Setting the sail for success

News
Article

As the captain of your practice, it's your job to set the course and take advantage of the wind, urging the ship toward your destination. But you can't maneuver this behemoth alone. You need a crew. When they're truly onboard, your team members will have one eye on the horizon and another peeled for potential problems, and they'll help keep the practice on course.

As the captain of your practice, it's your job to set the course and take advantage of the wind, urging the ship toward your destination. But you can't maneuver this behemoth alone. You need a crew. When they're truly onboard, your team members will have one eye on the horizon and another peeled for potential problems, and they'll help keep the practice on course.

On the other hand, if staff members don't know where the ship's headed, they may unknowingly jettison your plans. So how do you communicate your vision and goals to your team?

You set the course—and the example

"A vision is the most fundamental statement of an organization's values, direction, aspirations, and goals," says Chris Musselwhite, president and CEO of Discovery Learning Inc., a consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C. "It's an appeal to team members' hearts and minds. Owners with strong strategies and goals can tell you where the organization is today and where it's headed."

Musselwhite advises that sharing this vision can prevent team members from making short-term decisions that work against the long-term strategy. "A clear vision also focuses everyone on fulfilling the most important tasks—giving the organization a strong competitive advantage," he says.

Dr. Kathleen Neuhoff, the co-director of the Magrane Pet Medical Center in Mishawaka, Ind., agrees that a clear vision helps teams focus on critical issues. "If you take the time to consider your goals and draft a clear mission, I think you focus on the more important issues and less often get bogged down in the trivial."

The other big benefit, she says, is that a strong mission gives you a guidepost when you come to a fork in the road. "Especially when our team faces ethical issues, we ask, 'Is this course of action compatible with our vision?' If the answer is no, that makes our path clear. And when we're considering options like new services or equipment purchases, we ask, 'Will this help us achieve our mission?' If the answer is yes, it's much easier to spend both the time and money to move the idea forward."

In other words, your vision isn't a lofty statement you hang on the wall; it's a series of values and goals that guide your everyday actions and decisions. "It's been said that if you watch someone's feet, you'll know what they're thinking," says Associate Dean Logan Jordan, Ph.D., who teaches the strategic-thinking modules for the Veterinary Management Institute, an educational collaboration between Purdue University and AAHA. "In other words, the choices you make as the leader are the most powerful way to set the standard for your entire team."

Getting your crew onboard

Once you've established your vision and begun to integrate it into your personal decision-making process, it's time to build support from your team. One key: Don't just stick your well-thought-out vision in a book somewhere.

A purposeful, personal approach to creating a vision

While Dr. Neuhoff's practice includes the purpose in personnel manuals so new hires understand the driving force behind the hospital, the practice also prominently displays the mission. "We hung a large, framed mission statement in the conference room where we hold all of our staff and educational meetings," Dr. Neuhoff says.

Need yet another way to help focus your team's attention on the big picture? "Plan a meeting with your team and take only one presentation slide—the vision statement," Musselwhite says. "Put it up and leave it there for several minutes. Don't talk. Then share your interpretation of the vision with your team members. Ask how they feel about this vision, and how they can contribute to making this vision a reality."

Dr. Neuhoff also believes it's important to review your vision regularly. "This can be difficult," she admits, "because it's easy to just say 'Yep, looks great!' You have to step back and dedicate a significant amount of time specifically to reviewing your plans."

As part of Magrane Pet Medical Center's drive to include the vision in all it does, when the practice holds its annual goal-setting meeting in January, team members kick-start the day with a brief review of the vision. Then they set practice goals and individual goals that support the vision.

Throughout the year, the hospital committees and task forces use the vision and mission statement as a basis for making all spending decisions. "We also post the practice goals we've developed for the entire year around the practice's conference room. And we post individual goals in a goal book and review them as part of our performance evaluation process," says Dr. Neuhoff.

Keeping your team's eyes on the horizon

So you're working to ensure all decisions support your vision, which is posted front-and-center for all to see. You review the mission regularly and develop individual goals that support the master plan. You can still do more to keep your team focused on your goals and growth.

One option: Develop a metaphor that reflects your vision—such as a "successful sports team" or a "healthy garden"—and let that metaphorical language become a part of the way you communicate, Musselwhite says. Include this language in your memos, e-mails, newsletters, and other communication.

Next, stay on the lookout for opportunities to connect small daily events to the greater vision. You want to make sure staff members see how little events contribute to or detract from the vision. Did your receptionist fail to set up follow-up appointments, claiming she didn't want to "bother" clients? Explain how this simple task helps clients and patients—and supports the goals that will help your team achieve its vision.

You've heard it before, but it's always a good idea to reward the behavior you wish to encourage. For example, Musselwhite says you could initiate a monthly award that team members can bestow on each other to recognize efforts or achievements that actively advance the mission. "Also hold regular lunches with your staff members to share what's going on at all levels of the organization and talk about how it advances or detracts from the practice mission."

No, it's not easy to develop a vision and communicate it to your team effectively. As Jordan says, "The thinking is easy, the doing is hard." But each opportunity that you embrace embeds your vision more deeply into the way your team members communicate, make decisions, and work. With attention to this facet of leadership, your vision will become the undercurrent that runs beneath all the work your team does.

Destination: Unknown?

Editors’ note: How does your practice share its vision for the future? Do you know what key goals your team needs toachieve in the next five years? Share your thoughts with other veterinarians and staff members online at VetMedTeam.com.

Related Videos
Related Content
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.