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Delegating for dummies
Think you're working too much? Odds are you're not delegating enough to team members-who are hungry to help.
The streetlights glare outside the laboratory window as you squint at the stack of slides that need differentials. Once those are complete, you just have a few phone calls to make, and you'll be finished for the day. Rubbing your eyes, you adjust the microscope and peer into the lens.
The phone rings, breaking your concentration. "Lost Pet Clinic," you mumble.
"Hello, Daddy?" a small voice asks.
You frown. "Who is this?"
"It's Timmy ... your son. I'm eight now, and we're having a party."
Darn. One more thing to remember.
Have you ever missed a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other life milestone because you were just so behind at work you couldn't tear yourself away from the practice? (Or because you forgot completely?) You can avoid such tragedies, and the solution is painless. You just need to learn to delegate.
Why should you delegate?
What's the most valuable asset in a medical office? Yep, it's the doctor's time. Your time is the most expensive commodity in the clinic and must be used wisely for the practice and doctor to thrive.
The Chip Game
The doctor's time and knowledge drive the clinic's income. That means you'd ideally spend time only on responsibilities that are unique to being a doctor and leave the remaining tasks to other skilled people. If you achieve this goal, you'll have plenty of time to complete your work, make a decent income, and spend time with family and friends.
Simply put, when you do fewer things in a day, you can get everything done in less time. Everyone can have a lunch hour and go home on time, and all your work will get done. Plus you'll have more time to devote to essential tasks, so your work quality will improve.
Of course, there are other important reasons to delegate. Assigning challenging tasks gives your team members a greater sense of self-worth and makes coming to work more interesting and rewarding. Playing a more important part in clinic operations is a fabulous incentive for employees to continue working for you. This should be no surprise—staff members thrive on difficult achievements and understand the intrinsic rewards of a task well done, just as doctors do.
Another bonus: Much as you'll hate to admit it, the work you pass on may get handled better. After all, the people closest to the problem can often offer the best solutions; they see the needs and can implement necessary changes much more effectively. After all, if you're not standing at the front desk all day, how can you know what clients need? Let your team members tell you where the clinic needs improvement, then (and this part's important) let them do it.
Delegating more helps patients, too. It's impossible for you to be everywhere at once—you can't see outpatients, do surgery, and be responsible for primary patient care. If your technicians take responsibility for patients, they can watch them closely while you're between exam rooms.
Now let's suppose you're the only person who can answer a client's question. How long must he or she wait for your response? Are you completing your callbacks at 10 p.m.? How does that benefit your client, who wanted to know something that morning? Clearly, letting a competent team member offer answers will benefit clients—and save you time.
Here's the overall benefit of delegating: The efforts of many people produce results that one person can't match. It's a synergistic equation; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In practice, this means that practitioners who delegate routinely can see more patients in the same amount of time while maintaining high standards of medical care and client satisfaction.
theory into action
How to delegate
Delegating can be easily understood as the act of giving some of your jobs to other people. But effective delegation's a bit more complex than that. When you truly delegate, you give the person both the
for the job. You don't give the person a recipe for how to get the job finished. Instead, the person you choose to do the job will take responsibility and invent the solution.
When you prescribe the process—as in "Perform these steps and the job is complete"—you're training, not delegating. The person you train has no responsibility for the outcome of the task; you told them the process, and like it or not, you'll be responsible for the results.
For some tasks, particularly for entry-level people, training is essential. But once you're done offering initial training, you can delegate and rely on your team members' inventiveness and creativity for new solutions.
Let go and manage for results
So, let's train you to delegate. Here are the essential steps:
1. Define the result. You must be able to explain precisely what you need done, so team members know when they've accomplished the goal. They shouldn't have to come back to you to check if that's what you wanted. In a medical clinic, it's pretty easy to define results clearly. For example, all patients must have pre-op lab work, and all charts must be completed by the end of the day. But even when you're talking about nonclinical issues, make sure there's no ambiguity about the desired results.
