Grit your teeth and make the handoff. Offer up the responsibility that goes with the work. And build in both accountability and meaningful rewards.
ALL TOO OFTEN WE EXPECT THAT things are getting done, and it's not until it's too late that we find out differently. The problem is twofold. Many practice owners and managers don't delegate effectively. You can't expect someone to do a job if you haven't outlined what you want him or her to do.
Then, even when practice managers and owners think they're delegating effectively, they fail to build some type of feedback system into the projects. This important management adage applies: Don't expect what you don't inspect. We must make sure that what we think is getting done is actually done. Under ideal circumstances, the job gets done as well as if you had done it—or even better. The first step: Hand off the job.
If your previous delegation efforts were unsuccessful, it's likely that the problem isn't with the person to whom you delegated—but with you. Delegation is a skill that most people develop and refine with practice; you probably weren't born with this one. To get you started on the right foot, let's look at the basics of delegation and what you must do to become more effective.
Again, if you do not trust the person with the responsibility, do not delegate the task. You must trust your team members to do the job or trust them to fail and learn from those failures.
Keep the doctors doctoring
How can you get Sandy the day off without undermining Janet? Go to Janet. Ask her why she didn't give Sandy the day off. If after hearing Janet's response you still believe Sandy should get the day off, inform Janet of this. It's then her responsibility to make it happen.
If you said to Sandy, "Don't worry; I'll make sure you get the day off," you'd undermine Janet and she'd never be effective. Instead, you tell Sandy she should discuss the issue with Janet some more. You always work through your hierarchy of authority. Otherwise, you undermine and de-motivate the person to whom you delegated the task.
Now, here comes the big one—you need to institute automatic feedback controls to ensure that the job you delegated is actually getting done. To explore this concept, let's look at the example of sending new clients a new client letter and questionnaire.
Imagine that you've gone through each of the steps outlined above; you've identified an individual who has the knowledge and ability to do this job, she expressed an interest in doing it, you involved her in the decision-making process, she feels some ownership of it, and you gave her the authority and time necessary to do the job. Now you must make sure the job is getting done.
This doesn't have to be hard. You could ask the employee to print a report listing all new clients, note the date next to each when a the letter was sent, and place the report on the manager's desk once a week.
Another example: inventory control. How do you know when the job's being done effectively? Again, it's easy. You could monitor the percentage of drugs and supplies purchased and compare that number to your gross income to see whether it's in line. Inventory should run about 14 percent to 16 percent of gross income. You could also periodically review the computer or your manual system to assess shelf life. And if you hear team members yelling that you're out of products, you know there's a problem.
The key is to identify the control mechanisms, and to follow up. I suggest you keep a list that reminds you to do these inspections either on paper or using one of your computer programs. For example, Microsoft Outlook lets you build this kind of task list and gives you a reminder.
Once an individual takes on a new task and achieves a favorable result you must reinforce him or her. Reinforcement can be verbal: "Susan, you sure are doing a great job on getting the new client thank-you letters sent out. I just had a client tell me how much they appreciated getting the letter from us."
You could also give a monetary bonus, a gift certificate, or a day off with pay. What you do is often less important than just doing something. Employees wish and deserve to be acknowledged for their contributions to the success of your practice. Make reinforcement an ongoing process.
Don't expect what you don't inspect. It's a great motto to live by—and it's not as hard as it sounds. And implementing this approach can really make a big difference in the management and success of a veterinary practice.
Veterinary Economics Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo. He'll be speaking on these employee management topics at CVC East in Baltimore, April 27 to 30:
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