Welcome Home, Team: It’s Up to You
By now, you and your team members have created a roadmap for individual and practice growth for 2012.
Perhaps your journey so far has been straight and smooth, your progress easy to see. Or maybe detours have caused discouragement and frustration along the way.
Remember that each day offers a new beginning. It’s never too late to start, or to redirect. We hope your progress has given you good reason to party—and the year is yet young!
In the January/February issue, we examined the power of PROGRESS as an intrinsic motivator in the veterinary workplace and a key ingredient in developing strong and effective veterinary teams. Although extrinsic motivators such as pay raises, benefits, and profit-sharing plans are important to veterinary team members, they are not enough to sustain practice loyalty and excitement about our work in the long run.
Choose to Succeed
Let’s consider another key driver in the development of solid, sustainable teams: CHOICE. Think about it. As a receptionist, you have been asked to perfect the client callback/follow-up system for your practice. Your team unanimously agrees that a strong client communication connection is needed to promote management of patient care, create client loyalty, and increase the likelihood of client referrals. What happens to the perception of a task when you are given autonomy and true ownership to perform it as you see fit? You are responsible for the result. You also have the authority to adapt your approach to optimize the outcome. How do you feel? Scared? Perhaps. But there is also a sense of creativity, innovation, eagerness to learn more, flexibility, and freedom to experiment. You are not afraid to make mistakes because the practice culture makes room for them, and the learning that results. As your teammates watch you work, the energy becomes contagious. They want to help and look forward to projects of their own.
Studies in business psychology have shown that the ability to behave as an adult, including the ability to function interdependently with others, stems from the freedom to choose.2 Choice means being able to use your intelligence, take the best course of action and make effective use of your time. Pride results from progress, quality, and effective decision making, and originates in the feeling of ownership of a task. In practice cultures characterized by micromanagement, workers who fail to complete a task with an acceptable outcome will often feel less responsible, because the decisions made were those of the “boss,” not their own.
How can we replace a culture of micromanagement with one of choice? What does this transformation look and feel like for practice owners, managers, and the rest of the practice team? Let’s take a closer look.
We can look at the building blocks of creating choices from the perspective of an owner/manager, and also from that of a team member. It takes both to create the sense that individual autonomy is “part of how we do things around here.”
Are you ready to choose to succeed? See It’s Up to You, a worksheet to help you get started
As a Practice Owner/Manager…
• Delegate authority, and don’t take it back. How many times have you heard the word “delegation” in your practice? Your boss will often utter it as though it was the “new path to success” or an “empowering strategy to promote productivity and employee gratification.” Or perhaps you heard yourself mention it as you shared your desire for opportunities to contribute as only you can. Although it may seem to be a simple decision to make and implement, delegation is more art than science; in reality it is complex, dynamic, and fraught with potential hazards. Delegation demands that power be shared. To change tacks and take the power back undermines trust. You may not be able to recapture it.
When is it safe to delegate?How do you know? You have worked hard to recruit and hire smart and have trained for competence. Now look for evidence of the deep commitment exhibited by your team members that inspires trust. As you consider a specific project you may wonder, is it better to wait for an employee to be “up to the task” or delegate first, hold our breath, and hope for the best? For owners and managers, there are safeguards. Don’t wait until employees are ready. Delegate enough authority so team members can grow into the task. Be open about delegated tasks during staff meetings. Emphasize that not all staff members will be ready to take on the same tasks since employees differ in their stages of skill development, experience, and job description. Identify the tools to develop self-management skills. This could be a topic for a separate team workshop, relevant to all employees. Define the task, putting it within reach, but provide room to expand skills and knowledge beyond the current level. Identify mentors within the practice team without creating a sense of dependency. Set expectations for honest mistakes, and stimulate a dialogue about the value of mistakes as a learning tool.
• Know when it’s time to trust. Show your team members that you trust them for as long as it takes to complete the delegated task. Don’t hover; don’t reclaim authority then redelegate, unless you want to remain in the “rear view mirror,” with employees always wondering when you will step in to make choices for them. You may lose your options for delegation—permanently! Keep your word. The “rules of engagement” are fewer in number, promoting the use of good judgment and decreasing the need for approval.
