How To Avoid Sad Supervisors

Did your supervisor fall into their job? Here’s why it’s bad.

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This past month, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Wisconsin Veterinary Technician Association at their annual meeting in Madison. It was an impressive group, with more than 450 techs in attendance. I was focusing, as so often I do, on the non-medical topics such as client communication, human resources and compassion fatigue. One of my favorite lectures was titled, “Moving to Management.” In my own personal experience, management was not so much a conscious decision, as it was a gradual taking on management-type duties over time until, guess what, you’re the supervisor now!  From others I’ve spoken with, this is most often what happens, and it can be dangerous for both the practice and the person who has unknowingly taken on a management position. 

The way it happens is fairly simple. The boss gets busy — they have too many people and not often time to manage them, so they start delegating duties. They pick someone from the practice team, and usually it is either the “best” technician or front-office person, or the one that has been around the longest. They are marked for management without any real offer presented for discussion.  Then, the supervisor is virtually alone, trying to handle these management tasks, without any real training or often, without even the time to get the job done. They are still expected to work on the floor 75 percent of the time, and the other 25 percent is supposed to be dedicated to administrative work ‘when it’s slow.’ However, it is never slow enough to put in the thought and attention to detail needed to get these management tasks accomplished.

Our profession isn’t helping much, because there is no true training aimed at this supervisory position, also often called “lead” or “head,” i.e., Lead Technician or Head Receptionist. There are plenty of opportunities for upper management at conferences and even management training programs, but the supervisors, who bear the brunt of being stuck between the team and the leadership, they are often on their own. 

All of this needs to change, from the time a leader even starts thinking they need some management assistance.  This is how it SHOULD look:

  1. “Boss” decides to delegate some management duties, and decides on this list ahead of time.
  2. “Boss” creates a job description for the management position they want to introduce into the practice.
  3. The job opening now created is posted, allowing anyone on the team to throw their hat in the race, before and in tangent with opening up the position to the general public.
  4. The recruiting and hiring process works, and the practice ends up with the most fitting match:  Someone who wants the job, and someone who is qualified to do it.
  5. Training for the supervisor begins, and covers all the topic important to middle management, including leadership, human resources, communication, training, scheduling, etc.

Wow, now doesn’t that make sense?  So why is we don’t do it this way in real life? It’s a shame, because once a person is handed a supervisor title, if it doesn’t work out for the best, often that employee will leave the practice altogether. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

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