If you’ve made it this far into our series, first of all, we want to acknowledge you for that. Being in “the struggle” is always a choice, no matter how it might look at the moment. For many practice owners, staying stuck becomes a way of life.
If you’re willing to confront the struggle and commit to getting out of it – to make your practice a joy to own for years to come – then you are one of the “few and the brave”, and we’re so excited to share what we’ve learned from top performing practice owners around the country, and we will do everything we can to help.
The Struggle Can Be In Little Bits, Not All At Once
It’s important to note that the struggle is very different from one practice to another. And it can vary from one day to the next, too. Whether it’s being shorthanded due to an employee who was exposed to COVID, or having to decide whether to let go a doctor or senior tech who is abusing other staff (even though you don’t know how your practice will run without them!)... the struggle can take many forms, and it can be “cumulative.” When you’re really feeling overwhelmed, it can seem like the smallest thing can push you over the edge to feeling helpless or wanting to give up.
So if the same situation can be either an annoyance or armageddon, depending on how the rest of your day has been going, that tells us that it’s not really about that situation. It’s about many things stacking up that don’t get handled, leading to overwhelm.
In this post, we’re going to address a BIG factor that contributes to which way things will go for you: who you are listening to.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
― Jim Rohn
“Controlling your inputs” is critical to maintaining an effective mindset. That’s why virtually every leadership guru has some version of the above quote. If you surround yourself with positivity, you will soak it up and view your environment through that lens. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with negativity, you’ll notice the bad stuff and miss the good stuff that’s happening in your business – and over time this adds up into overwhelm and defeatism.
Unplug from Toxic Social Media
I follow many veterinary chat groups online, and the majority of what I see there is DVMs and practice managers complaining about their staff and about clients. Their staff don’t want to work, or their client yelled at the staff or gave them an unfair one star review. And I empathize with them. But honestly, that's just not going to get you anywhere. Most of that drama doesn’t happen in my practice, and it’s not luck or accident. I’ve worked hard for 25 years to create a culture where drama isn’t created or tolerated, and it’s paid off tremendously – not only in my enjoyment of my work, but in recruitment, retention and profitability as well.
– Dr. Michele Drake
So if we become the average of the people we listen to, and if so many of the messages going out to our profession are negative, what choice do we have?
It’s so simple that very few people do it successfully: just stop listening to it. Don’t give negative people the opportunity to influence your mindset.
This can be difficult because “misery loves company.” It can seem comforting to have a “gripe session” with others who are also in the struggle – and it can become addictive. So many stories are now coming out about how social media platforms use algorithms to keep people addicted to scrolling, and how negative messages pull people in more than positive ones.
Facebook use negatively affecting users mood, the anticipated bolstering of one's mood by using Facebook, affective forecasting, seemed to cause Facebook addiction
–Sagioglou and Greitemeyer, 2014 (emphasis added … more details and NIH study here)
21 Day Practical Exercise
- For the next 7 days:
- Really examine how you feel before and after scrolling that Facebook group feed
- Does it make you feel inspired to change your practice for the better? Or does it make you want to give up?
- Write down what you’ve learned
- For 14 days after that:
- Stop visiting all social media pages and groups that you found made you feel worse about yourself or your practice
- Keep notes on how you feel
- At the end of the 21 day period, look over your notes and decide:
- Did you miss anything truly important by not being exposed to this content?
- Did your mindset and attitude improve?
- Based on what you’ve found, decide whether you’re going to continue visiting that page or group, and stick with that decision!
- See above for studies showing how addictive this content can be even when people know it makes them feel bad. You need to know this is not an accident – social media platforms and apps employ specialized psychologists for the express purpose of making their content more addictive in order to maximize advertising revenue.
Defeatist Corporate Media
Unfortunately the problem isn’t limited to social media. Veterinary trade media, as well as even some mainstream media nowadays, are devoting a great deal of coverage to the stress and challenges of owning a veterinary practice. You can’t open most magazines or media sites without seeing something about burnout, the labor shortage, the tragically high suicide rate in our profession, or the “inevitability” of the corporate takeover of vetmed through ecommerce platforms, consolidators and insurers.
While there probably isn’t a vast, coordinated media conspiracy to convince veterinarians to give up and sell their practices, the reality is that whether a publication is from a for-profit company or a non-profit trade group, media earn their revenue from advertising and sponsorships. So they simply cannot be immune to influence from the people who pay their bills, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever see these media take a stand that could upset their sponsors.
