western Veterinary Conference.Read Articles Written by Heather Prendergast
A common scenario that occurs in practices throughout the United States is the advancement of a long-time team member into a leadership role. Of course this seems absolutely logical; internal team members are familiar with the practice’s policies and procedures. This person probably possesses many of the skills needed to excel in a leadership role. However, the one attribute he or she may not have is the ability to overcome the resistance of colleagues who either applied for the same position or lack confidence in the newly promoted manager’s ability to lead the team.
Congratulations if you have recently been promoted into a managerial or leadership role! It’s crucial to convey to your team that a leader cannot succeed without his or her team and that a successful team needs a leader to help provide the vision to achieve goals. Every organization should have a mission, vision, and values statement that helps provide guidance to the entire team. When every team member accepts and supports the mission and vision, the road to a positive work environment is paved with respect for one another. That road comes with speed bumps—all of which can be overcome with superior leadership, respect, integrity, and enthusiasm.
Step 1: Craft a Mission, Vision, and Values Statement
The mission, vision, and values (MVVs) of a hospital or practice are core competencies that must be integrated into every practice. MVVs set the structure, establishing a positive culture and goals that help define team member expectations. Without these, team members have no direction; they simply show up to work and complete the tasks assigned to them. Owners make it day to day, with no clear light at the end of the tunnel, and managers struggle to implement successful goals and policies to increase value in the hospital.
Ask the team to help establish the MVVs. Of course, the owner’s viewpoint is critical, but so is the team’s. If team members are invested in creating the MVVs, they will hold themselves accountable in upholding them. This is an imperative first step for a new leader who will be managing an existing team.
Step 2: Provide Inspired Leadership
Successful leaders are influencers; they spur team members into action and motivate them to be the best that they can be. They guide their teams by employing clear communication and creating an environment that facilitates and encourages teamwork.
Communication is a two-way street. Exceptional leaders establish workplace environments where team members are empowered to communicate openly, voice their concerns, and make changes where necessary. Leaders invite creative thinking from team members and integrate this creative thinking into daily conversations. Creative thinking facilitates productive, problem-solving team members who are not afraid to think—and act—outside the box.
Leadership must also be demonstrated daily through one’s character, behavior, and actions. A leader must model the characteristics, behaviors, and actions that he or she wants the team to demonstrate day in and day out. By being a role model, leaders compel individuals to support the mission, value, and goals of the leader.
Step 3: Delegate to Others
Newly elevated leaders soon realize there are many responsibilities that come with the promotion. Too often, newly appointed leaders feel that if they delegate, it will signal weakness or the inability to handle the job. But the truth is that effective leadership includes delegating and empowering team members to aid in the completion of tasks and end goals. Respect the talents and contributions of your team members and give them responsibilities that match their skill sets. For successful delegation, establish SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) for them.The criteria for these goals are outlined in BOX 1.
- Specific: Simple, Sensible, or Significant
- Measurable: Meaningful or Motivating
- Attainable: Achievable or Agreed
- Realistic: Reasonable, Relevant, or Results-based
- Time bound: Time-based, Time-limited, Time/cost-limited, Timely, or Time-sensitive
Step 4: Provide Training and Continuing Education
Every team member requires training in the veterinary practice. This starts the first day of employment and continues through the last day. High-quality training takes time and must be achieved in phases; each phase is successfully completed before the next phase starts.
Phase training is crucial for new employees to ensure their success and to avoid creating potholes in the road that is being paved. Team members can help create a phase training program and should be asked to help implement it. They can be accountable for any new team member assigned to them.
Also implement yearly education requirements for team members, which sparks passion and excitement. Allow team members to implement what they have learned. When a team member returns from a continuing education course, work with him or her to incorporate the new procedure into the practice.
Step 5: Leverage the Passion of the Team
Every support team member drives passive income (DVMs drive active income), so ensure each team member is completing the tasks they have the capabilities to contribute. When a team member seems disengaged, take the time to have a conversation to determine a course of action that will reignite his or her passion. Leveraging team members drives income, client retention, and team member respect.
Step 6: Recognize Team Contributions
Team members are energized when they receive recognition, so be sure to recognize a team member for his or her contributions when it is warranted. While it’s also necessary to correct mistakes that are made, don’t let this be the only communication they hear from you. Take the time to applaud excellent work.
Putting It All Together
A team is a simple concept: a group of individuals with different skills and attributes that contribute to the positive culture of the practice. Effective leaders build teams that allow the business to succeed at all levels, including providing excellent patient and client care, maintaining a friendly and cohesive work environment, and maintaining a profit for the practice.
Respect does not happen overnight, nor does it come with a position title. An outstanding leader earns respect by providing clear, mission-guided goals, modeling expected behavior, utilizing others’ talents and skills effectively, recognizing contributions, exhibiting patience, and even making mistakes (and taking responsibility for them). Only then will you be an effective, influential leader who has earned the respect of your team.
- Prendergast H. Front Office Management for the Veterinary Team, 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2019.