3 (unconventional) keys to surviving an economic downturn


In a presentation yesterday at the North American Veterinary Conference, Shawn McVey recommended creating a culture of learning to improve practice finances.

If your veterinary practice is struggling, your first thought might be that the owners will cut hours or try to increase their marketing efforts. While those strategies could work, Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, owner of McVey Management Solutions in Chicago, suggests a strategy that extends beyond the numbers. He says you must create a learning practice by implementing these three keys:

1. Create a supportive learning environment

Build psychological safety.

Employees need to feel comfortable raising constructive criticism. If team members can be heard uttering phrases such as, “We got in trouble,” “She’ll get mad at us,” or “She won’t like that,” odds are good that your veterinary practice does not feel psychologically safe.

Appreciate differences. Team members with varied ways of thinking just might come up with new ideas.Be open to new ideas. Speaking of, if someone suggests a tactic or program the practice hasn’t tried before, consider giving it a shot rather than immediately dismissing it with a, “This is how we’ve always done it.”

Offer time for reflection. When employees literally sit and think, they can focus on what’s working and what isn’t.

2. Institute concrete learning processes and practices

Use blameless reporting. Rather than pointing fingers when there’s a service problem, analyze what went wrong. Set the tone for this by replacing phrases like “error” and “investigation” with “accidents” and “analysis.” This wording invites open debate and solution-finding without laying blame.

Ask the right questions. To help team members truly learn from “accidents,” ask these questions:What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What do we do next time?

3. Put in place leadership behavior that reinforces learning

Involve the team.Practice leaders must actively question and listen to the team members to prompt constructive dialogue and debate. This shows employees that owners and managers want them to learn.

Transfer knowledge. Lead team members, such as the practice manager--head technician, or head customer service representative--must share their insider knowledge with new employees. If they feel threatened by new team members, your practice is struggling.

How is all this unconventional? It flies in the face of the idea that strong leadership is sufficient to create a thriving practice. Instead, it promotes the idea that the entire team must be sufficiently trained and engaged in order for a veterinary practice to offer quality pet care and build a healthy bottom line.

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