4 top questions from new practice managers
Here are four of the most common questions new managers ask.
I've been promoted to manager and am having trouble transitioning into the role of disciplinarian rather than friend. How can I get along with my co-workers and be their boss?
“One of the first things you have to realize is that your co-workers will see you differently,” says Nancy Potter, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan. And this is a good thing. As a manager, you are now responsible for initiating changes. You must help your team members become stronger in order to make your team more effective. “You cannot be afraid to act like a manager by providing direction, giving feedback, helping to resolve problems, and dealing with performance issues,” Potter says.
This doesn't mean that from this day forward, you'll be eating lunch alone. According to Potter, in order to establish credibility and build commitment from your staff while maintaining a collegial relationship, you need to remember how you felt before your promotion. What things did you wish management would consider? What did you want? What motivated you? “Your team wants to know what to expect, where they stand, how they can improve, and how to grow and be challenged,” says Potter.
In order to demonstrate your humility and dedication, you'll need to talk openly with your team members. Be honest with them. Defend them. And continue to laugh with them. “If they have a sense that you are working to make things better, they will be more willing to cooperate and communicate with you.” And, they'll be more likely to invite you to lunch.
I've just been promoted to manager but the practice owner won't give me any authority. How can I get through to the boss?
Scream. Yell. Demand the authority that you deserve. It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, right? Although this old adage may be pertinent in some situations, Jennifer Inbody, CVPM, PHR, founder of Lead Dog Consultants in Punta Gorda, Fla., recommends a more diplomatic approach.
Set up an appointment with the owner to sit down and engage in a frank discussion. If the owner is apprehensive about releasing control-and many are, Inbody says-this will allow you to find out why. “As an effective way to start this dialogue, the manager can create or discuss their written job description with the practice owner,” she says. This way you'll know what expectations the owner has for you. Once you've confirmed those expectations, work tenaciously to meet them.
Also use this initial meeting to confirm a regular appointment on the owners' calendar. “It is imperative that the practice owner and manager maintain open lines of communication,” Inbody says. This will allow both of you to stay on the same page. Knowledge is power. In doing this, you will gain confidence in your position as manager. “As your level of confidence grows, the level of confidence the practice owner has in you will grow as well,” Inbody says.
I'm a technician who's been promoted to manager. I miss working with patients and feel a little uncomfortable dealing with people. Is there anything I can do?
Promotions can be challenging, but they often provide an opportunity for personal growth. This is especially true for technicians. “For most of us who come from the technical background, we had a different relationship with the pets and their people,” says Gina Toman, RVT, who was practice manager at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “Get out from behind the desk and engage with your pet patients. Take that opportunity to meet their pet parents.”
Toman also says that being proactive will help dissipate your fears. In order to be proactive, you will have to recognize times that are appropriate for interacting with clients and seize those moments. “I find opportunities during my day to go out in the lobby or into the exam rooms and sit down and love on the pets while engaging the clients in a conversation,” she says. Not only does this give you time to interact with the pets, but it also helps you bond with the client in a different light and allows you to build a relationship.
It's true that dealing with people can be difficult. And, everyone is different. With some clients, it will only take one interaction before you become instant pals. With others it may take longer. According to Toman, it may be best to take baby steps. “For me, I found that making small adjustments to my behavior seemed to help versus coming on strong,” she says.
I'm managing team members who are older than me, and they make negative comments about my age. How can I gain their respect?
When Kate Corum, CVPM, was practice manager at Shallowford Animal Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., she managed team members who were five years younger than her and some who were more than 20 years her senior. “I was concerned when I accepted the position as practice manager at the age of 25,” says Corum. She knew that she'd have to work extra hard to gain respect.
But if you act respectable, that job is easier. Start by leading by example. “We had many protocols and policies, and I was careful to follow the letter of the law in each case,” Corum says.
What not to do: Adopt the mentality that it's my way or the highway. Flaunting your authority almost guarantees that the older members of your team will continue to make comments about your youthfulness, says Corum who's now with the veterinary consulting firm VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Instead, try to open a dialogue with them. When it's appropriate, make a conscious effort to include them in the decision-making process. By including these experienced team members, they'll see that you're willing to work with them and that their opinions are important to you.
This positive working relationship will help you transform the negative age-related comments into positive comments about your leadership. “Team members were often included in the construction of the policies so that they had a full understanding of the reason for the new or updated guideline,” Corum says. “They felt as if they were a part of the growth of the practice and of the team. I treated all team members the same. Therefore, they knew the limits and felt no need to push them.”