It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it: advocating for yourself in the practice

By VHMA Admin posted 09-22-2020 15:06

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Finding the behavior and words to advocate for yourself in the practice can be difficult. This article will have a strong behavioral focus and feature practice managers who can discuss how s/he took control and brought accomplishments to the attention of the owner.

 Boundaries and acting on behalf of the practice

 Susie Crockett, CVPM, is a practice manager for three hospitals with Noah’s Animal Hospitals---two general practices and one emergency/specialty hospital. 

 How does the practice owner perceive the role of practice manager?

 The current owner/administrators have a great deal of respect for the practice manager role. They recognize how hard this position is and give a great deal of autonomy to the PM to make decisions that are best for their location based on clientele and staff.  

 Discuss an incident that occurred while carrying out your responsibilities that the owner did not understand or appreciate.

 In my company, it is hard for the owner to know everything about the nine different practice locations. An executive team was established to oversee different subsets of each business function to help break up the massive responsibilities that come with multiple locations. An HR Department facilitates recruitment for each location.

 Currently, it is extremely difficult to find experienced, qualified staff.  HR initiates all initial contacts with applicants and provides them with information about the company to ensure that the location to which they applied is the best fit for what they are looking for. This protocol ensures consistent messaging to all incoming applicants.

 I found myself in a situation where I saw an incoming applicant who had amazing experience and would potentially be a wonderful addition to our organization. I knew that the staff making initial contact was unavailable immediately due to other commitments and I felt strongly that we, as a company, should make immediate contact to show interest and try to secure them as an employee. I immediately contacted the applicant to get the ball rolling. HR was frustrated with my decision because I had overstepped the process.

 How did you explain your decision to administrators?

 I discussed by decision to act with my directors. We all struggle to get good candidates. As practice manager, I am well aware of the shortage of qualified candidates and--- based on my experience and expertise---knew that if the practice responded slowly, the candidate would be scooped up by another hospital.  I explained that I believed it was imperative to immediately connect with the applicant and show interest---regardless of who initiated the contact---and stressed that my goal was to secure a candidate who could potentially benefit the company. My intention was not to circumvent an existing procedure.

 The outcome

 The discussion was well received. I believe in being completely transparent with my intentions and leadership respects that. The goal of these conversations is to be heard and to hear others. Consequently, it was clear that my actions were well intended. Moving forward, however, more communication prior to acting could be beneficial. More communication is always good!

 In retrospect

 Although I felt confident with my decision, it is a little nerve-racking when you have to justify your actions. I also don't want my leadership / owners to feel like I let them down or made a poor decision.

 Ensuring that you are getting your message across

 As managers, we are not always right, and sometimes we make errors in judgement. Being able to own that when it happens and move forward with purpose is key. It’s easy to do when owners and leaders respect their managers and trust that they are working hard to make the company the best it can be. I am extremely fortunate to have that.

 Advocating on behalf of staff

 Ria Botzler, CVPM is the hospital administrator and CFO Apex College of Veterinary Technology. She has worked in the veterinary industry for 21 years.

 How do owners perceive the practice manager?

 In general, the owners I have worked with value the PM and believe that the position is important. What I have noticed is that there can be a disconnect. While owners may state that a PM is essential to a healthy business, they may be reluctant to throw their full support behind the manager---especially when it involves giving them the latitude to make decisions impacting the practice.

 Provide details about a situation that required you to apply your expertise to recommend action that was initially not supported by the owner.  

 Several years ago, I worked for a practice that experienced a mass exodus of staff. This was a wake-up call. I knew the practice could not function effectively after losing more than 25 percent of its staff. It suggested deep employee dissatisfaction, which manifested in low morale and high anxiety among the remaining staff. I dug into the situation and concluded that the practice culture, as well as low pay and lack of benefits, were to blame. The veterinarians and owner did not agree with my assessment. I organized my facts, relied on benchmark studies, and called an offsite meeting with the owners to present the evidence.

 Preparation, solid information, and a strong presentation were key to educating the owners and gaining their support. Scheduling an offsite meeting was also helpful because it ensured the group was focused and not distracted by phones and staff interruptions.

 The outcome

Negotiations were successful. After losing so many employees, the owners were in a vulnerable position. My goal was for them to acknowledge that staff is not disposable or expendable. The practice’s policies, low pay, lack of benefits, and unsupportive environment did not foster loyalty or satisfaction. I proposed that benefits be added, pay increased, and a few fun perks--- like car washes---be included. I also stressed the importance of hiring for soft skills. Possessing technical skills is important, but they can be learned. Knowing how to treat others cannot.

In retrospect

I was pleased at the changes that were implemented and so were the employees. The owners were certainly onboard with my suggestions, but did not embrace the idea of being more outwardly supportive and appreciative of staff. I continued to be the buffer between staff and the owners, but resigned before the owners became fully invested in taking on a more supportive role with their employees. 

Ensuring that you are getting your message across

I often encourage managers to hone their negotiating skills. Managers who are adept at advocating for a position, increase their chances of success. Negotiating successfully is often overlooked in business management, but there are many ways managers can learn to be effective negotiators. Suggestions include, joining Toastmasters International, enrolling in a Dale Carnegie public speaking course, or volunteering for a speaker’s bureau. Learning how to say what you want to get across to others will take your career a long way.