Empowering your practice team - Veterinary Practice
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Empowering your practice team

ARLO GUTHRIE finds the winners of Novartis Animal Health’s Best Practice Employer Awards prove inspirational employers

NEW research by business leadership consultants White Water Strategies has shown that saying “thank you” to your nurses will make your practice more profitable. According to the research, acknowledging staff achievements properly has the equivalent perceived value of a 1% pay rise.

That was the value of “thank you” according to 1,000 workers from all sectors, two thirds of whom felt they were not sufficiently thanked. I suspect that in the veterinary profession, “thank you” carries a higher premium.

For a start, it’s easy to forget to say “thanks” in the highpressure environment you work in. On top of that, women in the survey attached a slightly higher importance to thanks than men. Lastly, veterinary nurses are surely motivated more by job satisfaction, of which thanks is such an important part, than money. After all, nobody picks nursing to get rich quick (or even to get rich slow, for that matter).

At this point I’d like to single out four vets in the UK who’ve shown just what a huge difference it makes when you acknowledge and empower your staff. They’ve all just won a Novartis Animal Health Best Practice Employer Award, devised by the company to recognise those practices that uphold the highest employment standards, and to share the lessons they provide with the rest of the profession.

Heart-warming loyalty

For me, Emily Holbrook and Nine Lives Veterinary Practice in Hertfordshire provide one of the most heart-warming demonstrations of the kind of loyalty inspired by a good boss. This year, there was a special award for the veterinary nurse who made best use of the opportunities given to them by their employer.

Emily’s head nurse, Katherine Corbett, won the award for a project in which, completely on her own initiative, she’d set up a series of talks for local schools as a marketing initiative for the practice. Her attention to detail impressed all the judges.

But what was truly amazing was that when I rang Katherine to tell her that she’d won £500 to spend as she wished, the first thing she said was: “Can I spend it on buying one of Kruuse’s Buster ICU cages for the practice. Emily has given me so much, I’d love to give something back.”

I’m not sure how many people in life would immediately give the lion’s share of a prize back to their employer, but I’m certainly not one of them, and it speaks volumes about the kind of person Emily must be to work for. So impressed was Kruuse by Katherine’s largesse that it supplied the ICU cage at cost, and threw in a moisture and temperature sensor free.

Garth Tozer of Pets Choice Veterinary Centre in Telford, Dr Richard Dixon of Vets Now (the 24- hour emergency cover provider) and Ken Davison of Inglis Veterinary Centre in Dunfermline also won awards, after being nominated by the staff at their practices.

‘Nice’ people

The very considerable time and effort that their staff put into the nominations, and the glowing testimonials, suggested that above all the winners were (I can’t think of a better way of putting this) just damned nice people. Of course, we’re not all naturally “nice”, so I asked each of them what they think is the single most important conscious step they take to keep their team happy, and how it benefits their business.

Emily said: “I have to admit I’m not 100% sure how I have such happy and committed staff! Luck might have something to do with it (and good recruiting). But I do think people are happy in their jobs when they feel in control of their working environment.

“In my practice this means everyone’s opinions are valued and taken into account for everything from whether an in-patient needs more pain relief through to what colour the walls are painted. On a practical level, this is managed via a weekly practice meeting over tea and cake or ice creams. Problems are discussed and decisions are made as a group.

“Most importantly, the individual who makes the suggestion, if agreed to, is then given full control and independence over making that idea a reality.”

As regards the impact of this approach on her business, Emily said: “By getting my staff involved in both making and delivering decisions I have much more time to be a vet rather than a practice manager, and the little things that make a difference to client satisfaction are noticed and attended to.

“We run a very profitable, extremely busy little practice (without being expensive to clients), as every tiny part of the process is being looked after by people who feel intimately involved and empowered to make a difference.”

And finally, Emily has one tip for others in the profession: “Make sure you say: ‘So what do you think?’ at least once a day! Or get yourself a practice manager who will do that for you.”

  • In part two of this article next month, I talk with the other three winners of a Novartis Best Practice Award to find out their recipe for a united and successful team.

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