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Getting on the same page: proven communication strategies to align your team
An expert shares leadership strategies for enhancing team cohesion
Content submitted by GeniusVets, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Most practice owners would agree that communication is crucial to success. Therefore, it's surprising that very few practice teams are truly aligned. This is a big challenge regardless of practice size, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this with more stress, higher patient counts, and staffing disruptions.
Lack of information causes team members to lose focus or become demoralized and disengaged, and it also hurts patient care and client relationships. However, the good news is that there are simple steps every practice can take right away to improve communication.
Consistency is key
Providing a consistent experience is vital to client satisfaction and retention and to staff wellbeing. When clients get the same message from all your doctors and techs, they trust the practice more and will be more accepting and compliant with treatment.
In some multi-doctor practices I've encountered, the owner wants to "let each doctor practice medicine their own way." While this sounds nice in theory, it actually creates many problems. If you have 5 doctors with 5 different recommendations for flea control, it confuses clients and reduces trust. It also confuses staff because they might be criticized for recommending the "wrong" product, where another doctor was just praising them for doing the same thing. This inconsistency burns out team members and drives off clients. You should work with your doctors to learn their different perspectives, but then you must ultimately get them aligned with the same recommendations. This can take a lot of communication, especially when protocols evolve over time, but it's worth it.
Using communication to create consistency leads to better care. For example, if your team has a standard way of doing a surgery, fewer mistakes will occur. Consistency also helps your bottom line because you can streamline equipment, supplies, and pharmaceutical inventory by carrying just what you need to deliver your standard protocols.
Veterinary practices are busy places, so they're not the ideal environment for learning and retaining new information. Add turnover and new staff, and you can see why alignment tends to fall apart if it isn't intentionally maintained.
You must continue to restate vital information such as the practice mission and values on a regular basis. New policies, treatment processes, or medication protocols must also be repeated before they will be retained—more times than you probably think.
Aligned practice = freedom
Another under-appreciated benefit of having an aligned practice is freedom for the owner. When your team has fully absorbed your way of practicing medicine, the practice won't be dependent on you; it will run just as well when you're not there. This is a fundamental step in creating an enviable lifestyle, so that you own your practice instead of yourpractice owningyou. And it's not just about being able to take a vacation. Having your practice set up this way also gives you time to plan for the future rather than being mired in the "day-to-day." This is what will eventually make your practice genuinely great.
Have a "tiered" communication structure
At The Drake Center, we have three "teams" or tiers of communication. Each team includes people from each area of the hospital at a particular level of seniority.
- Team 1: Top leadership team
- Team 2: Managers
- Team 3: Supporting techs and staff
Communication flows in both directions through this structure from owner to team 1, to team 2, to team 3, and back again.I do my best to be accessible to every team member and to ensure they know I care about them. However, with 11 doctors and 55 employees, it isn't possible for me to be "all things to all people." So, I use my structured team, but since the team is aligned on our core values and culture, I know they'll handle things right.
What do team members need to know?
There's so much information involved in running a practice that it can be overwhelming. So, it's crucial to segment the correct information to the right team members.
Examples of information everyone needs:
- New team members hired: Introduce them and share their role, background, and what they bring to the team
- Turnover/departing team members
- Schedule changes: for example, if a team member is going back to school or changing shifts
- New protocols: different levels of the team need different details, so this should be broken down appropriately
- New marketing campaigns: for example, if you have a new coupon or promotion
We conduct a few different meetings to keep this all together:
- Weekly leadership planning meetings (owner + team 1): includes owner, practice manager, and someone from each team—kennel, tech, and front—to deal with timely issues for the week
- Weekly staff briefings (all teams) with an info briefing shared via a short document
- Monthly all-staff meetings (all teams): These are a deeper dive and include a "state of the union" from me about where we are and where we're going
- Monthly 4-6-hour off-site meeting (key leadership team): This includes the owner, practice manager, an associate, and 1 or 2 from the front and tech teams
It's better to be clearly wrong than vaguely "right"
Clarity is essential. Tell your team exactly what you believe, what you value, and what you expect from them. Instructions should be clear and specific and must be followed. It might seem "nicer" to let everyone do things their own way, but this results in chaos. Clear, consistent rules help us move faster, reduce confusion, and deliver better care.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you're unsure how to handle a situation, it can be tempting not to take a stand because it would be embarrassing if you were wrong. In reality, though, it's always better to make a firm decision. If the decision turns out to be right, that's great. If it turns out to be wrong, as long as you quickly own that mistake, apologize, and change course, you're still better off than if you had deferred that decision.
Steps you can take now
- Set aside a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes each week to get outsideyour practice and work on your business plan; this will include planning your communication structure.
- Start holding a weekly leadership meeting where you review the timely issue for the week—60 minutes or less.
- Monthly off-site meetings for leadership to deal with issues and opportunities. Highly disciplined, organized meeting using the methods described in the book Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman.
- Start holding a monthly all-staff meeting where you clearly communicate the most important issues to get all staff aligned. The monthly staff meeting is a highly organized, planned meeting for optimal communication.
- Decide to cultivate the habit of making quick and clear decisions. Don't defer decisions until later that you could make today. Most of your choices will be right, and even when they aren't, just apologize, correct course, and get back on track.