How to micromanage your veterinary team and shatter motivation

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Watch your team members wilt before your eyes with these steps to push, bully and completely overwhelm them. Then read these team tips to heal the breaks.

When the victims of micromanagers first start working at a practice, they often possess an energy that's almost uncontrollable. They have so many ideas and dreams for the practice, the team and the clients. They have a to-do list 10 pages long of ideas, policies and protocols they want to implement. And then the micromanager steps in and smashes their spirit.

GETTY IMAGES/MARTIN POOLE

Micromanaged team members wake up in the morning uninspired. They drag themselves into work every morning with the plan just to survive eight hours, never missing a chance to glance at the clock to see how much closer they are to freedom. Although that list of great ideas still sits on their desk or in their locker or tucked underneath next week's schedule, they barely look at it and now just do what it takes to get through the day. There is no above and beyond. Creativity is dead. The smile and energy are replaced by sighs and the afternoon blah. I've been there. I've felt like:

> What's the point?

> Nobody notices what I do.

> Nobody cares.

> I'm not able to use my skills that I worked so hard to gain.

> I will just collect my check and go home.

For some this may be called a dream job, but for those team members and managers who, like me, embrace their practice as if it were their own, this is pure, mental torture. We didn't get into veterinary medicine for the money. We all know that, right? We did it because we want to make a difference. And then the micromanager strikes.

How they suck us in

Micromanagers are motivation killers. That might sound harsh, but I truly believe it. And if you have been the victim—yes, I feel you are being victimized if you are being micromanaged— you may agree.

Now let's talk about how micromanaging hurts. I'm a highly driven person. I'm detail-oriented—OK so some call it obsessive. I'm trustworthy and I embrace my career. I don't just view it as a job and I'm very passionate about the veterinary profession, client service and practice management. This is what I have done for 25 years and what I will continue to do until I have the wonderful pleasure of retiring.

During those 25 years I have encountered my share of micromanagers, most of them disguised as supportive, non-controlling, trusting owners. Yep, that's how they sucked us in. They told us they needed a manager. They told us they went to school to be doctors and had no desire to manage. They told us they were turning over the reins to us and would support us in all that we did. They told us we would meet regularly to ensure we were both working toward the same goals and visions. Yep, that's what they told us. Of course we took the job. It's a dream job. Then it happens. We quickly find out that what they told us is maybe what they believe they want, but it's in no way what they're able to provide.

Good intentions, bad results

In the defense of micromanagers, I believe that they truly do want what they told us when we interviewed, but they don't know how to achieve it. They are victims too—of their own experiences. I would bet money that most micromanagers have trust issues and may be perceived as control freaks because of it. Perhaps they were burned by someone they did let have some control. Maybe they are perfectionists who often found themselves disappointed by the work done by others and felt it wasn't what they wanted—and certainly not to their standards. I bet they are passionate about veterinary medicine and their practice. It's their entire life, so I imagine turning over the reins to another person is difficult, especially combined with negative experiences and the challenges of building a relationship with a new team member who hasn't yet met the trust level.

How to break free

So now we know how we got here and how everyone feels. And whether you're the micromanager or the team member, you have two choices: Wreck your relationship or be the super glue to heal the breaks. Consider these six solutions team members and managers can use to make—or break—their relationships:

How to break your team: Ignore job descriptions and do as you please.

Be the super glue: If you're a micromanager, before you hire anyone you need to sit down and write—or read—the job description for the team member joining your practice. Be realistic about what you want them to do—and about what you're willing to allow them to do. Be prepared to live by this job description and be honest with yourself.

How to break your team: Embellish your abilities.

Be the super glue: If you are a team member, evaluate your skill set and accomplishments and be prepared to share them as you interview to start gaining the owner's or manager's trust. Demonstrate your specific accomplishments throughout your career. Be honest in what you can do. Don't say you can handle all accounting and financial reporting when in reality you wouldn't know a P&L from an A&W. This will lead to distrust and only make the micromanager kick in full force.

How to break your team: Resist authority.

Be the super glue: If you're a manager or team member, understand that no matter how passionate you are, this is not your practice and ultimately you have to meet the goals and follow the orders of the owner. You are the vehicle to reach those goals, working along with the owner. This doesn't mean you can't have your own ideas to present to owners, but if they say no, then it's no. If you want to do it your way, then buy a practice.

It's an excellent idea to identify your passions and values to ensure you work at a practice with leaders who embrace those same passions. If you're passionate about client education you aren't going to be satisfied in a practice with leaders who see no value in it.

How to break your team: Skip team meetings and ignore goals.

Be the super glue: Once you've created a team of owners, manager and leaders, you need an agreement that this team meets at least monthly to keep the lines of communication open. This allows the team to show the micromanager what they've accomplished and helps the micromanager let go a bit and trust more. There's no way to be on the road to achieving the same goals and visions if you don't communicate. So these meetings are essential to build that relationship.

How to break your team: Create vague to-do lists and instructions for team members.

Be the super glue: If you might be a micromanager, make sure you have set clear expectations for every task you want team members to handle. Mistrust often comes from team members not performing the tasks to the same level you know you could accomplish. This usually happens when you create non-specific, unclear tasks and don't follow up. After you set clear expectations, routinely check in to evaluate the progress and make tweaks. Do this in the beginning with everything you assign. You don't have a working relationship yet where each other's expectations are clear. As the working relationship builds, so will the trust. Still continue to check in at regular meetings.

How to break your team: Be impervious to others.

Be the super glue: Micromanagers and team members—be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength. No one person knows it all. We all need help. We are much better as a team than we are as individuals. You know that saying, there is no "I" in team? Well it holds true here. Owners must admit they didn't study practice management and they need the manager's help. Managers must admit they don't know it all and can't do it all and need the guidance and support of owners and the knowledge and support of their team.

If you build relationships slowly on a foundation of trust, support and communication and you work toward common visions and goals, the micromanager will slowly let go. Or if you start with a non-micromanager, they may never show their ugly head.

Donna Recupido, CVPM, is the hospital administrator at Veterinary Specialty Care in Charleston, S.C.

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