It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
–Harold Finch, from Person of Interest
It can be harder to “unplug” from trade media because we do like to “know what’s going on.” But we can choose which articles to pay attention to, and we can be more vigilant about knowing who benefits from these stories. A simple flip through a magazine or website to see who is buying most of the advertising can tell you a lot.
This Is Not an "Absolute" Issue
Please understand we’re not saying that all media is bad, or that all corporations are destroying our profession. That would be foolish and reactionary. There are great corporations that contribute incredible new products and devote millions to R&D that saves lives. There are acquisition groups who buy hospitals and then hold them for the long term, while working hard to improve them and make them great places to work for their teams.
But the sad fact is that these great organizations are few and far between.
We need more of them.
And we’ll only get them when we demand it.
Our profession is nothing more nor less than the collective decisions of every person in it. If we make different decisions, we’ll have a different industry. It may not be easy, but it is simple.
Advisors Are Not Created Equal
Years of management crisis in vetmed have led to an entire industry of consultants, advisors, authors and speakers who claim to have “the” answers for how to run a successful practice. Just like in any profession, though, there are good advisors and bad ones. It’s vitally important that if you’re considering working with a consultant or advisor, or if you’re going to implement a strategy you learned from a speaker or author, that you evaluate their ideas and ensure they are evidence-based, and truly applicable to your practice.
Here are some tips we’ve heard from top practice owners about how they select who to follow for advice:
- Look at the evidence. Only follow someone who has a proven track record of success in practices similar to yours. Don’t be afraid to interview past clients and ask tough questions.
- Find someone who has actually done the work. Far too many advisors and consultants in vetmed have never owned a practice or been responsible for a P&L. Don’t fall victim to “those who can’t do, teach.”
- Popularity does not equal authority. Sadly many speakers and authors invest more time in marketing themselves than in delivering results. This distorts public perception. Just because someone is on a big stage or has sold a lot of copies of a book does not mean their solutions work (see points 1 and 2 above!)
- There are no “silver bullets.” Businesses are complex, and getting out of the struggle usually involves tweaking many factors over a long period of time. Beware of any advice to “just do X and it will fix everything.” Doing it right is an evolutionary process – but the good news is that things will get better every day along the way!
Don’t Be Afraid to Chart Your Own Path
In our society, “sanity” often boils down to “agreement.” Someone who believes things no one else believes is “crazy.” And often the majority is right. But sometimes it isn’t – and right now, in vetmed, frankly we believe it’s the majority that’s "crazy."
It’s crazy that our profession is being sold out to corporations who are focused more on their bottom line than on the health of pets or vetmed staffs.
It’s crazy that we have a labor shortage, when we have one of the most meaningful jobs imaginable – and we work with puppies and kittens all day!
It’s crazy that we have among the highest suicide rates of any profession.
It’s crazy that in spite of all the new opportunities from the pet ownership boom, many DVMs and staffs seem unhappier than ever.
It’s crazy that so few people or organizations are taking real action to address all of the above.
When the group as a whole has gone "off the rails" to this degree, we have to be willing to chart our own path if we want something better.
In talking with top practice leaders for many years, one major thing that sets them apart is that they are individualists. They choose who they listen to, and they form their own opinions. They’re not afraid to buck the vetmed industry groupthink, and they refuse to believe that “it’s always been this way, so it always will be.” They have the self-confidence and commitment – to themselves and their teams – to insist on a great culture; a profitable business that’s a joy to lead; a great work-life balance; and a long and successful career in practice ownership.
Look at what you want, look at who you are, what you need to do, and then bring the staff together and say: This is where we’re going – let's get on the same page. Whatever the challenge, you can ALWAYS do something about it. You can commit to having a great practice culture. You can hire better. You can remove toxic staff and improve your training. You can look at your workflows, at your PIMS, and see what isn’t working well and fix it. I know it can feel overwhelming to confront these things – that’s why you need to get outside your practice regularly so you can think straight, and figure out your next steps. And get help – from your key leadership in the practice or outsiders that have a proven track record of success. Don’t take advice from just anyone, because the majority of advice in vetmed is bad – if you don’t believe me, look how the average practice is running today. Take bad advice and you get a bad business. Listen to yourself and find great advisors, and you can build a business you’ll be proud of – and you won’t feel like you need to sell it before it strangles you.
–Dr. Michele Drake