• Not a time for baby steps. Team members do not attach meaning to the delegation of trivial tasks. To them, this is a demonstration of low trust. In contrast, projects with attainable goals and also an inherent level of difficulty motivate managers, technicians, assistants, and kennel attendants alike to reach beyond customary achievement. New skills are learned by doing, and fears of judgment and failure fade in the face of personal victory. They will be ready to take on the next challenge with renewed energy and a smile.
• Say it out loud. Praise and confidence expressed in the presence of others have powers that can’t be compared to support provided in private. Compliments paid to a staff member for a job well done during a team meeting, coupled with a request for help with an even more complex task, drives motivation for everyone to become involved.
• Drive out fear by making room for honest mistakes. Make it safe for employees to experiment with decisions. The payoff for the practice is that innovative ideas and solutions will be developed to address old challenges. But mistakes are unavoidable. To reduce this risk, provide “checkpoints” and match the level of difficulty with employee abilities, while still providing opportunities for growth. Designate time intervals for progress reports, and assign other staff members to act as mentors. Be open and available for questions. Ask for alternative approaches and suggestions, and watch the learning grow. As the practice owner/manager, set expectations that mistakes will occur and be prepared to defend them.
As a Team Member…
• Negotiate for choice. How can you advocate for your own desire and ability to choose? You may have to negotiate. In a sense, you owe it to your practice to push for autonomy. Without that, your motivation and energy will fade, and your increasing frustration level will make it more likely that you will ultimately leave the practice for greener pastures. Everyone loses. Instead, describe the ways in which the project will contribute to team goals and practice purpose, and also identify your own capabilities that qualify you for the task. You may want to identify the ways in which the lack of authority slows you down and makes you less effective in your work. What difference would it make if you were given the authority to manage the budget and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances?
• Be deserving of trust. Trust is built over time and is fragile in the face of temptation. Once lost, it is almost impossible to regain. Where to start? Make promises, and keep them. If you are unsure about an outcome, don’t be afraid to make a promise with a stated contingency. That way, your boss and other team members will not be surprised if your project doesn’t turn out just as you had hoped, almost as though you had predicted the future! Speak highly about coworkers behind their backs and in the presence of others. Seek to understand others first. Display curiosity, ask questions, be patient, and listen for understanding rather than with intent to respond.
• .Don’t be afraid. As you think of taking on the responsibility of making choices, what are you afraid of? Breaking the rules? Speaking up? Making a mistake? Getting in over your head? Ask yourself if these fears are realistic, or check with a trusted coworker to get his or her perspective. Acknowledge these fears, but instead of running away and risking the loss of power to choose, ask yourself, “Am I doing the right thing?” Be assured that your boss wants the “right” thing, too.
• Seek what you need. You may need additional information to accomplish your chosen task. Talk to coworkers, send inquiries to industry representatives and professional associations, and perform research online. Successful completion of your project depends on accurate and complete information as a foundation. Your boss is watching and gains confidence in your abilities as he or she sees you develop your approach with intention.
Choices offered in good faith support a practice culture characterized by trust, loyalty, and intense desire for involvement and growth as a team. And the best part is, as long as choices are genuinely offered and supported, this growth is sustainable and employee turnover drops to near zero. Our ability to make continuous and creative improvements in tangible benefits, such as pay raises and benefits packages, is now limited. Almost all that can be done has been done. Excitement in the future of veterinary practice now lies in our ability to motivate intrinsically. Offer and accept choices, and feel the new energy generated within your team! | EVT
Coming in May…
In the May/June issue of Exceptional Veterinary Team, we will examine competency as both an individual and team quality that motivates as it grows. The importance of the commitment to continuing education, shared learning, and mentorship will be included as we take another step toward excellence in team performance and effectiveness.
It’s Up to You
Deborah D. Barton, DVM, MA
1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins J, Porras JI--New York, HarperCollins, 2002.
2. Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment. Thomas KW. Berret-Koehler, 2002.
3. Jack Welch and the 4E's of Leadership. Krames JA. McGraw-Hill, 2005.
Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. Peters T. Harper Perennial, 1988.