When The Boss Is The Problem

Posted: Aug. 31, 2012, 8:10 p.m. EDT



It is not uncommon after giving a presentation for me to be approached by support staff that fully admits that the problem in the veterinary practice is the boss. The team recognizes that change is needed, and sometimes the boss does, too, but there is no forward motion sustained…and the boss is the one who ultimately needs to motivate and lead the team toward the change. Sometimes the problem has a name (a first and last name, if you get my drift); other times it’s a protocol that needs to be addressed. Perhaps a policy needs written or revised, or it’s the boss’s behavior that is causing the problem. There are so many scenarios, but the common denominator is the difficulty in convincing the boss to DO something.

How do we start the conversation so change can be the result? It is typical for us to approach the boss about how WE feel, how we’re affected by the issue, what we think is the problem. Yet for the boss to commit to a change, you must help him or her discover how this problem affects them personally. Sure, your boss wants you to be happy, but until it causes him or her pain, sustainable change won’t happen.

To start, figure out what is your boss’s hot button—is s/he the most concerned about client service (providing the best client experience), patient care (providing the highest quality medicine), or the financial success of the practice (generating a substantial profit). If the owner has developed a Mission or Vision for the practice, can you tie in the issue with this statement?

For example, let’s say the boss seems most concerned about creating the best client experience, and in the mission there is a statement that reflects that concern. For this scenario, let’s say the problem as the staff sees it is that the office manager isn’t effective at her job; she’s lazy, doesn’t stay up front but instead “hides” in her office, and ignores client complaints so other staff members must handle the angry family. How does this behavior affect the delivery of great client service? The conversation to the owner would sound something like this:

“Dr. Furrdoc, I know your vision for this practice includes creating a great client experience, and I’m concerned that we are falling short. Lucy, our office manager, seems to be avoiding client complaints by staying out of the front area. More of our client issues are going unresolved, and I’m concerned that we will lose clients if these issues are not addressed.”

Here are some other scenarios and ways to tie them into the values of the practice owner:

“Dr. Furrdoc, here at ABC Vet Clinic I know we pride ourselves of providing the highest quality patient care. Recently there have been more employees coming in late for their shift. This makes it difficult for us to complete patient treatments in a timely manner, and have time to round on the cases so we know they are receiving the best care possible. Maybe it’s time to set a firm policy on tardiness?”

“Dr. Furrdoc, you have worked hard to create a successful business here. I also know that in general, the typical profit margin for a veterinary practice is challenging. Perhaps if we had more opportunities to meet as a team, we could discuss the charges we are accidentally missing and ways to ensure we get paid for the services we provide.”

Speak TO the owner of the practice, not just AT him or her, and avoid talking about how the issue is making you feel. Instead, explain the concern in a way that makes him or her feel the pain, and there is a greater chance that change will be initiated and/or sustained in the practice.

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