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Practice Management

She Just Did What? Managerial Mistakes and Their Solutions

by Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, MCP
    She did what?

    Your team members’ work world revolves around their manager. It makes sense, then, that team members want to get along with and respect their supervisor/manager. In the Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange, respondents identified a compatible supervisor as the number 2 reason they stay at a job.1 With employee retention still a big issue despite high unemployment, what mistakes are managers making that increase the likelihood that employees will seek employment elsewhere? Here are six fundamental ones:

    Mistake 1: Belittling team members

    “You are lucky to have a job these days.”
    “We can find someone else if you don’t want to do this job anymore.”
    “Who asked you for your opinion?”
    “Because I said so.”

    To most employees, the above types of statements are personally offensive and degrading. Worse, the comments are often made as offhand remarks and in the presence of other team members, adding embarrassment to the exchange.

    The Fix: If an employee’s actions require correction, have the conversation one on one, not in front of an audience of other team members or clients. There is no justification for being disrespectful or offensive. If there is an issue, state it in a polite and even voice. Not sure how to say it? Practice saying the words out loud and in front of a mirror to ensure they sound the way you intend and that your facial expressions match the message you are trying to convey.

    Mistake 2. Choosing an employee of the month

    When one employee is singled out for his or her performance during the last 30 days, everyone else feels that they were “not good enough” or not seen to be doing their job right. Don’t make it a competition that can be viewed as favoritism.

    The Fix: The goal isn’t to single out one person as much as it is to reinforce that person’s positive behavior. How about setting performance criteria and then recognizing every team member who meets or exceeds them? The XLNT Veterinary Center asked team members to develop a skit to demonstrate ways to handle angry clients and to role-play it at a team meeting. Eight of the team members not only created skits to outline their angry client technique but also added a list of talking points to reduce the number of angry clients. At the next meeting, those eight team members each received a gift certificate for a free lunch and an hour of paid time to enjoy it.

    Mistake 3. Being an open door all the time

    Now, maybe this sounds counterintuitive. Many managers pride themselves on being available all the time and want to be contacted with any problems or issues during the course of the day. Anytime there is an issue, the team is expected to bring it to the manager for handling. The result? The manager ends up putting out fires all day and not addressing larger issues that would prevent future fires.

    The Fix: Establish times during the week that you are available to handle issues that are beyond the team’s ability to solve. Managers often talk about empowering their team to make decisions, but do you actually give your employees the authority to solve anything without you? Set parameters that enable employees to get their job done and keep things moving smoothly. At the Center Veterinary Hospital, anyone who handles a problem with a client has the ability to fix the problem—up to a value of $500. If a client has an issue with a bill or is angry about a service, the team member can make it right, whether it means giving the client a free pedicure (for their pet!), adjusting a bill, or even offering 2 free nights of boarding. The result is that clients’ problems are handled on the spot, team members can feel confident about being able to be problem solvers, and it doesn’t take four people to fix an issue. Yes, team members need training, guidance, and reinforcement to make this fix work. But consider the hours of time it saves for clients, team members, you as the manager, and the practice. It’s an easy equation to understand.

    Mistake 4. Tackling big jobs without planning

    When facing a climb, the best mountain climbers make sure that they have a plan for each step, each hour, and each summit they will reach. If a goal is too high and seems completely unattainable, the team loses confidence and motivation or just plain gives up.

    The Fix: Deb, the practice manager at the URGood Animal Hospital, knew that getting ready to move into their new facility was going to be a "mountain to climb." So she planned small steps to be accomplished each day. Each week, instead of giving team members long lists of things to be done, she broke the chores down into what could be done each day, and just kept people focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Her team wasn’t overwhelmed, and Deb was able to maintain enthusiasm by charting progress to show everyone how much they were getting done, reinforcing their success with the proof that small steps can climb mountains—or, in this case, move them.

    Mistake 5. Finding too much bad and not enough good in the team

    Team meetings at the Valley Veterinary Center were downright scary, filled with long lists of what was wrong and lots of blame for everyone. The most that team members hoped for was silence—a sign that they had not done anything “bad.” They knew they would rarely hear anything good.

    The Fix: Count the times you give good feedback. Make it a point each day to go with the 5-to-1 reinforcement ratio—in other words, you must give five positive feedback points to someone for each negative one that you share. For those feedback points to count, your praise must be specific, not overblown, directed to that person, and sincere. For example: “Rob, you did an excellent job today, working with Sharon to get the prep ward reorganized. Thank you for your hard work. It is appreciated.” Very few employees have ever complained about being positively reinforced too often.

    For more information and advice on retaining and developing your current team members, read the article "Best Human Resources Practices for Your Practice."

    Mistake 6. Laying down the hard line…all the time

    Sure, a manager needs to make tough decisions and will not always be popular for those decisions. However, there is a difference between being the person who has to make the “hard call” and being the one who everyone avoids, no one wants to work with, or is known as someone who will make issues worse rather than improve them. Successful managers know that it is better to be respected by team members than to be feared.

    The Fix: Owners! This one is on you. If you have a manager who is ineffective, unproductive, mean to the team, and rough on the practice, it’s time to do something. Your team depends on you to make some tough decisions too. Allowing a monster manager to walk your halls and terrorize your team will only result in running off your best employees and damaging your business.


    Sound familiar? Have you run across a few of these problems? It’s time for a fix. A solid management structure starts with a solid manager.


    1. Nguyen S. 5 reasons why employees stay. http://workplacepsychology.net/2010/05/03/5-reasons-why-employees-stay/. Accessed October 2011.


    Did you know... Skill-based communication training provides clinicians and teams with practice tools to improve client and staff relationships. Read More

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