Now We Know What Keeps Them Up at Night
In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of asking your employees to identify what keeps them up at night. The question was posed to VHMA members in a series of surveys known as “The Demon Exchange.” I shared with the readers the how and why of surveying stakeholders, employees, members and clients as a barometer of their level of satisfaction.
Now that the results of the VHMA Demon Exchange have been tabulated, phase two involves interpreting the results. The VHMA survey instrument was designed to single out the most pervasive and troublesome problems confronted by employees in a range of positions within the veterinary practice management field. The results provide insights into the industry topics that will require attention over the coming months and years.
The Devil Is in the Details
The 2012 Demon Exchange consisted of an electronic survey administered to attendees at three conferences: the 2012 North American Veterinary Conference, the 2012 Ontario Veterinary Medical Associate Conference, and the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference. The devilish question, “What keeps you awake at night?” prompted respondents to rank their top professional concerns. The survey was completed by 1,190 veterinarians, practice managers, office managers, technicians, hospital administrators, owners, receptionists and students. Associate veterinarians, hospital administrators, practice managers, office managers and practice owners made up 66% of the respondents. VHMA will use the results to identify future services, educational opportunities and other benefits.
Drilling Down the Key Issues
Respondents were asked to identify their position by job title and to select, from a list of 22 issues, the three that were the most perplexing or stressful or interfered with their ability to perform their jobs. The issues on the comprehensive list were: profit margin, cash flow, budget management, gross income, staff training, staff recruiting/hiring, staff scheduling, staff relations, associate contracts, wages and benefits, associate behavior, maintaining policies and procedures, inventory management and controls, employee theft/shrinkage, marketing efforts, client retention, legal and regulatory compliance, strategic planning, exit strategy, IT, medical records, and burnout.
Among all respondents—a diverse group with job titles that included a broad spectrum of positions within the veterinary field—the top concerns in order of importance were: staff training (31%), staff scheduling (28%), staff relations (27%), profit margin (26%), burnout (22%), and client retention (22%). The top three issues underscore the importance of ensuring a work environment in which the needs and issues of staff are adequately addressed. While those in management positions may fret about how to provide the resources to offer training, employees are interested in ensuring that opportunities to enhance their skills are available.
Respondents’ concerns were influenced by their position and job title.
Among practice managers and office managers, the key issues were staff training (42%), profit margin (24%), cash flow (13%), and staff relations (12%). The concerns of this group are reflective of their job responsibilities: achieving financial health while maintaining employee satisfaction.
Running a successful practice requires the support of a loyal client base. Among associate veterinarians, client retention was the chief concern, with 30% of respondents selecting this issue. In today’s uncertain economic climate, determining how to attract and retain clients is a priority for any business. Other key issues among veterinarians included staff relations (27%), staff training (24%), and wages and benefits (20%).
The issues identified by hospital administrators clearly reflect their broad responsibilities and their focus on both personnel and financial oversight. Concern about staff relations (36%), a priority among this group, was followed by issues related to profit margin (24%) and staff training (15%).
For practice owners, profit margin, which was selected by 47% of respondents, was the chief concern, followed by cash flow (28%) and client retention (27%), all issues related to a strong bottom line.
Making the Survey Results Work for You
This snapshot of the concerns among veterinary management professionals highlights the “pinch points” within the profession. The goal of the survey was to provide a good baseline analysis of where the profession is and what changes are needed. The results indicate that for any practice to function effectively, the needs and issues of a diverse group of stakeholders—those holding various positions within the practice—must be addressed.
It is important that those in the field embrace the results, which offer critical information. If client retention is an issue, take a long, hard look at the actions the practice should adopt to keep its clients. Now is the time to consider the scope of the issue before irrevocable damage occurs.
And, while a number of issues were identified, it is unrealistic that all issues can be addressed immediately. Isolate the issues that with change can have the biggest immediate impact on your practice and begin to work on them first.
Once the issues have been isolated, implement swift and decisive action. Knowing the issues that should be addressed is one thing, devising workable solutions is another. Avoid getting bogged down in discussion that takes the focus away from implementation.
Don’t forget that at times, it is necessary to be persistent. Armed with an understanding of problematic issues, monitor the results once action is implemented. If the situation doesn’t improve within a reasonable period, it’s time to move to Plan B.
Finally, we all have demons, and the only way to deal with them effectively is to listen and then act.
Christine Shupe is the Executive Director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated to enhancing and serving professionals in veterinary management through superior education, certification and networking. For more information, visit www.vhma.org.