Take your team H.I.G.H.E.R.

dvm360dvm360 September 2021
Volume 52

Learn how to help veterinary professionals of all levels reach their full potential.

Prazis Images / stock.adobe.com

Prazis Images / stock.adobe.com

In the veterinary sector, it is becoming more and more apparent that training—clinical and human skills—are no longer optional. According to Caitlin Keat, MS, BS, and Alyssa Mages, BS, CVT, presenters at the Fetch dvm360® Conference in Kansas City, training is integral to a practice’s success.

Keat and Mages are co-owners of Empowering Veterinary Teams (EVT), longtime friends, and experts in helping hospitals and veterinary companies fine-tune aspects of their workplace standards to maintain status at the forefront of the industry.

Since launching in October 2019, EVT has provided webinars, leadership seminars, hands-on workshops, training programs, and training materials designed for a hospital’s specific needs. “Our [adage] ‘inspire, instruct, impact—together’ is what we do for each other and what our ultimate goal is in the work that we do,” Mages previously told dvm360®.

During their Fetch dvm360® presentation, Keat and Mages said training is essential to standardize and create a comprehensive program that supports the team and enacts the positive changes critical for the growth and development of its members, and they detailed the steps to take your team H.I.G.H.E.R.—hire, instruct, goals, hold, empower, and rely.

6 steps proven to take teams H.I.G.H.E.R.


“The first step in creating your impactful team is to fill roles with the right candidates,” the pair recommended. Most often, this takes the form of a traditional interview process to hire a new team member. However, EVT also suggests reaching out within your existing organization to identify experts or find individuals ready for a growth opportunity.

In either case, they said it is important to talk with these candidates first to understand their skills, personality, and career goals. It’s also helpful to reach out to their coworkers and leaders to understand their performance in other situations.

Always be on the lookout for teammates who bring knowledge and match the social dynamic of the team, they added.


Part of being a leader is being a teacher and mentor to your staff, even if your veterinary team is brimming with experts. “There are always aspects that are unique to your team, and ensuring you teach and communicate this to new members is fundamental to your success,” they said.

If you have novice staff members on your team, “instructtakes on an elemental meaning. You will need to teach them the fundamentals of their roles more than you would the experts. Most importantly, they added, leverage your network and your larger team to help. If you connect a junior team member with the right expert, they can help and enhance this training.

Although this can all seem intimidating as a leader—particularly based on the time aspect alone—Keats said she has found some of her greatest team members through growth opportunities.


Once you have established the ideal team and they are on the path to superior learning, it is time to create team goals. “Teams will fall apart if they don’t know what they’re working toward achieving,” Keats and Mages advised.

Without a shared purpose, team members will be running in different directions and completing actions that oppose each other. “Imagine a soccer team that doesn’t know which goal is theirs, and players are stealing the ball from each other,” they illustrated. “Well-defined goals help to avoid this and keep your team moving in the same direction.”

A good way to check that your goals are functioning is to check if they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time based.

Hold (accountable)

Both you and your team need to take accountability and be held accountable. According to Keat and Mages, this means adhering to deadlines, completing actions, and communicating obstacles that may impact either. “This does not mean yelling and screaming over every missed deadline or every mistake,” the pair clarified.

When a mistake arises—and you can guarantee it will—identify the root cause rather than looking for someone to blame. As a leader, you must help team members understand their mistakes and involve them in finding a resolution. Try to move forward, Keat and Mages told their audience: “Dwelling on the mistake or searching for someone to blame does not erase the mistake; it just makes your team scared of making mistakes. This fear can stop their progress altogether.”


By following the preceding steps, your veterinary staff is now composed of experts, you have set the direction, and you are all accountable. Now comes the most important part: Make sure the staff is empowered.

“You are not an expert in every field. That is why you’ve surrounded yourself with them. You cannot possibly understand every detail or make every decision,” they explained.

This is another great example of when you need to rely on your people. Give them the power to make decisions and take actions within their area of responsibility. Support their decisions and actions to exemplify your trust. Come to terms with the fact that not every decision will be perfect. Remember, this is why you hold each other accountable.

“This is where the power of your team to get things done, to impact, and inspire begins to take shape,” Keats and Mages said.

Unfortunately, this is also where many leaders fall apart. Too often, practice owners feel it is their responsibility to question every decision and approve every action. However, this is ineffective and grinds productivity to a halt. Remember the steps you took to get your team here and believe in the process.


This is another area that presents a roadblock for leaders. “Just as they believe they need to make every decision, they believe they need to answer every question,” the duo explained.

Instead, Keat and Mages encouraged attendees to accept that they are not the experts in everything, and it is impossible to be. “The team you have built is your council of trusted advisors. Use them,” they said.

As your veterinary practice faces tough challenges or decisions, turn to your council. Consider their thoughts and concerns, and ask questions to understand the implications, the consequences, and the benefits of their advice. Then collect all these pieces of advice and make a more informed, intelligent decision. Do not be afraid to turn an answer over to your teammate if you are unsure.

“Answering a question incorrectly undermines your credibility way more than letting someone else answer or even saying ‘I don’t know, but I will find out,’” they said.

Putting it into practice

Many of these leadership behaviors are mastered over time. They do not always come naturally. If you find your team struggling, come back to this article and reset. Keats and Mages recommended even selecting a single step from the H.I.G.H.E.R. process that you can focus on. Keep practicing these skills and motivating your staff. In time, you will find that every team you create is an empowered veterinary team that reaches HIGHER.

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