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Veterinarian Technician November 2012 (Vol 33, No 11)

Management Matters: The Organizational Chart: A Conduit of Communication

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    See the Management Matters series archive.

    Does your workplace have an organizational (org) chart? If not, why not? Maybe your boss doesn’t know the full purpose of an org chart, so he or she hasn’t invested any time or energy to create one. If your workplace does have an org chart, have you looked at it lately? Is it current? Most important, have your team members ever seen it? This article will teach you about org charts so that you can explain why they are important to your team. It will also help you learn how to get your team involved to gain that important buy-in.

    Creating or revising an org chart could be a team event in which everyone learns something. The most important thing is not to imply that the chart ranks people according to their skills, personalities, or contributions to the team; instead, the chart should describe a conduit of communication that everyone on the team will benefit from learning.

    In a new or young veterinary practice, there may not be much need for an org chart. The boss is at the “top,” everyone else is at the “bottom,” and it should be clear to everyone who is where (FIGURE 1).

    It gets more complicated, however, as the team grows. In the beginning, it may be fine to have one veterinarian owner and a couple of people serving as the receptionist, technician, assistant, and kennel helper. Typically, everyone on the team knows how to perform all the positions in the practice so they can rotate with each other and cover the practice with a minimum number of people.

    But let’s say the practice is successful and the days become busier. The veterinarian owner has to work more and more hours, so she hires an associate to allow her to spend more time with her family. Perhaps the phone is constantly ringing—which is a good thing—so one person needs to be assigned to consistently cover the phone and the busy reception area. The veterinarians are performing more surgeries, so a dedicated surgical assistant is needed. The good reputation of the veterinarians grows, so they begin to see more difficult cases—not just routine vaccinations and spaying/neutering. In addition, the person who bathes and grooms patients before they go home gets plenty of client compliments, and is therefore tasked with growing a grooming service for the practice. The owner may decide to hire a credentialed veterinary technician who is used to her full potential by beginning and ending appointments and performing what is legal for technicians in the state. So each person, or area of service, succeeds and now requires a more defined role.

    Generally, a new practice’s growing pains start to be felt when there are eight to 10 staff members. With growth, several things begin to happen. People work different shifts, so not all team members are present during communication to the team. Several people have the same position, so the job of one becomes that of many, requiring consistent policies and procedures for the position. For example, when there are just two front office team members, they can work in tandem, perhaps overlapping shifts to cover the necessary hours, so it’s probably easy for these two people to communicate frequently and completely. However, when there are three or four front office team members, policies and procedures may begin to break down because the position is performed differently depending on the person and the shift. Therefore, designating a point person from the front office team can enhance communication.

    An org chart is not about who is better; it is a communication tool. For example, a boss has a new operational task for the front desk when new clients check in. Instead of the boss having to describe the new procedure to each of the four team members, she only has to describe it to one, the supervisor, who may be called the lead or head of that area or group. The information is given to this “middle manager,” who is responsible for communicating it to the team (FIGURE 2). This new supervisor should begin having regular meetings with her team to discuss new procedures, issues, ideas, etc.

    Although this discussion has focused on growth at the front desk, in reality, growth happens simultaneously throughout a practice. Therefore, the org chart would probably look more like FIGURE 3 .

    With multiple people in middle management, a new communication structure is required for the team. This is when hiring a hospital manager (also known as a practice manager) starts to look like a good idea to a boss who has been communicating with multiple middle managers. In a very large organization, the hospital or practice manager runs the “work” in a practice, but a hospital administrator may also be hired to run the “business.”

    It would be ideal if everyone on the org chart would follow the path of communication that it depicts, but this is not reality, and those who “jump” the “chain of command” can really muddle things up. For example, a medical support team member has the idea of placing a white board in the intensive care unit. Rather than following the org chart, she bypasses the supervisor, and maybe even the hospital manager, because she has known the boss for 12 years and had her attention during an easy surgical case. There’s a problem when the supervisor discovers the new white board on the wall and has no idea why it’s there. Bypassing the supervisor excludes her from providing input and being a part of the decision. At the very least, the supervisor needs to know how to train the rest of the team to use the new white board.

    A more serious issue could arise if a medical support team member has a problem with another employee and bypasses her supervisor to discuss the issue with the boss. First of all, the boss has middle managers for a reason: so she doesn’t have to sort out disputes between employees. Second, if the boss participates in the discussion and moves forward with a solution, she has completely undermined the authority of the supervisor. Team members will begin to go straight to the boss (if they like her answers) instead of the supervisor. However, if the problem is the supervisor or manager, then bypassing her is necessary. In other words, no one should feel trapped by the person just above him or her on the organizational chart; in case of a problem, it is allowable for a team member to go above his or her direct supervisor, to the hospital manager, to discuss an issue involving the direct supervisor.

    An org chart is usually created or revised to try to fix communication after it has gone sour. This reactionary approach is okay; at least it leads to the creation of the chart, which can benefit communication immediately and in the long term. When an org chart is introduced to a team, the presenter should focus on the path of communication outlined by the chart, which will visually remind team members who to approach first.  

    Another benefit of an org chart is that it points out who will represent each position’s needs among members of the management. The supervisor is the “voice” of the group, carrying concerns to management and coming back with solutions. The supervisor is also actively on the floor with the team, showing that management is watching the workload of each person on the team.

    The growth of a practice can be emotional for all involved. When a practice is small, the team may feel like family and that work is a second home. As the size of a team increases, the distance between the positions increases, and the practice loses its family feel. Creating an org chart doesn’t have to contribute to the loss; instead, a chart can act as a neutralizing member of the family, mediating family fights!

    According to OrgPlus, an online tool for creating organizational charts and understanding your workforce, publishing and distributing org charts to an entire organization communicates necessary and valuable organizational information to all employees. Org charts are ideal for sharing an organization’s strategic vision and for defining responsibilities, dependencies, and relationships. Good charts can organize teams by clarifying responsibilities, titles, and lines of authority. A clear and concise org chart is an invaluable management tool.

    Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, is the founder and owner of interFace Veterinary HR Systems, LLC (www.KatherineDobbs.com)—a human resources consulting business. She discloses that she has received financial benefits from CareCredit, Bayer Animal Health, Virbac Animal Health, ImproMed, Veterinary Practice News, AAHA Press, VCA, and AdvanStar. She has also served on the Bayer Technician Advisory Council, the Virbac Compassionate Care Council Advisory Board, and the Blueprints Veterinary Marketing Group.

    NEXT: Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism in Reptiles

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