AAEP focuses on better business practices for veterinarians

Convention speakers address employee surveys, employee manuals, fraud, accountability
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Several sessions at the American Association of Equine Practitioners' annual convention, Dec. 1-4, 2018, in San Francisco, focused on building better teams, retaining employees, and creating a positive company culture.

The advice and information varied, but it all boiled down to a similar message—a veterinary practice is a business and should be managed as such.

JAVMA News spoke with several of the speakers about how practice owners can apply good business practices.

Convention attendees listen to session
People gathered to listen to sessions at the American Association of Equine Practitioners convention in San Francisco. (Photos courtesy of AAEP)

Employee engagement surveys can improve business culture and profitability

Dr. Mike Pownall, partner and co-founder at McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Ontario, uses his own practice as an example of how an employee engagement survey can benefit a practice.

"As veterinarians, we always think that our business challenges are unique and our problems are unique, but like all businesses, (our problems) are usually shared by other industries," Dr. Pownall said.

"We gave the first survey to our staff, and it came back with a 77, which is good, but we noticed that our veterinarians were less happy. (They) were really tired," he said. So, the practice implemented a four-day workweek.

The following year, "some of our veterinarians were saying, 'I am actually enjoying being a veterinarian again,'" Dr. Pownall said.

Also, revenue was up 13 percent with 20 percent less veterinary capacity, he said.

The survey allowed management to see what problems staff members were experiencing and make moves to solve those problems. Staff members can only take care of customers when the business takes care of staff members first, Dr. Pownall said.

An employee manual can be a vital communication tool

Dr. Donnelly
Dr. Amanda Donnelly speaks about building better teams at the AAEP convention, Dec. 1-4, 2018 in San Francisco.

Dr. Amy Grice, a former partner in an equine referral practice and current owner of a business consulting firm for veterinarians, suggests that a practice owner can manage employees more easily when the practice has created an employee manual.

"Without an employee manual, it is very common for practice owners to simply react as situations arise, and then be unable to react consistently to the same situation, which puts them at risk for a lawsuit from a disgruntled employee," Dr. Grice said.

She recommends the following essential sections for a manual:

  • Statements about workplace compliance with applicable laws.
  • Written-out company policies and procedures, including policies and procedures on attendance and leave, work performance, discipline, employee health and safety, employee benefits, and termination.
  • A page for employees to sign acknowledging that they have received the manual and understand it.

Be present to protect your business from common challenges such as fraud

"It can be everywhere and anywhere," said Tera Latham Nance, financial consultant at Summit Veterinary Advisors. "Fraud is an intentional deceit against another."

There can be several reasons why an employee commits fraud or embezzles, but a lot of the time, it is because it is just too easy and people don't think they will get caught, Nance said.

Nance suggests practice owners watch out for several warning signs, such as having profits but low cash, discrepancies in bank records, and the bookkeeper not wanting the practice owner to see the books.

Nance also has the following tips for practice owners to try to avoid fraud:

  • Separate duties. One person collects the money, and a different person deposits it.
  • Institute a policy that only the practice owner can sign checks.
  • Limit access to company credit cards.
  • Be more involved with and aware of the day-to-day accounting. Ask a lot of questions, and make it obvious that you are paying attention and want to make sense of the numbers.
  • Use careful hiring practices.
  • Walk around the practice to be seen.
  • Talk to employees about company policies such as honesty and integrity.

Build better practice teams by emphasizing accountability

Dr. Amanda Donnelly, owner of ALD Veterinary Consulting LLC, believes that if management improves its communication skills and implements a few employee-focused policies, a team will function better.

Donnelly pointed to the following areas for management to focus on:

  • Build trust within the team by using qualities such as clarity, caring, consistency, and competence.
  • Focus efforts on employee development.
  • Use communication techniques and strategies to hold employees accountable.
  • Empower employees by implementing a process through which employees who come forward with problems are also expected to present possible solutions.

"(These) strategies can be implemented and improved at any point in time," