Wearing All the Hats: How to Be the Owner-Specialist-Boss Manager and Not Go Insane
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011
Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, Greensboro, NC, USA

All the Roles Practices Need to be Successful

"Wearing all the hats: How to be the owner-specialist-boss-manager and not go insane". Can you count the ways that you are pulled in one day? Most practice owners and key managers wear numerous hats. We will define and prioritize the roles. That's the easy part. We will discuss ways to have it all. This means practicing veterinary medicine, enjoying your client relationships and energizing your team.

Successful Practices Require Numerous Leadership and Management Roles: What Are They?

Talk about the potential for an identity crisis. As the head of a veterinary practice, you're required to wear many hats. At any given time, you're likely to find yourself fulfilling the role of:

 Practice owner



 Medical specialist


 Chief communicator


 Head cheerleader/motivator

As the practice owner, you are not just concerned about the medical care being delivered to pets. You are analyzing financial data to keep the business successful, as well as addressing the needs of your clients and your team.

In your role as veterinarian, just the fact that you want to keep up on medical advancements will consume your free time, add to demands on your time by emergency or hospitalized cases and that occasional late night call from a friend of the family with a pet question.

The leader/CEO hat requires not only business sense, but also people sense. You cannot advance the business without communicating with your team, conducting strategic planning, assigning the right people to the right tasks. Taking time to be the visionary leader and then align the practice with the vision is a necessary role for this hat.

The medical specialist brings extensive background in specific training and the most current medical knowledge to your clients. However, it cannot stop here. Are your team members also brought up to date on this knowledge and how it will advance the services provided to your clients and their pets?

As manager, you may find the phrase, "jack of all trades" being applied to your job description. It is typically the manager's role to coordinate the vision, the medicine, the human resource management and the client needs. Read into this the additional roles of repairman, concierge and mediator.

Chief communicator - your team cannot carry out your vision if you fail to communicate with them. Clients will not be compliant if you do not communicate your recommendations. Your team will have unclear expectations, your clients will have unanswered pet health concerns and your patients will suffer from the confusion.

The teacher hat goes beyond the typical classroom image. You are teaching all the time. Teaching your clients about their pets. Teaching your team about medical advancements. Teaching individual team members how to improve their skills and abilities. You cannot simply "leave it up to chance" when you need your team to deliver excellent medical care to every patient, every time.

Motivators are people who will incite, prompt, move to action or incentivize others. One must have an understanding of human needs and behaviors, and how to achieve a win/win for all those involved (patients, clients, team, yourself and the business).

Whatever hat you find yourself wearing, you have one overarching goal: to get your team members to achieve your practice's mission and deliver the best care possible to every patient, every client, every medical chart, every time. Be certain to have a mission statement for your practice and a vision of how you want to achieve this mission. Your next step, communication, will be much easier with these clear and concise thoughts established.

Do not fear discussing financials with your team. It is a hat you must put on, namely, business entrepreneur. Profit is not a bad four letter word, but it can cause negative perceptions when the team is not aware of the status of key practice indicators. Any of the aforementioned hats are involved in practice financials. The practice owner hat may need to discuss expenses as a percentage of revenue and solicit ideas on reducing some administrative expenses. The veterinarian hat may want to promote dentals and will need to set up a scorecard to track and measure dentals recommended by the team and how many dentals are then performed. The cheerleader/motivator may want to reward the team for promoting intestinal parasite prevention so a scorecard is established to measure fecal testing and thus reward the team for going above and beyond prior months. All of this will require you to understand some of your financial reports and the chart of accounts. Once you know where you have been and where you want to go, involve your team.

Through good leadership, team members better appreciate how their actions contribute to a larger good of providing exceptional patient care and client service. Through good leadership and communication, your team will be aware of all the hats that must be worn on a daily basis so as to ensure the success of the business, as well as their own career success and the success of medical care being provided. So what's the difference between a manager and a leader?

A leader sets the practice's vision and goals. A manager communicates the vision to the team so they can accomplish the practice's goals. A leader defines values, establishes the culture, fosters professionalism, and sets benchmarks. A manager handles interpersonal conflicts and provides hands-on direction. A practice's leader and manager isn't necessarily the same person, but every practice needs someone performing each role.

Leadership styles vary. An inspirational leader generates enthusiasm and excitement. An organizational leader plots the path to achieving goals. The strongest leaders meld both qualities and also can recognize strengths and weaknesses in themselves and others. They then match complementary qualities to further benefit the practice while encouraging personal growth.

Your culture and goals must support every team member's commitment to raising the practice's standards of care:

 Patient care

 Client experience

 The business (human resources, operations, marketing, finance and strategic planning)

Here's how leadership can benefit your practice. Say you have a ward attendant or animal care attendant who is committed to improving senior pet care. He may suggest buying measuring cups to ensure that the animals are not over fed and special padded beds to keep the senior pet comfortable while boarding. What "hat" do you put on first? As a practice owner, you may want to sit down with the attendant to discuss the services being provided to the senior boarders. As a veterinarian you may want to review the treatment protocols for senior pets. The teacher/researcher may need to investigate concerns and educate the team. The manager hat may want to promote the special attention senior boarders get at your practice to your clients. Are you raising the bar on patient care? On client service? On business success? Looking at a suggestion, or a situation in your practice requires you to keep all your hats nearby; especially avoiding the desire to simply dismiss the team member who is coming to you with an idea because you do not want to try on a different hat.

Is leadership easy? It is both an art and a science. But it can - and must - be learned.

The team looks to you for direction on how to behave. As the practice leader, you must hold yourself to a higher standard for patient care, customer service, performance, and self-mannerisms. Together, you'll achieve the goals of providing exceptional patient care and customer service and ensuring a successful business.


Speaker Information
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Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting
Greensboro, NC, USA

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