Map Out a Successful Communications Strategy

Connecting with staff members is vital to creating a strong practice.

Ray Ramirez, DVM
Published: April 19, 2017
When I did relief work, I saw a lot of great ways that veterinarians and hospital managers connected with team members throughout the day.

I’ll never forget the clinic that had a guillotine outside its practice. Positioned in it was a headless scarecrow dressed as a staff member, with a pumpkin “head” sitting in a basket at the base of the guillotine. The staff and clients loved it, and there was no doubt that the doctor and management team at this practice were very good at the “soft skill” of relating to people.

These five simple techniques can bring your team connectedness up a notch:
  • Ask staff Questions about themselves.
  • Bring hUmor to the practice.
  • Ask your team why they are Employed at your practice.
  • Share your own struggles with your staff.
  • Get through the Tough days together.
Going on this “QUEST” will help you connect with staff in ways that will truly make them feel like the champions they are!


Ask Questions
Your team is just like you. Work is interesting and exciting, but their job is not what they live for. When people are polled about the most important things in their lives, they respond with something along the lines of “family, friends, and religion.” Rarely does anyone say “my job.”

To foster connections, don't just say “hello” to your team members each day; ask them about what is going on in their lives. Talk with them about their family, their hobbies and what they did over the weekend. Inquire often, and really listen to the responses. You may have heard the phrase, “They don’t care how much you know until you show how much you care.” By asking questions about your team’s personal lives, you show them that you care.


Use Humor
Humor is a fantastic bonding agent. Introducing humor into your practice can help solidify the connection between you and your staff and lighten the overall mood at your practice. You don’t have to be a comedian; there are plenty of websites and email lists that can send you a joke a day. This can be fun, even if it comes off as corny. You may be surprised to find how much your staff looks forward to Silly Joke Monday or Joke Day Wednesday.

A word of caution: Crude jokes or jokes that are sexual in nature are inappropriate, as is humor that tears a person down. If you hear a joke and think, “I wonder if this is appropriate?” it probably isn’t.


Why are They Employed Here?
What is important to your staff about their job? Why do they work in veterinary medicine? Why did they apply to your practice in the first place? And how do they know you are paying attention?

Make it a point to thank staff members for doing their job and contributing to the good health of your patients. There are myriad reasons to thank your team throughout the day:
  • The receptionist who alerted the appropriate person to inventory the refrigerated vaccines and refrigerate them right away
  • The assistant who calmed an upset client with a kind word
  • The technician who educated the owner of a newly diagnosed diabetic dog about her role in dealing with her pet’s disease
  • The technician who counseled a client whose cat was in renal failure regarding strategies for giving the necessary medication
  • The assistant who put a client at ease when he was catching his pet up on vaccines after not being able to do so for a while
  • The person who mops the floor and cleans the rooms each day, thereby decreasing the risk for infection

It is up to you to help paint a picture for the staff of the masterpiece they are creating for the pets they love to see at your practice.


Share Your Struggles
Sharing your own struggles with your team shows them not only that you are not perfect but also that some things in your life can scare, encourage, confuse, or anger you. In short, sharing your struggles shows them that you are human. Don’t overshare with staff, however, because some either don’t care that you have troubles or are glad you have them.


The Tough Parts of the Job 
Ask your team what is challenging about their jobs. What you think may be difficult could be easy for them, and what you think is easy they may find difficult. A staff member could have an uplifting interaction with one client followed by client after client who is frustrated and complaining and sucking all the joy out of the day. How can you make your team member’s job a little better?

First, help staff realize that having to deal with frustrated clients is not a “problem” but a natural part of practice. The Pareto principle states that 80 percent of frustrations come from 20 percent of clients. Isn’t it weird how those 20 percent all seem to come to your practice on the same two days? Help your team remember that these individuals (or days) are not the norm and that many of your clients love your work and are more than satisfied with the practice.

How you share these sentiments with staff is important. Simply offering platitudes such as “Don’t worry about Mrs. Jones. We all appreciate everything you do here” may not be enough. Try this approach instead: “Don’t worry about Mrs. Jones. Remember when Mr. Smith told you how much he appreciated all you did for Milly when she was so sick? And what about Mr. Rickles? Even though he complains about payments, when Patches was sick he really appreciated your just being there with them. Clients appreciate that!”

Conclusion
Veterinary teams are made up of individuals who work together toward the singular goal of ensuring the health and well-being of patients. Connectedness among teams enables better performance across the board, but being able to relate to team members is a skill that doesn’t come easily to every practice owner or manager. Your team wants proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you do notice! By going on a simple QUEST to change your everyday communication techniques, you can show that you truly care about your team, thus ensuring team cohesiveness and practice success.

 
Dr. Ramirez (DrRayDVM.com) owns Lakeview Veterinary Clinic in East Peoria, Illinois. He speaks at regional and state conferences on a variety of practice management topics.

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