It’s Tuesday morning, the exam rooms are full, a technician has called out sick, the phones are ringing, procedures are being completed in the treatment area, and surgery is underway. There is still follow-up with clients and patients that needs to take place from the previous work day.
In your practice, is this a beautifully choreographed play or total chaos?
Staff efficiency can seem random or out of control. Getting the best out of your team without making it “all about the money” takes thought and planning. Where do people and money meet? Today’s veterinary practice m anager must find ways to develop systems and measurements. It is no longer enough that you, as manager, used to be the best receptionist or best technician. Your track record got you into the position. A successful veterinary practice manager will now have to be able to motivate others and prove motivation results to practice owners.
Find the Right Motivators
The manager’s role is similar to a sports coach. Managers must create an environment for people to work efficiently toward practice goals, as well as for the employee themselves and their personal growth. Along with everything team members want, today’s workforce demands job satisfaction. Offering experienced candidates a job will not guarantee efficiency with patient care, appropriate charging, or reliable team work. Determining the appropriate carrot can be the difference in success or futility.
Presuming that the team is built of a variety of personality and experience levels, managers need to determine appropriate motivators for each individual. The diversity of the team indicates a need to look outside ourselves and what motivates us as leaders. Some team members are motivated by more money, others are motivated with time off, and yet others are looking for opportunities for career advancement or new skills. Knowing how to motivate people to work with you toward mutual goals demands that you first learn what each individual wants. How? Ask. Taking the time to learn the needs of your people as a team and as individuals will reap rewards for you as a manager.
Set Standards and Provide Training
The starting place for measuring efficiency is with clear job descriptions. It is beneficial for the current team to play a part in creating and updating job descriptions. Without standards and ongoing training, it is unlikely that patient care is performed in the same way by each individual on the team for every pet on any given day.
The mobile nature of the current workforce means people come with preconceived ideas of how to perform a job. “At my last practice, we…” is often heard and may be nothing like your doctors want to see a procedure done. Standards and protocols are the basis for patient care that marks a practice as distinct in its approach.
Employee evaluations offer a consistent measurement of the efficiency outlined in job descriptions. Having standards known in advance offers clear measurements of performance. It is vital in the current economic climate for a practice to provide strong client satisfaction and good communication skills. Making these traits part of the performance evaluation can be the difference in creating team efficiency as opposed to chaos and random success.
Veterinary professionals want to work in an environment in which they can take pride. Managers must accept the challenge of controlling turnover by developing an efficient workplace. Statistics show that the cost of turnover is equal to the annual cost of a successful employee. When turnover in a position takes place, whether voluntarily or not, the whole team must pick up the slack and efficiency can be dramatically impacted. Picture your best employee and what their total compensation package costs the practice. Can you afford to let the revolving door continue to swing?
Maintain an Efficient Doctor to Staff Ratio
It is likely that during the practice’s busy season, the manager will be met each week with the demand for more support staff. As the season ends, there are more people than work, or the financial goals can support. Often, decisions have to be made to adjust team numbers. An efficient Doctor to staff ratio is more than having extra people when busy and trying to decide who to lay off when things slow down. By planning for efficient staffing, the practice manages within defined goals.
What is the doctor to staff ratio in your practice? Divide total full time equivalent (FTE) veterinarians into the number of FTE non-veterinarian staff (FTE=40 hours/week). If there is a larger ratio, huge layoffs may not be the answer, but as natural attrition occurs, there will be a need to assess whether the position needs to be filled or if the duties can be evaluated and reassigned. If you find your ratio low and think things are great, ask yourself, could we do more for our clients and patients if our veterinarian was freed up to see more patients? Having an efficient team with good standards and well-trained protocols reassures doctors that they can delegate comfortably. This is where managers make the difference in unleashing the practice’s potential.
Work With Your Budget
Does your practice work with a personnel budget? A budget directs whether we can afford to hire more people and/or offer current employees wage increases. Without a budget, it is easy to be carried through an evaluation process by emotion alone, whether from panic or favoritism, and leaves the practice open to legal implications and negative financial impact. It can be difficult to adhere to the financial goals of the practice if there are none. In the face of economic challenges, having written goals can be the difference in sustaining the ups and downs or being led by the moment.
There is a direct correlation between the personnel budget and the practice’s fee schedule. The practice must bring enough money in the front door without pouring so much into personnel that there are insufficient reserves for progress. The team may work well together and enjoy strong relationships developed over the years. However, the practice must produce enough money to support the number and quality of people employed, and the cost of services to be acceptable to the local demographic, all while still maintaining financial parameters of the practice.
Personnel efficiency may seem like an unattainable goal or a huge project, but it is not. Take small daily steps allowing you to take control of the personnel efficiency that determines your practice’s success, financial stability and growth.
A special thanks to Debbie Hill, CVPM, SPHR, CCFP and our friends at Patterson Veterinary University for providing this educational content.