Management Systems for a Successful Veterinary Business
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013
Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting, Irvine, CA, USA

In 1986, Michael Gerber wrote his first book entitled, "The E-Myth." In his book, Mr. Gerber discusses the E-Myth Point of View. Here it is: "The E-Myth is the entrepreneurial myth. The E-myth says that most businesses fail because they are not founded by entrepreneurs, but by technicians, suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure."

The technician goes to work in his business!

The entrepreneur goes to work on his business!

Understanding and acknowledging this difference, the difference between working on your business and not in your business, is what will determine what you will do every day at "work."

What we need to learn is what it takes to create a 'world-class organization' that meets our needs as entrepreneurs, technicians and managers. We need a model of consistency, and to do that we need to develop systems within our practice that work without our having to work on them daily.

How is this Going to Help?

If you ever want to stop working in your business and start to work on your business, you need a system that will work without you being there.

Working on your practice is developing systems that operate effortlessly, mindlessly, systematically, repetitively, predictably, consistently, and uniformly. No matter who is working the system. No matter who the client is. No matter the situation. Every single time.

Working in your practice is spaying cats, removing fractured carnassials, hiring animal caretakers, filling out deposit slips, filing radiographs, etc.

The entrepreneur works on their practice. The technician works in their practice.

Action Item

When you get back into your practice, make a list of the things that you do every day. Everything. Put a "T" next to those things that are you do as a technician. Put an "M" next to those things that are you do as a manager. Put an "E" next to those things that are you do as an entrepreneur.

Systems and How to Develop Them!

A system is a set of things, actions, ideas, and information that interact with each other and in so doing, alter other systems. Almost matches the way a body works. It is basically a recipe.

But what is a system? The system is a clearly defined manner in which a business works, or basically how it is done! How everything is done! The system-dependent or process-dependent business creates replicate-ability in the way everything is done. If your business depends upon you, you can't replicate it twice with any assurance that it will work. However, with a system in place, the business doesn't need you, it has the system. Thus, you can work on your business system (model) and not in your business.

In each of these points, the goal is document, document, document and train, train, train to a level where habits and consistency reign.


What do you want for your life? Both your business life and your personal life. Your business is a tool to accomplish those things that you want for your personal life. You have to know what you want for your personal life, so you can get your business to do it for you.

A team member working for a veterinarian, if they know the direction of the owner's primary aim, they will better be able to develop the system, and thus contribute to the success of the system and the business.

Action Item

Create a personal vision. Write it down! Share it with those around you.


Can you envision the size, the amount of income, profits, the number of staff, the products sold, the services provided, the hours of operation, etc.? What will it feel like, look like, act like for the customer/client? How will it differentiate itself from other veterinary hospitals?

If you have already started your practice, it is not too late to create this vision, and then work on your practice to achieve it. Meet with your practice leadership to get their thoughts, insights, and experiences. They will have details on areas that you might have never thought of. Take all this information and develop the systems to achieve your objective. Focus on every detail.

If you are thinking of starting a new practice from scratch or buying an existing practice, you should try to shape your strategic objective before you start your business. Visit other practices, tap into the various resources that are available: architects and designers, attorneys, accountants, consultants, colleagues, etc. Focus on every detail. It is the details that will differentiate your business from all the others.

Thought: If you don't know what your business is going to look like when you're finally done, how will you know when you get there?

Action Item

Picture the final product that you will call ABC Animal Hospital. Envision every detail from dress code to fees. Write it down!

Organizational Development

If you aren't going to be the one to do all the work, you will need an organization to help you achieve your vision. In the beginning, you might be the one that is in charge of operations, finance, marketing, human resources, etc. As the practice gets bigger, others will fill in these roles as you change from wearing all the hats to just wearing the entrepreneurial hat. However, you must think of the role as a function of the hospital, not as the person who is doing the job. Create the roles and the associated job description, job expectations, etc., so that anybody who is qualified or who can be trained could step in and perform the functions.

If you want to think of this as a corporate organization chart, you will start your business as CEO, CFO, COO, Chief of Marketing, Chief of Sales, Janitorial Supervisor, etc. Each of the 'corporate roles' or 'boxes' must be filled in. And more, each box must have clear expectations. In practice, the people working in the boxes would be the receptionists, while the people working on the boxes would be the managers or supervisors or owner/entrepreneurs.

Your goal as veterinarian/owner is to define the box, fill the box, and get out of the box. Your objective is to delegate, not abdicate. By creating a system for each box or role, you change from a people-dependent organization to a process-dependent organization. Your Organizational Strategy must flow from your Strategic Objective that of course, flowed from your primary aim.

