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Practice Management

A Successful Veterinary Practice, Like All Businesses, Begins With a Strong Foundation

    VHMA Annual Conference Highlights the Basics of Laying the Foundation

    Despite the ever-increasing complexity of Veterinary Medicine, at its core, this is a feel-good profession. A veterinary staff works hard and faces many challenges, but at the end of the day, employees derive satisfaction in knowing that they are helping our animal friends lead better lives. While skilled veterinary professionals save lives, good management and sound business practices contribute to the success of the practice. The practice manager’s expertise can have a significant impact on a practice, especially in a competitive environment. At the 2011 Veterinary Hospital Managers Association Annual Conference, slated for October 13-16 in San Antonio, Texas, Jennifer Inbody, CVPM, and Christy Johnson, CVPM, will provide an overview of the foundations of a successful practice. Both Inbody and Johnson are principals in a practice management consulting service for the veterinary profession and are VHMA members.

    Getting Started

    To establish a solid business foundation, setting goals is a primary task. The goals will set the parameters for developing the vision for the practice. The vision statement is the definition of the success hoped for within a given time period. A vision statement is not indefinite. It seeks a definite outcome and is written in an affirmative manner. It fuels growth.

    A business vision statement requires a practice owner to consider the future in light of preconceived expectations for the business. A practice manager can be a valuable player in this process by promoting discussions. Acting as a sounding board, inquisitor or provocateur, the practice manager can move the process into unexplored territory and encourage a less conventional consideration of future business development. As the vision unfolds, and questions and requests for clarification surface, the final product becomes clear, concise and easily understood.

    Inbody and Johnson offer practical suggestions for facilitating the vision process:

    1. Organize a brainstorming session that allows free, unfettered ideas for the vision statement. Encourage this to be an open discussion where all ideas are welcome, at least initially. As the process moves forward, ideas and suggestions can be pared down, refined or discarded.
    2. Lists can be helpful. List facts about the business along with its strengths and capabilities. These facts will be instrumental in shaping the vision, but should not limit the vision.
    3. Length should not be an issue. Brief or extensive, the length can be adjusted as the statement goes through the editing process. The vision statement should include all information that key participants deem critical and essential. Ideally, it should not be any longer than a paragraph, though it may exceed this limit in some cases.
    4. The goal of the vision statement is to aptly describe where the business will be within a given period of time. It is a picture of what the business will evolve into.
    5. Be willing to prepare several iterations of the vision. Because it is a process, the vision will grow and change.

    Inbody and Johnson caution that the vision statement should avoid stating the obvious, if it is to become a compelling motivator that will energize the practice.

    The Next Step

    After creating the vision statement, the next step is to craft the mission statement. Vision, mission, what’s the difference? The vision statement focuses on expectations for the future; the mission identifies what the practice does best every day. The vision statement is the big picture, and the mission statement flows from the vision. If the vision is to be the most successful practice in a specific geographic area, the mission will include actions to accomplish this. The mission considers what a practice does, how it does it, and whom it serves.

    Vision + Mission = Clear Expectations

    The vision and mission are crucial to setting clear, understandable and easily communicated direction for the members of a practice, which include the owner, partners, employees and customers. It’s not enough to feel passionate about the services that are offered; it is important to know what drives the practice and to what end.

    The more clearly a practice can articulate high-level goals, the less time and fewer resources will be spent on trying to fix poor communication, confusion and unwanted behaviors.

    Internal communications and policies need to be aligned with the core beliefs of the practice to be effective. Employment and hiring policies, compensation, training and ethics should be consistent with the practice’s stated goals and vision. Failure to ensure consistency among these critical elements can create discomfort in employees and raise questions about the practice’s commitment to its vision and goals. Employee engagement, efficiency, retention and innovation are all affected by how well core elements are communicated and demonstrated by leadership.


    Inbody and Johnson stress that even after the vision, mission and goals have been agreed upon, the practice will only be as successful as the leader. A leader can enhance his/her performance by creating opportunities for staff to move forward in a way that is consistent with the mission, vision and goals. To accomplish this, the duo recommends that leaders, with the assistance of practice managers, create action plans that define the roles and responsibilities of the members of the organization. They also should implement strategies to increase the quality and timing of communication so all team members are aware of what needs to happen and should use feedback effectively to ensure optimal performance.

    The Integrity of the Foundation

    A foundation is only as strong as the materials that constitute its makeup. Inbody and Johnson are clear that the foundation of a business will survive over the long term only if the owners can clearly communicate their intentions and goals and work with staff to ensure all are equally informed about the direction in which the practice is headed and the issues that are important for its growth and survival. Business owners may be unaware of how to transfer these desires into an effective plan, but the practice manager can be a catalyst in this process.

    For more information about this topic, readers planning to attend VHMA’s 30th Annual Conference should reserve a seat at Inbody’s and Johnson’s seminar, Foundations: Where Successful Practice Management Begins. The VHMA Annual Conference and 30th Anniversary Tribute runs Oct. 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas. To register, please visit www.vhma.org.


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