What Keeps You Up at Night?
“What keeps you up at night?” is almost a universal question. When used in a business context, once you get past the glib responses from employees, colleagues, or clients (ie, crying babies, a drippy water faucet), you will have information that can be used to improve your response to the concerns of your staff and clients.
Survey and polling can help identify the most relevant and pervasive concerns. The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) recently initiated a survey series called the “Demon Exchange.”
The VHMA asked people in the veterinary hospital management field to drill down to the deep issues that were causing them to lose sleep and were negatively affecting their ability to perform their jobs.
Ready, Set, Go!
As basic as it sounds, one of the best ways to tap into the most vexing concerns of your employees, stakeholders, and members is to give them an opportunity to describe what’s on their minds.
The VHMA’s recent foray into the minds of its members involved hospital administrators, office managers, technicians, veterinarians, veterinary students, practice managers and practice owners, and invited them to share their fears and concerns. Individuals were polled at three conferences and asked, “What keeps you awake at night?”
Good question, great responses—and new insights. The VHMA was able to determine the most troublesome issues and to identify the chief concerns among specific stakeholder groups. Consequently, the VHMA uncovered opportunities to provide education and create additional member services for needs that the organization had not previously known about.
As practice owners and managers, the same strategy works when polling either your employees or clients. Regardless of your audience, the goal is to discover where improvements need to be made. Ask employees what keeps them up at night, and you may learn concerns differ by job title. The VHMA found that managers and owners are not always concerned by the same thing.
Don’t expect technicians and veterinarians to express identical concerns. But be prepared to handle all concerns thoughtfully, sensitively and effectively. Likewise, don’t expect cat owners to express the same concerns as dog owners.
An Open-and-Shut Case
When getting to the root of an issue, it’s imperative to decide how you will ask the questions. Probing respondents with open-ended questions and allowing them an unlimited universe of responses will certainly result in a wide range of issues being identified. However, when asking the question, it may be more helpful to try to contain responses to prevent the pool of responses from being too broad, cumbersome and unwieldy. The advantage of open-ended questions is that they open the conversation and may provide richer responses.
One alternative is closed-ended questions. These require respondents to provide a simple yes or no response or to choose from a predetermined set of responses. Closed-ended questions provide little room for detail, creativity or imagination.
The Hybrid Question
The hybrid question is also effective because it contains a limited universe of predetermined responses but allows respondents to provide details or additional information.
Customize Your Inquiry
Knowing your staff members can determine which questions are most effective. Do they need to be prodded to share information or are they generally comfortable expressing their opinions? If they need to be guided, then a closed- question format may work best. If they are eager to share information and opinions, consider including open-ended questions to offer ample opportunities for expression
If you plan to ask your clients about what keeps them awake at night when thinking about visiting the veterinarian, provide initial guidance but then offer a chance for a personal response. For example, the question “What keeps you awake at night when thinking about your pet’s veterinary visit?” could include:
A. pet misbehavior (describe)
C. unwanted/unexpected bad news
D. other (feel free to expand on any of the above or add additional concerns)
Click, Sit, or Phone In?
Just as there are several ways to ask a question, there are also several strategies to collect information. Computer surveys afford privacy and anonymity. Face-to-face questions can influence how candid a respondent is. You know your staff members and you should keep them in mind when selecting an approach that is compatible.
With a group that is comfortable openly discussing issues at staff meetings, then by all means, raise the questions during a staff meeting. But if the group is dominated by one or two people or there is hostility about differences of opinions, it is better to administer a hard copy of a questionnaire or ask the staff to answer an online survey.
When seeking the opinion of your clients, consider emailing or posting the question on the practice’s Facebook page. Keep your surveys and questions brief and simple. If you decide to survey by telephone, BE BRIEF! I can recall receiving a call and being asked to complete a “short” survey. How short? Fifteen minutes! They lost me by 10!
Use It, Don’t Lose It!
The VHMA is very excited about the information obtained from its efforts to discern what keeps members up at night. This information will provide the foundation for further programming and educational series. The VHMA initiated the process in an attempt to strengthen the association and the services it provides members. When conducting a survey, make sure your employees and clients are rewarded for their input by keeping them informed about how the information will be used. Should you neglect to do this, it is less likely they’ll participate in future information-gathering efforts. And the best reward is developing programs and initiatives that address those employees’ and clients’ concerns.
No More Sleepless Nights
A night spent tossing and turning and fretting about job-related issues can sap energy, enthusiasm and effectiveness. Clients who have concerns about their veterinary practice may take their business elsewhere. The employer or practice owner who attempts to address concerns can make significant inroads into improving the overall attitude, productivity and confidence of the workforce and their clients. Now, good night and sleep tight!
(To explore the VHMA's interpretation of the survey data, see their next blog, "Now We Know What Keeps Them Up at Night").
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.