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Management Team Structure and Function

By Martha Jack posted 07-17-2019 00:00


Group of people discussing a projectTwenty years ago, most veterinary practices didn’t have a practice manager; these tasks were performed by the owner of the practice. As practices have gotten bigger and the environment in which veterinary medicine operates has gotten more complex, it is rare to find a practice that doesn’t have at least a part-time management person. The management team in many practices has also grown both in size and skill set. VHMA’s July 2019 Insiders’ Insights survey explored both management team structure and function.

Only 26% of the managers surveyed have a formal, written contract, and very few of those contracts were written by an attorney. Contracts for both veterinarians and managers almost always ensure better communication regarding the terms of employment and the expectations of both parties. Better communication = fewer problems in the future. They also can help drive an orderly transition when it’s time for the employee to leave (either voluntarily or not.) Contracts don’t have to be complex; contracts can be written in as much non-legalese as possible, so everyone understands what the words mean. Attorney involvement in the drafting of the contract is important. An attorney helps make sure the contract doesn’t include illegal expectations and can also make sure you don’t innocently commit to something you didn’t mean to. Well-written contracts protect both parties when things go bad.

Whereas only about ¼ of the managers have contracts, the figures are reversed for job descriptions with only about ¼ of the managers NOT having a job description. Contracts usually only list general employment duties, but job descriptions are typically more detailed. The primary benefit of a job description for both the employee and the employer is communication of responsibilities and expectations. Job descriptions should be updated every couple of years or when job duties change significantly, and the employee should be actively involved in either creating or updating the job description; they know best what they do! The manager and their supervisor should review the job description periodically to make sure expectations are aligned.

When asked: “Have your management responsibilities changed in the last year?” Very few respondents said their duties had decreased, and about only about 12% said their responsibilities had not changed. The majority of the respondents said their duties had changed in some fashion, with 60% saying their responsibilities have increased — not a surprise with the growing complexities involved in running a small business. The types of changes noted included: delegating more tasks, core tasks remain the same, but day-to-day tasks have changed, duties influenced by addition or leaving of other employees, and some changes are one time—building of new facility, acquisition of a new clinic, the addition of online pharmacy

When asked: “Has the management structure in your practice changed in the last year?” 45% of the practices said they'd added middle or top-level management with most of the additions being middle-level department managers. A few practices have decreased the number of dedicated positions but not tasks. The tasks themselves were assigned to other individuals. 45% of the practices have not made any changes to the management structure.

When asked about the factors that influenced change in the practice’s management structure: corporate acquisition, revenue increases, revenue decreases, staffing growth of the hospital, and expanded services were all identified.” It is no surprise that the vast majority of the change in management structure is influenced by practice growth in revenue and/or staffing. In the “other” section, some respondents noted reorganizing and/or flattening their management structure to be more efficient and productive.

Only a few practices have no dedicated practice manager. The management team in 43% of the practices consists of the owner and a dedicated manager and in 50% of the practices consists of the owner, a practice administrator and multiple other office or department managers.

For more details, read the full report, VHMA July 2019 Insiders’ Insight.