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To delegate or not: Finding the best person for the job
This veterinarians practice is experiencing growing pains, but is delegation the answer to his administrative issues?
Dr. Lee James owned a busy suburban practice. Four doctors, 12 technicians and six receptionists were busy from morning until night. He would tell you he had no magic formula for success. He and his staff practiced excellent medicine, offered outstanding customer service and were located in a growing community.
Of late, Dr. James was experiencing administrative growing pains. When the practice was smaller, he easily handled the payroll, ordering and employee needs. Now, his larger facility was both administratively overwhelming him and also preventing him from providing as much hands-on patient care. He found himself facing a fear that many veterinary owners encounter: delegation. Now he would have to give up some control of the practice he had nurtured from the beginning.
Fortunately, Dr. James had a mentor. As is the case with most veterinarians, he worked for a vet he liked and respected before going out on his own. He called his old boss for some advice, and the advice he was given was not at all what he expected.
Dr. James was told that many of the tasks he no longer had time for required that he delegate these duties to competent coworkers. This was not necessarily because of time constraints, but because others could now do these jobs better than he. His mentor went on to say that the problems of larger practices are different than those of smaller facilities. A perfect example was workforce compatibility. Eight to ten employees often bond and do well together. When that number reaches 25 and above, interpersonal challenges can appear. Staff members will often complain that they just don't get along with others on the clinic team. Resolving this type of inevitable issue requires a supervisor with specific skills as opposed to simply a pep talk about how we should remember that we are all a team. Dealing with deposits and tracking sales and use taxes gets overwhelming when the yearly gross creeps up over a million dollars. Negotiating with drug reps and equipment vendors is often more effective with a good cop/bad cop approach. This requires the help of a skilled staff member as opposed to letting these reps “assist you” because you are too busy. Social media is a must. A dedicated social media staffer more than pays for itself in a 21st century practice.
Dr. James' mentor had opened his eyes. He was convinced that the success and growth of his practice was due to his constant hands-on participation. He truly believed It would be very risky to delegate some pivotal practice responsibilities to others. What he did not realize was that he had slowly become less efficient at running his practice as it grew. The experience was analogous to never realizing you need glasses until you try them on and suddenly you can see better.
Dr. James had learned two practice lessons. First, delegation of significant practice responsibilities does not lead to loss of control but increased efficiency. Second, that it's a good idea to use a mentor or respected consultant to periodically assist in seeing the forest for the trees.
Do you think Dr. James was overreacting? His practice was doing well as it was. He may have only needed help with his anxiety and did not need to take the risk of delegating pivotal tasks to staff less invested than he. What do you think? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Rosenberg's response
When both practicing in and managing a veterinary facility, it's important to not remain in your comfort zone. This is tempting because a comfort zone is worry free yet ultimately leads to stagnation. Reasonable risk taking is the wise choice. I emphasize the word “reasonable.” Dr. James discussed his decisions with a respected colleague and carefully considered his next steps. Nothing ventured, nothing gained is a phrase that the veterinary practitioner must always consider when the comfort zone becomes too tempting.
Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. In his private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife. Although many of the scenarios Dr. Rosenberg describes are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.