Ask Shawn: Decades of neglect ... and feeling stuck in the mud


Shawn McVey counsels a new practice manager on coaxing along a veterinary team used to a hands-off management approach.

(Getty Images)Q: I am the new practice manager of a two-veterinarian, eight-staff-member, small-town clinic. I am taking the place of a previous manager who was here for 40 years. I was hired 2 1/2 years ago to train to be manager, but I ended up working as lead receptionist since the manager was comfortable and opted not to retire as scheduled. This was status quo until six months ago when the owner/DVM decided to upgrade our software, convert to paper light and update to Quickbooks-all within my skill set, but not in my predecessor's ledger system of doing things.

My challenges begin in the hands-off, inactive style of the previous manager, who showed up for 1 1/2 days of work each week the last year of her time here. My owner/DVM wants to move the practice forward in leaps as she is nearing retirement. However, my coming in to help her meet her goals is being met with resistance as staff had gotten comfortable with the hands-off management style of my predecessor.

I have a receptionist with a 30 percent absenteeism rate due to chronic health issues and sheer disinterest in veterinary medicine, both of which were never addressed by the previous practice manager. In addition, there is a kennel technician without the simple skills of veterinary observation, which puts patients at risk, and a lead technician who, though incredibly skilled, is so burned out after 25 years that she doesn't even say hello to anyone-EVER.

How do I get our team on board to meet my doctor's goals without looking like a hard ass coming in and taking over like Attila? Help?

-Mary Mary in a Quandary

Dear Mary Mary in a Quandary,

When I hear stories like yours, I want to scream! Too often we have great managers with owners who need to get on board or great practices who have horrible managers. Rarely do we get the great practice and the great manager. The impossible dream?

Looking at big picture, articulating the practice's goals and mission and making them public would be a good way to get the whole practice moving in the same direction, but your problem is deeper and requires some difficult interpersonal conversations. I'd suggest the following: Sit the current team members down and tell them how you are experiencing their resistance, how it is affecting you and how you wish to help.

If they are not receptive, tell them your next step will be to go to the owner and have the same discussion. If the owner and team can't come to understand why this is frustrating to you and bad for the organization and are not willing to change, then you have no choice but to live in the hypocrisy or find a practice that truly wants your skills for moving the practice forward.


Got a question?

Ask Shawn. 

Maybe you're tired of babysitting your team members. Perhaps you're looking for strategies to beat a bully. Shawn can help. Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, is a member of the Firstline Editorial Advisory board and CEO of McVey Management Solutions in Austin, Texas. Email your questions for him to, then visit to read McVey's advice on other hot topics.

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