Stop circling back at your veterinary hospital

May 9, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Hey, practice managers. When your veterinary team is throwing too many questions and problems your way in the moment, Fetch dvm360 speaker Angelina Morgan, CVPM, says youre not doing your hospital team any favors by telling them youll circle back.

When you say you'll "circle back" on something in veterinary practice, you're chasing your tail, not getting ahead. (biker3/stock.adobe.com)If you want to get anything done as a veterinary practice manager, multi-hospital administrator Angelina Morgan, CVPM, suggests you cut a phrase out of your vocabulary.

“'Circling back' is my least-favorite phrase in the world,” Morgan, the 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year, told attendees at Fetch dvm360 conference in Baltimore in her session “Breaking the cycle of ‘circling back' so you can move forward.”

“It's a phrase we invented to not commit,” she said. “It's a nothing.”

“It's a phrase we invented to not commit. It's a nothing.”

“Circling back” is a double-edged sword, according to Morgan, that, first, hurts you and, second, hurts team morale.

First, Morgan explains, if you have too much to do and you can never get it all done and the most important tasks constantly get put aside for unexpected emergencies, you're going home overwhelmed, defeated and complaining about your job every day.

“How many times in a day do you use the phrase ‘circling back' or ‘looping back' or ‘table this for later'? That's how many times you've overloaded yourself and stressed yourself out,” she said.

Your well-meaning attempts to do more work than you can and solve everyone's problems also ultimately hurts the practice and the team. “Circling back” is a panicked stand-in phrase you use when three different team members approach you in the span of 10 minutes with requests and tasks you don't have time for that moment. So, meaning well, you say, “Sure, yes, let's circle back on that.”

What have you done? If you didn't take action on the employee request right then or write it down, you're forgetting it and disappointing employees. “You get the surveys that say management says they'll take care of things and never does,” she says.

Here are two of Morgan's suggestions to stop “circling back”:

If you're busy, be honest

If you acknowledge a problem and don't make it clear you're not taking care of it right then, you took ownership of the problem, Morgan says. Instead, if you're too busy to track a problem or an issue in the moment, put the onus on the employee.

“Tell them to come find you in 45 minutes,” she says. “If it's important to them, they'll come find you.”

 

If you're busy, slow down

It might seem counter-intuitive, but if you find yourself too busy too often, you need to “slow down and take your foot off the gas,” Morgan says.

Get away for a moment. Close a door. Find a place to think for a few minutes when the clinic isn't burning down and patients aren't in danger (and, let's be honest, busy as you are, they probably aren't). Morgan likes disappearing for a bit to a lunch table next door to the hospital. Then she engages her brain and runs through a process she adapted from David Emerald's book on self-empowerment.

Brain dump. Write down everything you've done that day, what you're doing that day, what you do every day, and what you want to get done. Do this every day-and especially on days when you're overwhelmed. “You'll start to see where your day is being disrupted and where you need to change your process,” she says.

Change your focus. Get off the negative (what you didn't do) and start celebrating your wins (what you did do).

Track your week. Start noting the tasks you start and common interruptions.

Create a visual. Morgan uses the website "i done this" to show her things she and her team have accomplished. (It also helps she and her team track what's not done yet, what needs to be a red-hot priority because it's sat too long, and what needs to be cut beause it's sat too long.)

“You are in control of your day,” she says. “If you're not getting the outcomes you want, don't keep focusing on problems. Do something about it.”

And if you've been reactive, not proactive, with problems at your practice and not focused on the outcomes you want, don't beat up on yourself-or your team. You'll all need time to change.

“It's all a work in progress,” Morgan says.