Maintaining an Even Keel on the Water and at Work

By Scott Zimmerman posted 02-12-2024 22:13


Thistle Sailboat

Four months into my term as President and time is flying. So far, I have met a lot of members and had the opportunity to represent VHMA at several industry meetings. VHMA’s Management Exchange is on my February calendar and I couldn’t be more pleased. 

Getting to meet and learn more about our members encourages me to share something about myself that you may have noticed, I strive to maintain an even keel.

This fact extends through all facets of my life. Sailing is my passion, and I am the proud owner of a Thistle sailboat. In the sailing world, “maintaining an even keel” means ensuring that the draft of the vessel fore and aft are equal. In other words: the ship’s keel is parallel to the ship’s waterline. For those who don’t know boating, that is a good thing because it assures smooth sailing.

In my veterinary hospital, I also maintain an even keel. In the work setting, that translates into working smoothly and steadily, without sudden or unexpected transitions, but knowing that they will happen. 

One of the things that I take pride in is my ability to go with the flow most of the time. For years I have had people tell me that one thing that I could improve upon was having a demeanor that was a little less “predictable.” I know some people thrive on excitement and stress, and they would like to see a tad more of that from me. I try to deal with most situations with a bit of reservation. In times of crisis, maintaining an even keel lets my team know that things are under control, and we’ve got it covered (even when inside I am going nuts!). 

That even keel came in handy when we were losing doctors last year to “new opportunities” at other practices with compensation packages we could not match. In my gut, I was very concerned and frustrated. So was my practice owner. But I knew if we shared our feelings with the team they would spread across the practice. So, by calmly letting the team know that it was going to be challenging but we were working on the situation and had a plan, everyone was able to navigate through this storm together into calmer waters (yet another sailing reference). We hired a new doctor last month and have had several others in for interviews. As for our staff, our steady approach instilled peace of mind among our team that we are working on the plan, and all is under control.

My predictable approach brings another benefit to my practice: My team members know that every one of them can come and talk to me and I will treat them all consistently. I hope that my open-door policy empowers any member of our team to see me about anything that is happening in the hospital. Notice that I said, “in the hospital.” That is because my owner has assumed the role of counselor, and she is great at listening to personal issues that employees need to share. I stick to topics that keep our “ship” sailing smoothly. No personal drama, please.

So, is there a downside to my temperament? Certainly. When I am at max stress it can be a bit ugly. My fuse is short, and I find it hard to deal with matters of stupidity. And my team knows that, on the rare occasion that I hit that point, I begin to micromanage things that normally I don’t even think about. That is not good for anybody. If I ever raise my voice – an occurrence that in 14 years has been outnumbered by the fingers on my one hand - everyone takes note.

Just like sailing, veterinary hospitals have seasons that come and go. We have situations that mapping and plotting cannot predict. But if we stay calm and keep our eyes on the compass guiding our progress, we will get through it. That is the key to sailing smoothly through whatever awaits us on the sea or within our practices.

Wishing you calm waters ahead!

Scott Zimmerman, BFA, CVPM
VHMA President