Team Approach to Hospital Profit Planning
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2004
Lowell Ackerman, DVM, DACVD, MBA, MPA
Bizvet (
Westborough, MA, USA

Running a successful veterinary organization is much more like being captain of a ship than it is a military chain of command, yet many practices operate on this latter command-and-control philosophy. Being the boss stifles creative solutions by staff and makes dramatic profitability enhancements more difficult to achieve.

To achieve strategically for the future, it is necessary to have a plan that can be implemented by all practice staff. BARKsm (Business Assessment Report Kard) is an excellent way to empower practice teams and make practices more profitable. The basic premise of such a program is to unite staff to common strategic goals, and having them focus on practice goal attainment, but not specifically on profit.

BARKsm focuses on vision and strategy and keeping an eye on the big picture, while allowing practice teams to come up with creative solutions to achieve desired outcomes. For example, practice owners (preferably with the assistance of a properly-trained consultant) will create strategic goals for a practice. BARKsm serves as the monitoring device for determining whether the practice remains on course and whether objectives are being achieved. If the practice owner is considered the pilot of the practice aircraft, then BARKsm serves as the instrumentation, providing immediate feedback, similar to the gauges in the cockpit.

Where does financial assessment fit into the BARKsm system? The financial analysis is an important component of BARKsm, but it serves more like a rear-view mirror than a front-looking gauge of speed, course, and performance. Financial analysis tells us the results of our previous decisions, and is only a very loose predictor of future performance. If we look at our past average transaction charges, this tells us what we have being doing to date, but doesn't tell us how to increase that amount by 20%. For that we need to look forwards, not backwards.

The BARKsm system turns from qualitative to quantitative by utilizing continuous performance measurement, just as using the odometer and speedometer help keep a journey on track, or measuring heart rate, tissue oxygenation, and blood pressure help assure a successful outcome to a surgical procedure.

BARKsm is also a form of internal marketing, reaching out to the staff to accomplish the strategic goals of the practice. Many practices fail miserably at this task when the goal is to motivate staff to bring in more revenue. This tactic often falls flat when employees perceive that their relatively low-paying positions are being leveraged to separate more money from clients, solely for the purposes of profit.

The BARKsm method takes a balanced approach to achieving strategic outcomes. While management usually determines the strategic vision and mission of the organization, all other aspects of BARKsm are planned and achieved by the involvement of all staff members. In many veterinary organizations, a command-and-control style of management is employed, with orders coming down from the owner(s)/managers, and tasks being carried out by employees, most with little or no opportunity to advance in their positions. In many cases, this top-down approach gives the veterinarian / owner / manager a feeling of power, but little real progress can typically be made with this regimented approach.

© 2004 Lowell Ackerman DVM DACVD MBA MPA. Part of this material has been taken from Business Basics for Veterinarians and Management Basics for Veterinarians, and may not be reproduced without written consent of author.

BARK is a Service Mark of PHI, Inc.


1.  Ackerman, L: Management Basics for Veterinarians. ASJA Press, 2003

2.  Ackerman, L: Business Basics for Veterinarians. ASJA Press, 2002

3.  Kaplan, RS; Norton, DP: The Balanced Scorecard. HBS Press, 1996.

Speaker Information
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Lowell Ackerman, DVM, DACVD, MBA, MPA
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
Dermatology Service
Walpole, MA

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