Delegate & double-check


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.

How to delegate effectively

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.

  • Make sure the individual has the knowledge and ability to do the job. For example, if you're delegating inventory control, ask yourself: Does the person to whom you're delegating know the products your practice uses and the companies that you purchase from? Does he or she know how to use the computer? Has the person ever been involved in inventory control in any other business? If he or she doesn't have the knowledge and ability to do the job, the learning curve will be substantially longer—and the result may not be as effective.

  • Confirm the individual has an interest in doing the job. If you ask your technician to take over sending reminders and she feels the job's beneath her, she probably won't do it very well. And if you ask your receptionist to do inventory, but she has no interest in the job, she won't do it very well either. It's critical that the individual you want to delegate the job to has a sincere interest in the task.

  • Explain the task in detail so the team member knows exactly what you expect. If appropriate, provide the individual with reference materials, books, article reprints, or Internet training that might augment your information. Don't try to do this in the middle of everything else. Set aside some dedicated time to meet with the employee.

  • Make projects theirs. Just handing a pile of information to an employee and telling him or her to get it done doesn't give the person ownership of the project. Instead, bring people into the decision-making process, ask them to help you formulate the project, and incorporate their insights and information. With this approach, you'll find that the project will indeed become theirs. And if employees "own" the project, they're more likely to make sure it's successful.

  • Define and state the authority necessary to do the job. This is where many managers fail. If you're not willing to give the individual the authority to do the job, then don't delegate the task. For example, if you delegate personnel management to your practice manager but don't allow him or her to hire or fire without your approval, how can that manager ever be 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

  • Establish a timetable for the task to be completed and provide adequate time to perform the job. A task such as inventory control will take many hours over a long period of time to implement. A task such as reminders will be easier to develop but will by its nature be a recurring task. Think about the time it will take to get the project off the ground and then how much time each day, week, or month will be necessary to do the job. You can't always expect someone to just fit in one more task. Often you'll need to move jobs around on your team to give the person implementing the new project time to get it done.

  • Don't undermine a delegated responsibility. Let's say you've delegated the scheduling of your technicians to your head technician, Janet. One day a technician named Sandy comes to you and says that Janet denied her request to take off Dec. 3, and so she's going to miss her brother's wedding. You certainly feel that Sandy should get the day off. After all, it's only the fourth time her brother is getting married.

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.

Advanced delegation: Build in accountability

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.

A job well done

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.

Get more live

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:

  • Hiring right

  • Developing an employee manual

  • Performance evaluations and incentives that will work

  • Resolving conflict on your team

  • Improving retention and motivating your team

  • Developing a management strategy action plan for the next 30 days.

For info, visit


Mark Opperman

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