Dont be afraid to rock the boat

September 17, 2019
Danielle Matise

Danielle Matise is practice manager at Garden Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Houston, Texas, and finalist for 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.

When it became apparent that her growing practice needed more team leads, this dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year finalist set out to create a hiring process that would fit the already strong culture and demonstrate fairness and transparency.

Taking any steps that rock the boat can be scary, but also, ultimately, are worth it. (Getty Images)

When our veterinary clinic first opened, the wrong people were selected for the positions and within the first year, some of these team leads crashed and burned miserably. The practice owner and I were both fairly scarred from the experience, and we decided to take our time selecting the next leaders.

A fresh start

Since the initial “crash and burn,” the practice owner and I worked to maintain a culture of engagement, encouragement and empathy, growing into a fast-paced two-doctor practice with an incredible staff of 14. We were ready for new leadership roles.

Mad about managers

Danielle Matise is one of 10 finalists for 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year. Learn more about the contest and read more stories from other entrants, finalists and winners here

I found myself questioning if rocking our healthy, “Brady Bunch” boat was worth it to introduce new leadership positions. What if there was tension? What if someone was a sore loser? What if someone hated who we picked? I finally decided I couldn't allow my fear to hold back the team from taking the next step. I had to trust the culture we'd built, and I had to earn my team's trust for this new voyage.

To start the process, I held one-on-one meetings and asked each team member the same thing: “Tell me your thoughts on introducing a department lead position, and what are the qualities you think that person should have?” The unanimous consensus was that we needed a department leader who could support and guide them. The common character themes were equality, honesty, accountability and respect. We also discussed the importance of fairness and transparency in the hiring process. I have seen firsthand the toxicity that can brew when managers makes decisions behind closed doors without giving staff a chance to be involved. I was determined to maintain our positive culture by doing things differently. 

Moving forward with fairness

I used my notes from these meetings to create job descriptions for Lead Receptionist and Lead Technician. I took the job descriptions to the practice owner and proposed that we open a formal internal hiring process for these positions. My goal was to give everyone the opportunity to put their best self forward and be given a fair chance at the jobs.

We made a formal announcement at a team meeting and held an open discussion about the process, addressing any questions or concerns. I posted the job announcement internally in a company-wide email. During the interview process, we asked the applicants questions about their goals for the department and themselves, responses to scenario situations and what their proudest moments have been on the team. We used an evaluation form that scored candidates on the 12 components of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), because ultimately these were the most important measures of leadership we could assess.

Decisions, decisions

We ultimately selected the lead technician based on his proven ability to face his own fears about having uncomfortable conversations and consciously cultivate the EQ he needed to be an effective leader. Even though there was only one application for lead receptionist, we were pleased to see the personal and professional growth our choice had made to prepare herself for this role, and we didn't feel the need to search externally.

One of the three applicants for lead technician showed an incredible gift for organization, attention to detail and administrative work, but her interview showed she didn't have the desire or capacity to handle personnel problems. So we suggested a role as inventory manager instead.

Another applicant for lead technician expressed to us that she values education and that her proudest moment was training our newest veterinary assistant. She admitted in her interview that she wasn't the best at keeping track of small details and found administrative work difficult. Rather than putting her in a position where I knew she would struggle, I created a Training and Development Supervisor role for her, where she helps to onboard new employees, helps them continue professional growth by researching CE opportunities and works one-on-one to identify development goals.

Once I was able to get over my own fears, I discovered that allowing the team to be part of the decision-making process helped us all to be unified in this new chapter. Even team members who didn't apply were excited after hearing the results, because they saw that it was a fair process. And by creating two new positions for specific team members, we showed that we help people grow within the team and recognize and value everyone's passions and strengths.

Change can be scary, but this process created a model in our hospital to approach crucial decisions as a team to move forward together.

Danielle Matise is practice manager at Garden Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Houston, Texas, and finalist for 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.