The veterinary practice manager behind the mask


Your terrible, horrible, no-good manager may not be as bad as you think. Consider these eight secrets that help explain why they do the seemingly crazy things they do.

P.S. Managers and team members, read on to find tips to help you work together a little bit better.

"Clueless." "Unbelievable." "It would be different if I were in charge." They infuriate, aggravate and take us to the limits of our emotions. They're our bosses. We find ourselves bewildered by their decisions and even discouraged when we think they don't understand. We think they don't understand us, but what if the opposite is true? What if there are some things we need to know about being a manager?

What would it be like if your manager could tell you everything that's going on and the reason behind every decision? We may never know, but you can ease the workday by learning eight secrets your manager wants to tell you—even if she can't:

1. I keep secrets for a good reason.

Sarah has been late several times in the last few weeks and missed an entire day without any excuse. Anyone else would have been given a disciplinary action. You think it's unfair that she's treated differently than the other employees.

As your manager, I know that Sarah's issues with her employment are confidential. As much as I'd love to tell you that Sarah has an underlying medical issue and is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, I'm not able to discuss Sarah's health issues with anyone. Every team member deserves that level of confidence when they share private information with their manager.

Manager tip: Review the confidentiality of employee files and information during each employee's yearly performance review. Also, be sure to include a statement about confidentiality in the employee manual. All team members should know that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, protects all medical information confidentiality, so it's important to handle all medical information in the strictest of confidence. And the Privacy Act of 1974 outlines the protection of employee information regarding personal information and its handling by employers.

2. I appreciate the benefit of the doubt.

Consider each situation from my perspective as a business manager. After a meeting with the roofing contractor and hearing all about the $30,000 job the roof needs this spring, I walk into the trio of Tanya, Teri and Trina. They describe how kind Dr. Smith just gave Ms. Amos a discount on the puppy she brought in that was hit by a car. I know I'll have to discuss with Dr. Smith that he's discounted more than $600 in services this month. As he's depleted the $2,500 that was put into the practice's charity account just four months ago, this is going to be a difficult discussion.

Dr. Smith complains to the team, "It's always about money around here." But my talk with Dr. Smith focuses on living up to our charity fund agreement. While everyone shares good intentions, the team misinterprets my actions based on Dr. Smith's comments. And I don't get the opportunity to discuss what I actually said to Dr. Smith.

Team tip: You've heard one side of a discussion, from one person's perspective. Consider that it's like a jigsaw puzzle. Without all the pieces, it's better not to guess what the picture really looks like. And while you think you know what people's intentions are in conversations, you may be wrong.

3. Maybe I could use a lesson in delegation from time to time.

You need next week's work schedule, and I am woefully behind. Forgive me when I give you that basset-hound-caught-in-a-hail-storm look when you ask me for next weeks' hours. Your look of sympathy that rivals the one you save for old cats who cringe helplessly in the back of their carrier makes me feel worse when I can't get everything done on time.

Manager tip: Use these five steps to start delegating today.

1. Do a time audit and track everything you do for a week. Then pick five tasks that you could teach to someone else.

2.Make a pie chart of what you do in a week's time so you can get a visual depiction of how you spend your time. Now create a pie chart of what would most benefit the clinic: more marketing, increased training and so on. Identify three tasks to delegate.

3. Offer specific instructions and then shut up. Outline what you want the team member to do, give a timeline and your expectations, set up checkpoints, agree on the end date and then let them do it.

4. Ask your team members what they see you do that they could do for you.

5. Let go. Yes, it may not be the way you would've done it, but it's done well.

4. I have feelings, too.

Yes, I notice when I walk into a room and everyone stops talking and starts moving away in a rush. It's OK that you chat from time to time. What hurts is that you seem to think I don't know your favorite topic is whatever perceived slight or mistake I've made. Instead of asking me, the goal of the gossip seems to be to make it seem like I don't care about the team or I'm incompetent. Congratulations, you've hurt my feelings. And the gossip hurts team morale.

Team tip: Treat your bosses the way you would like them to treat you. Little bits of devotion and care are the answer.

5. I notice your coworker's bad behavior.

Yep, you're exactly right, our receptionist Ms. Betty is a crabby slug. The problem may be that our dear old owner just doesn't have the heart to do anything about it after all these years. So, she sits at the front desk, chasing away clients, cherry-picking duties and knowing there's very little I can do about it.

Team tip: If you've already approached Ms. Betty about her behavior and she hasn't made an effort to change, go on record. When a team member is repeatedly failing to do his or her job or acting in violation of hospital policy, it's time to share your concerns with the manager. Focus on how this is affecting client service, quality of care or practice efficiency. Don't make it about how you feel. And let your manager know that you want what's best for the practice. Will things change? Hard to say. They may ask you to put your concerns in writing or to share them with the owner. Once you've spoken up, focus on your performance instead of issues you can't change.

6. I want you to stay with the clinic for a very long time.

As a manager, I'm only as good as the team I create. It hurts to hear you think I don't care about you as an employee. The fact is, I spend my day concerned about every facet of this business. Often after everyone else has called it a day, I'm still trying to figure out how to make tomorrow better.

Manager tip: Keep the team informed about the hospital's financial status (with practice owner permission, of course). Show the health of your practice in the last 12 to 24 months in financial metrics. Identify the metrics for the practice and post them for all the team to see. It doesn't need to be a secret. Download the management metrics sheet at

7. I want to pay you more.

Paying you more would make me happy too, really. The big invoices, the busy Saturdays and the changes in prices give some employees the idea that there's a lot of money to be made here. But the bills are big as well.

Manager tip: It's helpful to look at the entire compensation for a team member, and you can do this with a compensation statement at sheet, such as the one at On a yearly basis, sit down with a team member and fill out this form so you can demonstrate everything that goes into their compensation, including discounts, CE, vacation, their incentive bonuses and so on. This will help show that it's not just what's in a paycheck that creates value for a team member.

8. I'm trying to coach, not micromanage.

It would be great to turn you loose and let you take control. I know it looks like I micromanage. And you feel like you're painted with the same brush of those who've come before you. I can be a bit defensive when I'm the one the clients yell at when the service doesn't live up to their expectations and the procedure was clearly outlined. Don't automatically push the micromanager button just because I mention an important point more than once. My goal is to assure you're clear on the standards of care.

So, when those times come around and you wonder what's going on behind your manager's mask—and more important why aren't they saying anything?—now you might have a better understanding. And, it might just be that better understanding that makes you a bit happier, satisfied and knowledgeable about your workplace now.

Manager's tip: Micromanager or coaching manager: Which of these lists sounds like your boss? Managers, ask your team members to identify which list most fits you.

Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, MCP, PHR, is a partner at VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. You can catch Grosdidier live at CVC Kansas City on Aug. 24.

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