Staff meetings can be the key to your veterinary clinic success (Part 1)
Do we really need staff meetings? If I’m honest, when I mention staff meetings more often than not I hear something along the lines of….
“Oh please no! What’s the point? It’ll probably be during my lunch break, it’ll start late and then when it does start I’ll be thrown into a confusing mess of new ideas, rehashed ideas (that never eventuated) and the all-consuming airing of grievances and complaints that I gave up keeping tabs on ages ago.”
What if I were to tell you that there was another way?
What if I were to tell you that there is a way to ensure you and your team to have an opportunity to participate in sharing, shaping and forming your workplace in a proactive and productive environment? Would I get you there…. on your lunch break, sandwich in hand with pen and paper??
If that mental picture offers you a glimmer of hope, please keep reading.
Let me start by admitting that I don’t have a natural born love of all things meeting related. In fact, over the years I have been part of The Good, The Bad and the Just Plain Ugly of staff meetings. However, I also believe everyone should have the opportunity to be heard and positively contribute to the success of the team. And believe it or not, a great place for this to happen is in a weekly staff meeting.
I can already hear the “Yes, but’s..” as to why meetings won’t/can’t work for your veterinary clinic so let’s discuss some of the most common reasons and why they may not such a barrier after all.
10 most common reasons for not having regular staff meetings
Over the years I’ve probably heard every conceivable reason as to why regular staff meetings won’t work. Most people believe that their practice is different – somehow their problems and pressures are unique and while meetings might work for some, they really won’t work or are just not needed for their business.
So I’m sure some of these will sound familiar….
1. There are only (insert number from 1-20) of us and we can discuss things as we go along
No matter what the size is of your team, dedicating a set amount of time per week to stop multitasking and focusing on your: who, what, where, when and how of the business will be invaluable .
2. We are too busy
If you really are that busy, then that’s all the more reason to hold regular meetings. The busier you are, the less chance you’ll have of talking through issues on the fly and the greater the likelihood is of miscommunication, and variations in protocols.
3. We have too many part-time staff so we can’t all get together
I accept that variations in working hours is a challenge, but if you have lots of part time or casual employees then there’s even more reason to meet and communicate regularly. For example there’s the challenge of communicating operational changes not to mention ensuring every employee feels part of the team and understands what they are working to achieve – both of which can be addressed in regular meetings.
There are ways around the challenges of getting everyone in the building at the same time. Think laterally and ask your team for suggestions and you may find you have team members who are more than happy to dial in via the web - especially when they know they will be contributing and hearing worthwhile information.
4. We don’t really have any issues – we are busy and everyone (clients and staff) are happy
If everyone – staff and clients – are really that happy then maybe you could start your own consulting company! Or maybe it’s more likely that no one has taken the time to find out how happy everyone really is. The fact is that in order for any business to stay viable let alone grow, they need to continually train, measure, review and then train some more.
5. Our clients wouldn’t cope with us shutting our doors and turning the answering machine on once a week.
I get it - change is hard for everyone. However, with the proper amount of preparation, planning and regular communication with your clients explaining why you're closing, it will in time become the norm.
I can honestly say out of all the practices that I have coached over the years, all the top performing businesses shut for weekly meetings.
If you are already profitable without shutting for meetings, just think what you will be able to achieve once you do start holding productive meetings!
6. We have tried them before they just turn into bitch fests
We see this situation most often commonly with teams that purely read off “the whiteboard” and without a detailed, planned agenda the potential for this negative situation is certainly there.
However, you could also put it back to the team - everyone is responsible for adding what they want to talk about on the agenda and it’s just as easy to write something positive as it is negative...it’s their choice.
7. There’s no point - we talk about things, but nothing changes – or if it does it doesn’t last
Making changes and then making the change stick is a universal but not insurmountable problem. The first step is to create an action list at the end of each meeting and assigning the tasks along with a completion date to specific people. Then most importantly, following up and asking for updates at the next meeting.
8. The staff don’t like them and make excuses not to come
If this is the case within your practice, then the question you must ask yourself is: if you didn’t have to run staff meetings, would you?
Your staff may be reflecting your own views on the importance of regular meetings and if you don’t believe they’re a priority, then why should they?
One way to ensure your meetings are valuable to your team members is to ask for their input as to what they would like to talk about. But the most important thing you can do is to believe in their value and make them a priority - hold them regularly, start on time and finish on time.
9. They're a waste of time – the information isn’t relevant to me.
You do need to make some effort to make your meetings as relevant and valuable to individual team members as possible. So it’s important when creating the agenda and reviewing topics that staff want to raise, to identify what is valid for an all staff meeting and what needs to be shelved for individual discussions, nurse only, vet only or CSR only discussions and deal with them accordingly. There is nothing wrong with discussing an overall topic with the team however wasting time on cases and or fine details needs to be nipped in the bud during the meetings.
10. No one participates so I gave up
The best way to overcome a lack of participation is two-fold. First up is the golden rule: the managers and owners speak last. This isn’t so they get the last word in rather it ensures that everyone else has a chance to be heard before they “dictate a directive”. Owners and managers tend to already have the answer in mind when they read out the topic and it can be very intimidating to the staff to offer other alternatives.
Another way around this problem is to train someone else to facilitate the meetings. Part of that training should include how to open topics for discussion, how to ask questions, be curious and ask for alternative thoughts. If still no one wants to start the conversation, then ask someone specifically for their thoughts.
The other key to overcoming this issue is to let the staff know what is going to be discussed prior to the meeting and also inform them if you are going to want specific feedback if this isn’t the norm. This gives individuals the time to think about the issues to be discussed and consider their own thoughts and opinions.
How many of these "It won't work" sounded familiar?
Did any of these ten excuses sound familiar? If so, after reading an alternative way of looking at the issue, can you see there may be merit is having meetings?
If you’re still not convinced that regular meetings are essential for your veterinary clinic then there’s one more question to ask yourself – is it a clinic culture issue?
Is it a clinic culture issue?
Values x Behaviour = Culture
As a Practice Owner or Manager, this may be a good time for some honest reflection:
As an owner/manager, do you value the opinions of your team?
How good are you at asking for and taking feedback?
Is there enough trust in your team to be able to disagree or have robust conversations in meetings?
If you feel your clinic culture is the issue, I’d be more than happy to have a conversation with you to discuss the situation further.
If however you would like to start implementing regular meetings in your clinic there are several processes that can be introduced to make them a success – and these will be discussed in Staff meetings can be the key to your veterinary clinic success (Part 2)