Action Item

Think of the organization of your practice when it is mature/completed. Are you filling in all the boxes? Do you even have clearly defined boxes? Even if you are the only one to fill in all the boxes, make a list of all the roles that need to be filled for your practice (e.g., CFO/Bookkeeper/Accountant; Chief of Marketing; COO/Hospital Administrator; Chief of Service; etc.). For each box/role that you created, define the job description and expectations, the commitment and accountability, not just for you but also for the replacement that you are going to hire. Soon!

One more thing, start at the bottom and work up. Create the positions at the bottom, those that do the tactical work and work up the chart to the manager's roles, the strategic workers. If you don't have the tactical people, you are doing the tactical work. And then who is doing the strategic work?

Finally, the rules that you create for each box must be lived by everybody. If the owner doesn't obey, extol, honor and follow the rules, how do you expect anyone else to take them seriously?

Management Development

The success of a Management Strategy should not have to depend upon the people. The success comes from the development of a management system that anybody can oversee. The management system eliminates the unpredictability of people by orchestrating the process by which management decisions are made by eliminating the decisions whenever possible. Huh?

The goal is to create a system that produces the results you want automatically. The goal is to create an effective and efficient model that runs automatically. This system is what keeps and finds clients.

The answer is found in an operations manual. A series of checklists that are used to train, teach, educate, and monitor the day-to-day workings of the hospital. The checklists itemize the specific steps needed for a person to do his or her job. Each 'box' has its checklist. The checklist is used to confirm accountability to the defined standards. By signing at the bottom, the team member indicates that they did their job. If you sign and don't do the work, it is grounds for dismissal.

Each line item on the checklist has been described and delineated in the manual. Each line item on the checklist has been trained and the trainer is accountable for 'signing off' on the completed training. It becomes very easy for the manager then to just spot check the checklists. The checklist is the system. The people perform the system. Everything that you do in the hospital can have a checklist and an accountable person. The AM receptionist will have checklist that is different than the PM receptionist. IF you have more than one receptionist on at a time, each will have their checklist and accountabilities. And of course this can vary every day. The goal of the checklist is predictability. The little things on the checklists that are routinely forgotten won't be forgotten. The small things are what make a difference.

Action Item

Create the checklists. Flesh out the checklists. Review, monitor, update. Now delegate the checklist monitoring to your managers. Let them oversee the system.

People Development

"And how the heck am I going to get my people to do this?" You're not! You can't get people to do anything they don't want to do anyhow. You need to create a work environment where your people want to do it. People like games, so create a game that they want to play. Create the environment where doing the work is more important to your people than not doing it. Doing it then becomes a way of life.

To do this, start by treating your people as if they are important. Take the operation of the hospital seriously and let everybody know it. The hospital is a reflection of your primary aim and an expression of the owner. Your people will appreciate this.

Stop looking just for employees, but more for players of your game. Start hiring people who want more than just a job. Stop the current approach of hiring, welcoming and sending off to work, all within the first five minutes of a new hire coming in the door. Take the time to introduce your new hires to the culture of the hospital. This will develop a new level of respect. Team performance comes from respect for the ownership and management. Communicate your vision and primary aim well before you ask anybody to work on the necessary tasks. Emphasize that the level of the work that somebody does reflects who you are. Sloppy work says you're sloppy.

Work with your people on the concept that the idea (why) behind the work is more important than the work itself (what). If you get the 'why' across, the 'what' will follow! Your people strategy is how well you communicate the 'game' to them before you hire them, not after they are already working. What is your game? What are the rules?

Of course, your people strategy is an extension of your management strategy and its Operating Manual and the Organizational Strategy that reflects your Strategic Objective and Primary Aim. Communicating the expectations of the business, the standards that have been established for performance and accountability and the vision will motivate both new people as well as current team members. And of course, it is always how leadership acts!

Above, we have talked about systems for every facet of the hospital's operations. This is where you create the system that you will use to recruit, hire and train new team members. Starting with communicating the hospital's vision and continuing through a scripted process to ensure you end up hiring the best people for your system. Remember, the system produces the results. The people manage the system. And it's the system that differentiates your business.

Action Item

Create a script describing why you do what you do and how. Meet with the best applicants to discuss their feelings about your business and how they see their role in working towards the vision. Script follow-up calls and letters of acceptance and rejection. Create a scripted training program that lasts sufficiently long to ensure a skilled team member with confidence to perform and not just a warm body. What's the rush?


Consistency comes from systems!

Think about it, a system is really the solution!


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting
Irvine, CA, USA

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