Accountability is responsibility taken to the next level.

Accountability is responsibility taken to the next level.

Each employee must complete his or her work properly and at the right time in order for the practice to provide excellent customer service and patient care.

In order to have accountability, each employee must take ownership of the outcomes they are responsible for.

A staff that models accountability at the highest philosophical level is a staff that is empowered. Striving to achieve the practice vision of providing excellent customer service and patient care will often guide the staff to make proper decisions and take appropriate action when an incident arises which calls for someone to take control and solve the problem.

An example would be identifying the proper solution to convert an angry customer into a satisfied client.

In many practices, developing a culture of accountability at the larger philosophical level is easier than accountability at its lowest level.

That is because in most practices, the rewards are much larger for those heroic efforts that solve large, visible problems such as angry clients. The challenge for many practices is the seemingly less rewarding repetitive tasks that must be performed dozens of times each day. Based on volume alone, these tasks actually contribute more to the success and growth of the practice. A new veterinarian may handle 20 office visits today, but only deal with one angry client.

Here are some simple tips to help you develop a culture of accountability wherever your practice.

  • Develop Standards: In order for your team to adopt accountability for outcomes, the desired outcomes must be clearly defined. Receptionists and technicians cannot be held accountable for educating clients on preventive healthcare recommendations for their pets if there is no clearly defined set of recommendations.

  • Put Standards in Writing: We have all played the telephone game where we learned that verbal messages change as they are passed from person to person. All practice standards must be established in writing in a staff handbook. This handbook then becomes the basis for training. Why does it take so long for new employees to learn basic information such as the vaccine protocol at many practices? The reason is because the vaccine protocol is assumed to be so basic that no one has ever written it down. This means that each employee that teaches them teaches them a slightly different version based on their individual interpretation.

  • Train the Big Picture: Staff members will be more accountable for tasks they believe are more important. By teaching staff members how their tasks contribute to patient care and customer service elevates the importance of their task. A receptionist is more likely to take a detailed vaccination history of a new patient if they realize that the technician needs this information to prepare the vaccines for the doctor, and the doctor needs to rely on the receptionist for this information so they have more quality time for the patient's physical examination and to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for the patient.

  • Assign Responsibilities: Suggest assigning accountability for specific tasks to specific staff members or departments. Assigning accountability conveys trust to those staff members which builds confidence and self-esteem as well as pride in their performance. The old adage that "if everyone is responsible for it, then no one is responsible for it" is true. When a practice is slow, everyone has time to double check things, but when a practice is busy, employees tend to skip over the tasks that have not been assigned to them because they believe someone else will be responsible for it. Assigning tasks to specific team members allows them to focus on those tasks and frees them from worrying about those tasks now assigned to others.

  • Celebrate Positive Results: In many practices, accountability means initialing your work so if there is a mistake, the practice leadership knows who to blame! Staff members respond best to positive feedback "behavior rewarded is behavior repeated." Instead of disciplining a receptionist for a piece of data they missed, celebrate the 20 transactions they got perfect today!

Mr. Oster, is a practice management consultant with Veterinary Healthcare Consultants, LLC– a national consulting firm dedicated to providing innovative and resourceful business solutions for veterinary professionals and humane organizations. He is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), the highest level of certification offered by the Society for Human Resource Management. Prior to consulting, Mr. Oster served as hospital administrator for a 16-doctor, 24-hour, full-service, veterinary hospital for six years. He is a frequent lecturer, author of numerous book chapters and is regularly featured in AAHA's Trends Magazine. He may be reached via e-mail at

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