New managers: 6 tips for a great start

FirstlineFirstline May/June 2020
Volume 16
Issue 3

Have you been promoted to veterinary practice manager? Once upon a time, I was in your shoes too. Here’s what I learned along the way that might help you as you step into your new role.

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Stepping into the role of veterinary practice manager can be overwhelming. You’re suddenly responsible not only for yourself, but for a whole team of individuals. You’re likely trying to improve processes at the same time as you need to put out the normal fires that come with the territory. Your to-do list can seem unsurmountable, and you may feel obligated to work insane hours just to keep up.

When I was a new manager, I remember trying to do everything I could to keep my head above water. I wanted to prove myself. I often stayed late and woke up in the middle of the night to send a few emails—the job was on my mind most of the time. As you can imagine, this was not sustainable, and I started feeling burned out and needed to make some changes. Part of that change was prioritizing and letting go of nonurgent items—basic time management and self-preservation tactics.

1. Get your priorities right

Prioritization was clearly Step 1. There were certain items that couldn’t wait; upset clients were high on the list, along with technical systems issues. However, the items that came across my desk as urgent when they should have been addressed much earlier (for example, a tardy employee who’d been coming in late for several months and now needed an emergency performance improvement plan) could wait 24 to 48 hours. Part of this was helping the managers I oversaw. It was important that they understood what was and wasn’t urgent so they could better manage their own time and know when to involve me as well.

2. Untether from technology

The next, and one of the hardest, tasks was to stop being tethered to my email and phone. At first, if I received a call from one of our doctors or saw a new email in my inbox, I stopped what I was doing and addressed it right then. Constantly diverting your attention elsewhere creates a significant decrease in your efficiency. It can feel like you’re on top of everything at all times, but you’re actually wasting huge chunks of your day refocusing. Also, when you can dive into a task with your full attention until it’s completed, you produce higher-quality work. The type of mindset it takes to audit medical records is completely different than the frame of mind needed to address employee relations issues. The longer you’re in one headspace, solving similar problems, the better you perform.

3. Set—and stick to—your goals

Setting reasonable goals was (and still is) a struggle. Being smart with your time also means knowing what can and cannot reasonably be accomplished in a day. I started a habit on Mondays to roughly set up my plan for the week. Each day, toward the end of the day, I would reassess the next day’s plan and adjust as needed. Everyone works at a different pace, but try to figure out how many “large” projects you can take on in a day, how much time you need to spend on catching up on emails, and how many smaller tasks you need to accomplish. It’s always wise to leave an hour or so for the unexpected as well.

I also began to realize that I was my own toughest critic. My own expectation of my output was far beyond what my organization expected. You want to wow your employer, but don’t do it at the expense of your own sanity.

4. Work on the toughest stuff when you have the most energy

When organizing tasks for the day, remember that everyone has a certain time of day where they’re most productive. Use this time to accomplish your least favorite tasks. For a lot of managers, these are the employee check-ins and reviews, the most important part of your responsibilities as a leader. Make sure to knock these out when you’re most energized, then you can take on the “easier” tasks when your mind is slowing down during the day.

5. Learn to delegate

New managers have a tendency to try to take on the world themselves without asking for help. Delegation, when done appropriately, can actually enrich your team’s abilities and add a sense of self-worth and responsibility for each employee. Employees want to feel helpful and want to be given higher-level tasks, and delegation can be key in accomplishing this. It’s important to find tasks that match the skillset and interests of each individual and to hand off tasks with trust (don’t hover), then check in periodically to see if they need your help. If mistakes occur, address them as they arise versus watching every move just in case an error happens. If you hover, your employees will feel mistrusted, and because you can’t be in all places at all times, the quality of everyone’s work is likely to suffer.

6. Give yourself a break

Lastly, but most importantly, give yourself time to reenergize—and encourage these healthy behaviors in your team as well. Part of managing your time is giving yourself mental breaks throughout the workday, in the evenings and on days off. Completely disconnecting mentally from work helps to recharge and keep alive that passion for your work. Take advantage of your paid time off and use this time to enjoy non-work-related hobbies and take care of your body—mentally and physically.

And don’t let me forget—congratulations, new manager. Your bosses clearly think you have what it takes to be a leader in your practice. Hopefully, these tips can help you work more purposefully, more efficiently and more happily.

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, CCFP, PHR, SHRM-SCP, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

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