Healthy Associate Relationships: Keeping the Fire Burning
A new veterinary graduate is interviewing for his first full-time DVM position.
Employer: “So what is the most important component of employment for you?”
New graduate: “Mentoring.”
Employer: “That’s good, because my plan is to be around for six months to mentor my new associate.”
The new associate is hired and two weeks later the owner goes on vacation for four weeks. What happens? Well, the relationship between the owner and the associate didn’t start off as the associate had hoped. The initial “agreements” between the owner and the associate were not met. The associate was looking for a mentor and the owner was looking for some time off…most likely well-deserved time off, but relationships are damaged if agreements are broken.
The process of bringing on a new associate is a big deal for the Practice owner, associate, team, and the Practice overall. It’s also just as big of a deal to nurture the relationship with an existing associate. Whether working with a new or existing associate, the Practice owner needs to be clear about expectations and provide tools that will facilitate long-term, healthy, and productive relationships between the Practice and associate.
Some of the most successful relationships between Practice owners and associates that I have seen are initiated when the owner develops and communicates clear expectations and the vision to the associate. The journey for an associate begins with understanding their role in the Practice, understanding how they may impact the Practice, understanding personal growth potential, and understanding the philosophy of the Practice.
Tools to Keep the Fire Burning:
Do you know what you want?
When identifying what you want from an associate, write it down and type it up. Not only do you want to identify the necessary medical skills set, but it’s also important to identify other necessary qualities. The point is to be clear on what you want and why and include this in your strategy to find the right associate fit.
Do you know what they want?
Once you are clear on what and why you are hiring an associate, questions and discussions need to be initiated to the candidate about what they want and why. Clarifying what’s important to the associate as well as the owner is critical in ensuring the right fit that may result in a positive, long term relationship.
Do you have an agreement?
Okay, so you are clear on what you want. Do you have the terms documented in a written agreement? This is a helpful tool that both parties may refer to when questions arise.
It is a good idea to defer this responsibility to an attorney that is familiar with the veterinary profession.
It takes a team to successfully introduce and orient a new associate. Although the owner and other associates may be the designated mentors, the support team and management can comprehensively help with the process.
Leadership and Keeping Your Word
When the Practice owner demonstrates effective and positive leadership, the Practice is positively impacted in many areas, especially concerning relationships and performance.
One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate powerful leadership is by keeping your word.
Starting a new associate relationship in the right direction requires developing relationships among the owner, long term associates, and new associate. An effective mentor program not only positively serves the new associate, but also positively impacts the Practice.
Developing Client Base
An associate, whether a new graduate or experienced veterinarian, rarely comes with a significant client base. The development of a client base is fortified by the support the owner provides the associate and through introductions to the clients. When the owner introduces the associate to existing clients, confidence and trust is planted between the client and associate and the associate’s appreciation of the owner’s trust grows.
Practices that conduct regularly scheduled doctor meetings provide opportunities to ensure a unified message and establish standard operating procedures. When doctors are on the same page concerning medical protocols, team frustration is reduced, operations are more streamlined, and compliance improves.
Continuing education benefits are perceived as very valuable by the associate and an up-to-date associate also benefits the Practice significantly.
Associates, as well as all team members, prefer to hear how they’re doing rather than not receive feedback and have frustrations build. Keeping lines of communication open between the owner and associate helps facilitate healthier relationships.
Keeping the Fire Burning: Conclusion
Whether the associate is new to the Practice or has been with the Practice for several years, it is critical that the owner take the lead and set clear expectations, effectively communicate, proactively mentor, and lead the path to a long term and healthy relationship. Developing healthy owner/associate relationships ultimately is the responsibility of both parties. It is necessary that the owner initiates the process and demonstrates interest in the associate. It is also necessary for the associate to demonstrate interest in helping the Practice grow and build relationships with the team members, patients, and clients. When a healthy relationship exists, the positive effects have a rippling effect on the overall health of the Practice.