You might think that the answer to this question has to do with how up-to-date you are with the latest advances in veterinary medicine. Do you have the top-of-the-line equipment? Are your staff members trained in the latest specialties?
Clearly, your medical expertise is paramount. However, your practice is also a business, and it’s important to assess it as a business, too.
Since the success of your veterinary practice starts with the effectiveness of your leadership, I shared, in a previous column, some strategies for assessing your practice’s leadership. A broader assessment of the practice’s business will provide insight that may be related to your leadership but also to management practices and team members’ behavior.
Is the practice growing, shrinking or staying the same? The financial reports on profit and loss provide answers. The number of staff growing or declining is also evidence of growth or decline. Other statistics that may be relevant include:
- the number of unique clients served;
- the number of new clients;
- the number of client visits;
- the number of products sold;
- the revenue (and net) from product sales;
- changes in equipment.
All of these factors can be useful to answer the question of your business’ health.
Assess Your Team Members
Next to the leadership, the strength of any practice is dependent upon the skills and attitudes of the team members. The traditional performance appraisal, usually administered annually by a team member’s supervisor, provides useful assessment. This includes the team members’ performance as defined by their job descriptions against an accepted standard. It should also measure progress toward practice goals and employee’s goals set at a previous assessment. This assessment is crucial for the progress of each employee and for the practice.
This traditional assessment is useful in measuring a team member’s performance but it does not always give the leadership an appreciation of how the team members feel about being a part of the team. Do they sense inequities among team members? Do they feel overlooked? This input is more likely to come from an assessment of the leadership.
An issue that is important to assess is team cohesion. Individual assessments can review the extent to which one team member contributes to team cohesion, but the leadership needs to review input from all of the team members to get a sense of teamwork.
Assess Internal Communication
Effective leadership and team cohesiveness both depend on skilled communication. Assessing communication, as a separate focus, can be exceedingly useful. It can, however, be quite complex. The reason for this is because of the many directions in which communication travels. Can we measure upward communication, downward communication, horizontal communication, plus two additional directions, outward and inward?
If any of your assessment strategies indicate that internal communication is an issue, you might consider bringing in an outside evaluator to do a communication audit. This can locate who is addressing whom and how effective the communication is.
How effective is your communication with your clients — or potential clients? This has to do with your advertising and face to the community through your website and social media. Do you know where your clients hear about you? Do you know that impression your presence makes?
One way that pet owners learn about veterinary practices is to go to the Yelp! website or other online review websites. Unfortunately, that is usually where disgruntled employees or clients go. Be sure you know what is being written about your practice, if anything.
A more effective process of gathering client feedback, and one that usually forestalls unhappy clients going to Yelp! is the use of a client survey. Much of that feedback provides insight to the behavior of the front desk staff or techs with whom they interact. It also reflects the leadership. Instead of relying on Yelp! or Google Alert, provide a survey instrument to clients as they exit the practice.
The La Jolla Veterinary Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., provides such a survey through VetStreet, which is tied to their electronic records. The Rhinebeck Animal Hospital in Rhinebeck, N.Y., even provides a survey on its website to solicit feedback at any time. Animal Hospital of Rowlett Veterinary Clinic in Rowlett, Texas, offers a $5 credit to be used on the client’s next visit when the client completes its client satisfaction survey.
Cathy Levendoski, senior marketing director of Henry Schein Animal Health, told me that Henry Schein’s Rapport tool also has a useful client survey that practices can use to obtain feedback from a visit. It is totally customizable so that you can assess whatever feedback is important to you.
“Not only does this help clinics know what they do well and what they need to improve, but it also gives positive reviews that can be published to a clinic’s website or social media feeds, which encourages future visits from prospective clients,” Levendoski said.
A tool known as GO, from InTouch Practice Communication, monitors the electronic landscape. To ensure that your website it being seen or useful, InTouch can help you review and improve its use. It looks for keywords and phrases that your current potential customers might use when reviewing your practice and your competitors online and through social media. It’s basically a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) magnet.
Bottom line: Assessing your practice’s leadership, crunching the numbers, evaluating team members and reviewing your internal and external communication are as important as your medical expertise in reaching your clients and ensuring best care for their pets.
Carolyn C. Shadle, Ph.D., is the co-owner of ICS Workplace Communication (www.veterinariancommunication.com ). Shadle was awarded her Ph.D. by the State University of New York at Buffalo in interpersonal and organizational communication and has trained managers and team members in businesses as diverse as General Mills and Oracle’s Sun Microsystems. She is a certified Myers-Briggs assessor and trained with Gordon Training International. Find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.