Greetings and a happy holiday season to all the amazing DVMs and staff out there who are supporting your community during these crazy times.
We like to put together a year-end message of reflection every December, and this year my team suggested this theme that they felt was important for these times:
You may never be “caught up” – and that’s okay
This article started with an email I sent to the technical leadership at GeniusVets, with some advice on handling the endless workload of new feature requests, platform development and supporting our clients. We're a high-performance team, and while a relentless focus on results is part of how we accomplish this, it also requires the ability to step back and find sanity in the flood of traffic so we can maintain long-term effectiveness.
I think this same message absolutely applies to leaders within veterinary practices today. Most of your practices have grown substantially over the past three years, and many are still trying to find the time to hire that new staff member or complete that renovation or install that new PIMS.
Here are a few mental models I’ve found to be tremendously helpful:
1. Any structure, even poorly followed, is better than no structure.
One common – but erroneous – response to having too much traffic to fit into a system is to abandon the system and just handle traffic as it comes. This is natural but can be counter-productive. Any structure even poorly followed is better than no structure.
I have a very methodical task management system which currently holds 556 to-do items. Believe me, it's tempting to abandon the system and just put my head down and "do stuff" – but that would never get me to my big goals.
My co-founder Dr. Michele Drake has created a fantastic system for managing her team. Through a thoughtful structure of weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings, and a tiered communication process to get new ideas and protocols spread to her team, Dr. Drake has scaled her practice from 1 doctor and 2 staff up to 11 doctors and over 50 staff, all while maintaining profitability and a great culture. You can see a lot of these ideas in our article series “Sell, Struggle or Grow”. I would encourage you to check out this information and give it a try in your practice.
2. Put your important goals in first, because on Monday morning the whirlwind will take over.
Sean Covey addresses this in his excellent book The Four Disciplines of Execution. To use Covey's terminology, the “whirlwind” of reactive demands will eat up all the time you give it. So if you haven’t slotted in some time every week to work on your “wildly important goals”, they will simply never happen.
Dr. Michele Drake talks about “taking yourself out for coffee”. By this she means, get out of the practice for an hour or two a week with your notepad and work on the plan for your business. Most DVMs are more comfortable in the exam room or surgery suite than they are doing business planning – but that’s exactly why you need to dedicate space for this in your schedule.
3. Prioritize goals that have leverage toward reducing the future whirlwind.
When you’re weighing your goals and priorities, it’s especially important to recognize what Intel founder Andy Grove called “leverage”. Basically, some things we can spend time on have the potential to save us 5X or 10X as much time in the future, just as a lever helps us move a heavy weight with less effort.
Some great examples of this in a practice are recruitment, training, and creating processes for your staff to follow. If 2 hours of training your techs on how to better support your doctors could save you 2 hours a week for the next year, that’s a 52X return on your investment!
Many practice owners I talk to feel they can’t delegate because “people make too many mistakes”, or it’s just “easier to do it myself”. That’s true in the moment, but over the long term, creating a systematic training program is the only way you’ll ever be able to create a great lifestyle as a practice owner.
The next time you’re choosing between handling a short term, urgent request vs. teaching your staff how to handle that request in the future, I hope you’ll choose the latter. This is the road to freedom as a business owner.
4. You may never be "fully caught up" – and that's okay.
Earlier in my career I used to daydream about some eventual day when I would have completed everything on my to-do list and be "fully caught up". This sounded amazing! Maybe you’ve imagined the same thing. But I've come to realize that if you continue growing, you will never be "fully caught up". And that's okay. Even if you sold your practice and retired, people like you (and me) end up finding something else interesting to do that would pile up our to-do lists again.
Effective people are always busy, and they're never "done." In my humble opinion, any leader needs to eventually accept this, and recognize we are always going to be re-prioritizing and making our best effort to keep our goals alive while avoiding drowning in daily tasks.
This is the essence of true contribution. There is a shortage of truly effective people in this world, and work finds its way to them. So effective people will always have more to do than they have hours in the day. This is called "being valuable to the world" – and it's not a burden, it's an honor.
I hope this helps a few others out there. I'm not a fan of "being busy for the sake of being busy". But if your to-do list is overflowing because you are expanding your reach and your contribution to your community, I encourage you to let go of any judgment about it, look for ways to increase your leverage, and just keep growing – the world needs you.
Here’s to the business owners, managers and leaders out there who are making things go right in spite of everything. May your 2023 be prosperous, fulfilling, and maybe even a little easier!
This article was written by Harley Orion, CEO