Your Assistant Has Just Quit. What Went Wrong? Managing Professionals
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2008
Geoffrey Little, MVB, MRCVS
Bramhall, Stockport, Cheshire, UK

The loss of an assistant can provide practice owners or managers with an insight into their businesses and the exit interview may well highlight deficiencies in the way their businesses are run. Practice reviews invariably produce a list of commonly occurring weaknesses, as viewed by assistants, in the way veterinary practices are managed, namely:

 Lack of opportunity for personal development

 Lack of leadership

 Poor communication from above

 Little or no support for new graduates

Good Management

Good management comes from a mixture of effective leadership and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Effective leadership entails managing all the practice assets and achieving your objectives through the efforts of the entire team. One of the practice's main assets which doesn't appear on the balance sheet is the practice team but all too often 'management' fails to communicate with the team just what it is trying to achieve. The result can be a well paid and highly qualified team that is frustrated and which underperforms, through no fault of its own.

Traditional leadership tended to work on a hierarchical principal with clear and narrow responsibilities and a 'shape up or ship out' mentality. Certain aspects of the command and control inherent in the traditional method have a role to play in modern businesses, and when it comes to areas of Health and Safety and other legislative areas there is little or no room for individual interpretation; hence the need for SOPs.

Successful, modern leadership traits are aimed at providing team members with confidence in the leader, a sense of belonging along with excitement in the job. Leaders need to convey their vision of the business to the rest of the team in terms of where it is going and why, along with each individual's role in that journey. Managers need to understand what makes each individual tick and this can only be achieved by regular two-way meetings with each individual. Different things make different individuals tick and different things make the same individual tick at different points in their careers but generally speaking you will find the following high on most peoples' lists:

 An interesting job

 SMART goals to aim for


 To work within a fair environment

We all like an interesting and challenging job that broadens our skills, but all too often those are not distributed fairly amongst team members. Another common finding on the exit interview is that when interesting jobs have been handed to others it has been without the necessary support or training. As vets we are not very good at delegating, better at abdicating!

Everybody in the team should have a job description and part of the regular review is to establish whether that job description is still relevant. In addition there should be SMART goals in place. SMART goals are Specific, Realistic, Measurable, Agreed and Time related.

Everybody likes to be appreciated. We spend too much time criticising our team members and not enough time catching them doing something right!

A fair environment is one in which there is a fair financial reward for the effort provided; where everybody knows their own role and that of others, but where everybody is happy to help others out in times of need; where there is a clear reporting structure and where there is good communication channels in place, upwards and well as downwards.

Regular practice meetings are the best way of communicating with the team. To be effective they need to:

 Be relevant to those in attendance

 Be held regularly and at defined times to ensure maximum attendance

 Identify and address the important issues

 Produce an action list

 Move the business forward

Although a great deal may be gleaned from an employee who is leaving, it may well be a jaundiced view, and it is much better to learn about your business at an earlier stage when improvements can be introduced. It may well result in your retaining those team members you would not like to lose.

Speaker Information
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Geoff Little, MVB, MRCVS
Stockport, Cheshire, UK

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