Whether it's too many tangents, irrelevant discussions, or too much nitpicking and criticism bringing you down-use this advice to wake up your veterinary team meetings.
I sat in a meeting recently with owners and key leadership team members from several successful veterinary clinics. During one of the breaks, I overheard one of the practice owners say, "I dread that one day a month we have to have a staff meeting." He went on to tell the colleague standing next to him, "I can't imagine having to be in your clinic and having to have a meeting every week. That sounds just awful."
I wish I could say I was surprised by these comments, but unfortunately I hear them more times than not. These meetings can be awful if they're boring. We once had a manufacturing representative come in with a canned presentation, and he went over the scheduled time by 45 minutes. I knew nothing was getting accomplished and I could feel the tension in the room as the boredom built. I had to cut the person off.
Let me set the record straight: Don't organize meetings just so you can say you did. I agree with the naysayers. They can be expensive, they can take up valuable appointment time, and if not led correctly they can turn into complaining sessions.
But you can turn those around into productive, enjoyable meetings by making some major changes.
Success or failure of a team meeting will be defined days before the meeting ever starts. Laying a foundation and picking concrete goals and objectives are critical steps that must be taken. The organizer needs a realistic schedule and a focused agenda of topics to cover. (Go to dvm360.com/MeetingAgenda for two examples from my practice.) I know what you 're thinking: "That sounds too corporate." But not having a plan is going to get you back to the days of wishing you never had meetings at all.
Starting the meeting off right is critical. Set clear expectations for staff behavior. Let the team know that attendance is mandatory, that cell phones should be turned off and ignored, and that only appropriate subjects will be addressed.
Location is important, too. Some of you will find that the reception area or the treatment area is no longer conducive to an effective and efficient team meeting. Forget office phones ringing off the hook—dogs barking, IV pumps beeping, and UPS deliveries will compound the distractions. Look for some affordable alternatives that will aid in your success. Mid-tier hotels, pizza joints with party rooms, and civic clubs can be viable, cheap alternatives to your building.
The next crucial step is assuring that the meeting plan fits the group. Yes, you might think it would be great to start a monthly wellness plan in your clinics, but developing a new service in a team meeting of 25 won't be successful.
A better way to tackle wellness plans might be to ask team members to read an article before the meeting on the importance of monthly wellness plans and then breaking out in groups to brainstorm ideas to implement the plan.
Meetings with the entire staff are best reserved for discussions for consistency and clarity—getting everyone on the same page. This is the time to review decisions, celebrate successes, and learn from generalized mistakes without finger pointing. These all-hands meetings are good times for educating staff on new medical and office topics and products available and, of course, getting through the never-ending list of housekeeping items.
Successful, well-planned meetings will have organized input from many team members. None of our clinics could operate without their dedication and hard work—and the same goes for meetings. Every employee has unique and significant roles and responsibilities to add to our success. Allow time for team members to update the group on what they've been working on and accomplished. The more time others spend giving updates is an indicator of how well the managers are delegating and how much ownership the staff has taken.
It's a beautiful thing to watch as we go around the room getting updates from staff members on their responsibilities: inventory, client reminders, new technology, referral programs, social media, and holiday parties. This is how a meeting really becomes about the team as opposed to the manager and/or practice owner.
Giving team members a real sense of responsibility and ownership helps them feel truly fulfilled in their jobs—that they're maintaining and keeping a legacy of teamwork and client and patient care. These are the folks who walk to the parking lot at the end of the day and know they've made an impact.
Staff meetings in your veterinary practice are a great thing—when done correctly. They're a path to future achievements for your clinic. With the proper planning, success is almost guaranteed before the meeting ever starts. Start today organizing your team meetings with a strong purpose, a helpful structure, and a dose of creativity and rid yourself of that feeling of dread that one day a month.
Brian Conrad, CVPM, is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash.