7 strategies for finding and keeping great associates


Good associates are rarer than hen's teeth, so how do you attract them to your cozy practice and keep them?

Good associates are rarer than hen's teeth, so how do you attract them to your cozy practice and keep them? Don't worry—I've distilled the wisdom of many conversations with owners and associates into these seven mantras. Chant them regularly until they make sense and work for you. They will lead you on a path to peaceful relations with associates. A bonsai tree and a yoga mat are optional.

Craig Woloshyn, DVM

1 I speak, therefore I do.

We all believe that our word is iron, but when business and financial decisions become difficult, our promises sometimes become squishy. When you hire an associate, you should state all of the employment details in writing. Then, when you have a dispute or difference of memory, you can both refer to the written contract. Contracts are legal documents, true, but they're also records of the agreements you and your associate made on that romantic evening when the world was a bright and pretty place and she agreed to work overtime for you.

Associates aren't always experienced with contracts and negotiation, so you need to take the lead. Be fair—what would you accept if you were in her shoes? Agree on that and don't ever renege. There's nothing more disillusioning to a team member than a boss who's soft on his word. Keep your promises.

2 They do it, they get paid for it.

Too many owners either don't understand production pay or use it unfairly to their advantage. Set up a fair percentage and write down everything the associates get credit for. Let associates check their production on the computer at any time. Give them a method of recourse when staff members make mistakes.

And most important, be generous. If you find yourself quarrelling over who gets credit for a CBC, you've already lost the battle—the doctor will soon be gone. Give your associate the benefit of the doubt; the money in question is usually minimal, but the goodwill is inestimable.

3 If they'll use it, they can have it.

I like to close my surgeries with handmade sheep-gut sutures that have been pounded on ancient granite stones by a small tribe in the upper Amazon. My associate uses sutures made out of materials I can't spell and thinks I'm frozen in time. Choices of sutures, antibiotics, and vaccines can easily become major bones of contention around a hospital—not because of consistency of medical care, but because of simple preference.

If your associate wants something new—and it's not a serious issue that compromises consistency of care at your clinic—get it. Maybe the whole clinic will start using it eventually. The only requirement should be that the doctor dispenses it at a fair price. Your associate will be happy, your patients will be well treated, and you'll make more money. After all, new medicines and products are generally more expensive and have better profit margins.

4 What gets rewarded gets repeated.

You want your associate to stay with you for a long time, become an integral part of the practice, and eventually run the place while you lounge around on your yacht. Well, one of the most effective ways to help associates grow is to compliment them and brag about them.

Pat them on the back when they complete a particularly difficult case. Tell clients about their knowledge and skills. Put their names on the door and on business cards, and put their diplomas on the wall. Associates—like most everybody else—thrive on a diet of well-earned praise.

5 Work is flexible, time is not.

If there's one thing the new generation has taught us, it's that work-life balance is possible. To keep associates happy, you must practice excellent time management in your clinic and give them time for personal and family life.

This begins with your contracted vacation time and work schedule (see the first mantra) and extends to no-consequences time off for personal emergencies, day care problems, and an early departure for an anniversary date with a spouse. Opening, closing, and lunch times must be adhered to. Caseload must be adequate but not overwhelming so everybody can generate a good income in a short time.

6 What's mine is ours.

Associates sometimes complain that they don't get their fair share of the profitable work. Owners may keep the best-trained technicians for themselves. Associates may get only the simple cases or the grumpy and noncompliant clients. And young doctors may not get a high number of surgeries because they're not fast enough yet (but without practice, how will they ever be?). Don't allow favoritism at your practice. Share the clients and team members evenly.

7 Show me your knowledge, and I'll show you mine.

Young doctors need mentoring. More experienced doctors need collaboration. Develop a mentoring and collaboration program, starting with rounds and radiography readings. Schedule a doctors' meeting every week to discuss cases and new developments in the profession. Keep medical textbooks, journals, and online resources at your fingertips. Buy (within reason) medications and products that are new and innovative. Collaborating, rather than issuing orders, makes the practice more than the sum of its doctors.

Tack these mantras to your office wall as a first step toward creating a positive practice atmosphere and addressing some of the most common associate concerns. Whenever you find yourself grumbling about the younger set, see if there isn't a mantra that fits the situation. Then climb up on the nearest counter, cross your legs, and begin your chanting.

Editor's Note: Why should owners have all the fun? Associates, watch for your mantras for working with owners in the next Talking Points.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Craig Woloshyn has associates snatch the pebble from his hand as owner of Animal Medical Center in Spring Hill, Fla. He also shares his ancient wisdom through Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com

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