12 ways to manage your manager


Tired of being stepped on at work? It's time to stand tall and get on top of your career by improving your communication skills.

You go to work every day ready to grab life by the tail, right? Well, sort of. As a veterinary team member, a lot of your job satisfaction and success is based upon the practice environment, and that's usually set by your practice manager or hospital owner. At times, you may feel like you're helpless to change that environment.

But you're more than a tiny voice in your practice. You possess the ability to influence the culture in your workplace and determine the outcome of your day. When you work alongside your management team instead of simply working under it, you can quit the cat-and-mouse communication game found in so many practices.

Consider this: Your manager is not a predator, and you're not prey. You're a valuable member of your veterinary practice. And if you're feeling unappreciated, it's time to change how you're managed and how you work with your manager. So don't get caught in the trap of poor management. Here are 12 tips for scurrying to the top.

1. Take a language lesson. What's your manager's communication preference? In other words, how does she prefer to process information? Does she tend to make instantaneous decisions or ponder things for a while? Does she think big picture or focus on smaller details? Does she come to work in the morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or is she most alert and aware in the afternoon? Consider all of these factors when deciding how to approach your manager.

2. Do your homework. When possible, solve your own minor work issues and demonstrate that you don't need to rely on your manager to resolve everything. But do inform her of anything that will directly affect her. Follow the "What-So-Now" rule. When you discuss an issue with your manager, fill her in on:

What: What is the issue?

So: What does it mean?

Now: What will you do?

3. Develop a plan. You have great ideas, but your vision isn't so great unless you've actually figured out how to implement it. Your manager is busy, so don't approach her with a half-baked idea that still needs tons of brainstorming and development. What are the benefits of your idea? How will you put things in motion? Clearly identify this, as well as what the end result will be. It's easier for a boss to approve a fully formed idea that doesn't require work on her part. Remember, your goal is to get your idea in place, not add it to the pit where good thoughts go to be forgotten.

4. Show compassion. Let's say you work with Sandy at the front desk. Her grandmother passed away over the weekend and you and your team will go out of your way to give her an extra smile to show you care. But, honestly, would you do the same for your boss? If the head veterinary technician seems out of sorts, you might first assume she's mad at one of your team members or unhappy about someone's job performance. But maybe she had a stressful weekend. While you and your veterinary team members might hold the management team to higher standards, remember that they're human too. Treat them as such.

5. Take time to talk. Ask to have a 10-minute meeting with your manager on a regular basis. Use this time to touch base and to ask how you can be more productive. It's easier to go above and beyond when you know what your boss expects of you.

6. Forget gossip girl. Gossip is unproductive and can damage your team and your practice. Avoid making negative comments about your boss to other team members. If you have an issue with someone, talk directly to that person, not everyone else in the building. These are the times to put on your big-girl professional pants.

7. Build street cred. You won't be able to influence your manager if you don't have credibility within your practice. You can build that credibility by doing your job well and maintaining a professional demeanor in all interactions with clients, team members, and patients. Not sure if you're making this happen? Ask your fellow team members or your manager for feedback.

8. Know that it's not all about you. Before you make any decision at work, ask yourself: What is the best choice for the client, the patient, and the practice? Your actions should demonstrate that you've considered what's right for the business, not just for yourself.

9. (Over) Deliver. If you commit to get something done, then do it right and on time. Better yet: Finish the task before it's due. This sends the message that you're focused on performance. It also builds trust, which is exactly what you need to be able to influence your boss.

10. Market yourself. There's a big difference between shameless self-promotion and marketing yourself. Your actions need to be genuine. For example, Sheri has a habit of arguing with other team members and pointing out what they're doing wrong (and how she does things right). That's self-promotion. Ann, however, participates in meetings, offers to help with projects, and keeps her manager up to date on her progress. That's smart marketing. Let your actions demonstrate your ability, but don't keep it a complete secret. Start with an accomplishment journal—a list you can use to keep track of major work accomplishments. Share that list with your manager when you prepare for an evaluation.

If you're not getting regular evaluations, pinpoint your anniversary date and ask your boss to sit down with you then to discuss your performance. Make it clear that you're interested in discussing performance planning not wages. You can focus on pay after you've agreed on how well you're doing at the practice.

11. Learn to accept other viewpoints. As a veterinary team member, it's important that you understand that your boss might have a different way of communicating or responding. And that's OK. Oftentimes, team members expect a boss to behave a certain way and are baffled when this doesn't happen. Instead, accept the differences and look for ways to engage in meaningful, productive interactions with your manager.

Imagine this scenario: Tracy, a practice manager, tends to talk over others when she gets excited or emotional. Naomi, the customer care leader, finds this frustrating. Conversations between the two often end without anyone making a decision. So Naomi decided to preface statements with, "Let me tell you the three things I want to do," then succinctly explains her list. If she's interrupted, she says, "Please let me finish." Conversations are now more productive and each person feels like she can explain her viewpoint. Remember, the goal is to communicate, not make situations more difficult.

12. Give your needs a voice. David, your practice manager, asks you to lead the training on a new veterinary software upgrade. You're unsure what you'll need to complete the task. So ask the important clarifying questions: Who, what, where, when, why, and how. Understanding these expectations will allow you to follow through in an efficient manner.

Launching a new way of managing up will take time. You'll need to consider all the above stops along the way. Plan for them and make them part of your journey to a place where satisfaction lives, productivity reigns, and management is a two-way street. Now that's worth climbing toward.

Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, is a partner at VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Send comments to firstline@advanstar.com or post them online at http://dvm360.com/comment.

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