Enhancing communication between owners and managers (Proceedings)
Positive internal communication in the veterinary practice starts by facilitating effective communication between owners and managers. Often the frustrations of owners regarding their manager's job performance are directly related to a failure to establish good communication protocols. Likewise, managers' complaints about practice owners frequently are related to poor communication. Whether you are an owner or a manager, you can take the following steps to enhance your communication which will improve communication with the rest of the team as well as practice efficiency and productivity.
Create an effective organizational structure
The first step to enhancing communication between owners and managers is to establish a clearly defined organizational chart which outlines the chain of command and flow of communication. Members of the healthcare team need to know who they report to when they have questions or need assistance. If employees go directly to the practice owner with concerns or questions, it undermines the effectiveness and authority of managers and may result in inefficiency. A lack of organization structure can also create conflict between owners and managers.Set appropriate job roles and expectations for managers
There is considerable variation with respect to the skill level and competency demonstrated by veterinary hospital managers. Lack of effectiveness by managers is usually a result of one the following reasons: 1) employees are promoted to higher level managerial positions without sufficient training or skill sets, 2) poor recruitment efforts result in hiring candidates who aren't qualified or a good fit for the position 3) owners fail to empower their managers, 4) owners don't establish clear expectations for managers or they don't demand accountability, 5) managers become stressed and frustrated trying to meet unrealistic expectations, communicate with owners who lack good leadership skills or cater to the demands of multiple owners.
As evidenced by the list above, practice owners can improve the efficiency and productivity of managers by establishing reasonable and appropriate job duties and expectations for their managers. This starts by having written job descriptions that outline major areas of responsibility. There are multiple resources for job descriptions including AAHA, VHMA and veterinary consultants. Generic job descriptions may need to be edited to tailor them for the specific practice. In addition to job descriptions, owners need to define specific expectations and goals for their managers to improve job performance, accountability and communication. For example, if the job description states one of the duties as "Maintain major practice expense categories within target goals" the owner(s) and manager need to agree on appropriate expectations and action steps for the manager to fulfill this job responsibility. Otherwise, the job description is only words on paper, the manager may or may not be accountable for controlling expenses and there is no plan and timeline in place to respond to increases in expense categories.
Once job roles and expectations are defined, communication is enhanced because owners and managers are clear about what duties are to be fulfilled by the manager.
Establish a feedback process
Owners and managers must set up a regular meeting time to enhance communication. Managers quickly become frustrated if they work for owners who can never find the time to meet with them. Communication comes to a standstill when managers can't get owners to discuss relevant practice issues or to give them direction or approval for projects. Most busy practices with multiple owners find it works best to establish a schedule of weekly management meetings. Weekly meetings ensures that managers have the tools and information to do their jobs and also avoids needing to schedule marathon sessions which tend to occur when practice issues are not addressed on a weekly basis.
A two-way process of feedback needs to occur during owner-manager meetings. Owners are responsible for letting managers know if they are meeting job expectations and giving them feedback on how they are performing job duties. Managers need to let owners know if they require any resources to do their job effectively and they need to give owners relevant feedback about management issues.
Develop and enhance communication skills
Even with regular meetings and feedback protocols in place owners and managers may still encounter challenges with their communication. Some individuals may become defensive or emotional when feedback is given that is perceived as critical or unwarranted. Some managers or owners hate conflict and tend to shut down or avoid confrontation which tends to hinder effective communication. Most veterinary practice owners and managers or any individual for that matter can improve their communication skills. It is prudent for the management and leadership team to assess their strengths and weaknesses when communicating and then work to improve communication skills. Available resources for improving communication skills include books, seminars, mentors, coaches and consultants.