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When the cat's away
Q: We've been through two managers in the past two years, and our team morale is beginning to fizzle out. The practice owner is always out on farm calls, and several associates arrive late and leave early. Some of the other team members are following their bad habits. How can we stay focused when there's no leadership?
Q We've been through two managers in the past two years, and our team morale is beginning to fizzle out. The practice owner is always out on farm calls, and several associates arrive late and leave early. Some of the other team members are following their bad habits. How can we stay focused when there's no leadership?
First, approach the practice owner with the problem, says Firstline board member Pam Weakley, a practice manager at Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. When you voice your concerns, focus on the interests of clients and patients. If you present the problem from the practice owner's point of view, you'll be more likely to be perceived as a professional, not a tattletale.
Next, she says, your practice owner needs to take the reins—or ask someone on your team to step up and be an office manager. "The owner should empower this person to make decisions in the owner's absence," she says.
Once the owner empowers a manager, Weakley says the manager should ask for regular meetings with the practice owner to discuss issues that arise. This keeps the owner in the loop about team issues. It's also helpful if the owner gives the manager the authority to reprimand if it's needed. And instituting a time clock for team members and using a production-based compensation for associates' pay may eliminate some of the time stealing.
"We have an employee handbook, which includes rules of conduct that everyone is expected to follow," Weakley says. As you create rules of conduct, you'll also need to outline the varying degrees of punishments, from spoken to written warnings, time off without pay, and termination.
"If your practice isn't ready to make all of these changes, start with one or two to begin to give your practice some structure," Weakley says. "Sometimes it's hard to stand up to office politics. I've found as the manager, I can't have friends at work. You can't be both a supervisor and a friend at the same time."
If the owner isn't ready to delegate these duties, he or she may choose to send one of the associates out on calls, Weakley says. That way, the owner would be in the building to see what's happening.
Finally, she says, team members should strive to keep their focus on the practice's patients and clients and do their best job to serve them.