2. Choose the right person. Generally, the right person for the job can just barely complete the assignment with some thought and difficulty. That's right—give the task to the lowest person on the totem pole who can accomplish it.
Why not give a job to the best-trained person? First, he or she's busy with more complex and critical tasks. Second, learning only occurs when people perform at the edge of their comfort zone. Challenge each staff member with difficult problems, and you'll encourage learning and growth, which is rewarding for team members and beneficial to the clinic.
3. Forget the process. Don't tell people how to do jobs. That's their decision. If they need help, they can ask for advice. Let them use their own problem-solving capabilities—generally they'll astound you with their answers to problems. So remember: Delegate, don't train.
4. Give them the authority. People who handle tasks must have the authority to involve others, buy new supplies, or change procedures. If there's a lot of money involved, give limits; otherwise let them choose. If they need other people's help to do the job, let them choose their group and explain the new procedures.
5. Go away. When you hand over a job to a team member, don't look over his or her shoulder. Don't ask every day (or hour) if there's progress. When there's a result, your team member will tell you, and you can evaluate it. Until then, get some coffee, read a book, whatever—just let your staff member work.
6. Reward a task well done. First, offer praise in front of your team. "The lab work is never late anymore. Thank you, Suzie." (Everyone should applaud here.) If it's a major ordeal, particularly involving a lot of people, buy them lunch. Sometimes monetary awards are appropriate, but usually praise and a token gift are better.
What to delegate
Other businesses have elaborate decision processes for delegation, but for us docs it's quite simple: Delegate everything that doesn't require a license. There are only four essential doctor tasks:
You should have people in your clinic who are skilled at everything else—from making appointments to following-up—and they should do it all.
My one caveat: You must be more vigilant when assigning tasks that directly affect patient care. Make sure that people who count pills can count, that fluids are supervised by proficient nursing staff, that anesthesia is administered competently. There are places where only the best will do, and critical patient tasks are, well, critical. But that doesn't mean you should do them—get some good help. (Here's a hint: "good help," in this case, is spelled "C-V-T.")
I'm not the best!
Many professionals have the attitude "If I want it done right, I need to do it myself." This stems from the mistaken belief, reinforced in medical school, that because you're a great doctor, you're great at everything. Renouncing this notion is essential to becoming an excellent leader, rather than an overbearing taskmaster.
People who are accepted into medical school are naturally high achievers. In school. In science. But your track record as the greatest student surgeon means nothing when it comes to hiring employees, bookkeeping, doing lab work, and dealing with the myriad problems that arise in the clinic every day.
You're surrounded by people with skills you don't have—tap those talents to do things you can't. There is no shame in delegating. Not only do you not have time to do it all, you're not actually the greatest surgeon, internist, human resources developer, lab technician, nurse, dog walker, and receptionist all rolled into one. No one is. So get over it. Put your ego aside, and delegate for improved patient and client care.
Can simply giving away your jobs make your practice run smoother, provide for better patient care, and make your clients happier? Certainly. Tapping the synergy of a team of people rather than relying on one central individual will always provide superior results.
There's no time like the present, so start now. Put down this article, and pick two tasks you hate to do that don't require a license. Ask who on your team wants to do them. Then pick up the magazine again and finish it while your staff performs. You'll see how easy it is, and soon will be giving away lots of your jobs. They'll be done better, faster, and more easily than you could ever manage. Within a week you'll be taking a lunch break every day and going home earlier. Hurry—your family is waiting.
Dr. Craig Woloshyn, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, delegates to a terrific team of 11 at the Animal Medical Clinic in Spring Hill, Fla., which he owns—giving him time for his other business, Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Please send questions or comments to email@example.com.
Dr. Craig Woloshyn
The bottom line
Delegating more helps you, your team members, and your practice. Yet only 47 percent of staff members responding to a
survey indicated that the doctors in their practices delegate 80 percent to 100 percent of possible tasks.
Dr. Craig Woloshyn will present lectures on team management and client relations at the Central Veterinary Conference, held Aug. 27 to 30 in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, visit