October 01, 2015


 Simplicity, gratitude inspire a productive team

Posted Sept. 16, 2015

Dr. Robert D. Gribble has come to believe over his 18-year career that building a talented clinic staff, showing sincere appreciation to that staff, and “specializing in simplicity” make for an enjoyable workplace—and a measurably more prosperous one.

The 1997 Louisiana State University veterinary graduate shared his approach July 11 during the AVMA Annual Convention in Boston.

Dr. Gribble owns Hallsville Veterinary Hospital in the northeast Texas city. The practice employs nine full-time and two part-time support staff, or 10 full-time-equivalent staff. Dr. Gribble and another part-time veterinarian work 40 hours a week between them as one FTE. The two veterinarians work 10 or 11 days a month but never together or on weekends, and they don’t take emergencies, yet the practice produces almost three times the national mean revenue for veterinary practices in the U.S.

“We like to utilize those 10 people,” he said.

Dr. Robert D. Gribble

Dr. Gribble took over the struggling practice in 2004, but a year later it still wasn’t doing well. His longtime mentor urged him to find something he was passionate about. That passion turned out to be practice management, and his message to be simplicity.

Simplifying a practice can amplify its profits, he said. Although practices strive to have the most up-to-date technology, he said, “We need to simplify so our new employees can become productive a lot faster.”

It all began when he stopped at a concession stand one day. The simplicity of the posted menu struck him—there was one size and price for Coke, one price for a slice of pizza regardless of toppings, and so on. An employee would be knowledgeable from the first day, he thought.

He adapted that concept to his practice. His practice staff made sure that drugs and other products were arranged logically and that there was no oversupply.

Redundancies in treatment list codes were eliminated as much as possible for categories such as office visits, examinations, ear cleanings, sedation, and tooth extraction, both for the benefit of staff and clients. Dr. Gribble cited a Veterinary Economics survey that showed 61 percent of clients perceived a long list of fees as totaling more money than a short list, even if the totals were actually the same.

Weight ranges are no longer used for surgery and anesthesia pricing at his practice, and boarding costs are the same for all pets. Protocols were simplified to eliminate confusion. To arrive at some of the new coding and pricing, Dr. Gribble reviewed the top 50 treatments and procedures his practice uses.

He no longer charges for dental procedures according to disease grade. And in 2012, because of the practice’s mission of giving patients and their owners “more good years together,” he decided to perform hematologic, serum biochemical, heartworm, and fecal testing on every dog at every age every year. Whatever vaccines patients need, he gives them free. “I have to pick up a lot of jaws after these talks,” he joked.

To motivate his staff, he gives them as much “ACE” as financially possible—not acepromazine, but appreciation, compensation, and education. Lack of appreciation is the top thing that demotivates staff, according to one study.

Dr. Gribble employs the forms of gratitude in “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White. They state that every employee has a primary and secondary preferred “language” of being shown appreciation and a least valued one.  

The first language is giving tangible gifts for good work. Tangible gifts are the primary or secondary preferred method of 30 to 40 percent of people. The second language is sharing quality time. Third is saying words of affirmation in thanks for a specific job that was done well. One payday, Dr. Gribble wrote a personalized note on each employee’s paycheck. Physical touch—such as high fives and fist bumps—is fourth, and acts of service is fifth.

Dr. Gribble said the supervisor and team members are part of an appreciation triangle. He suggests that staff and supervisors take a 30-question “MBA” (motivating by appreciation) inventory.

Compensation is the second item in his three-pronged approach. He follows the 2013 Veterinary Hospital Managers Association Report on Compensation for Non-DVM Staff. In 2012, Dr. Gribble started a bonus structure called the Fructosamine Bonus Plan, by which employees can receive a bonus of up to $1 an hour during a given period, depending on practice growth during that time.

Education is the third component. Staff members receive raises for attending continuing education events. The practice contributes $500 a year for each employee’s CE.

Dr. Gribble, “the singing veterinarian,” adds to the pleasurable environment when moved to get out his guitar.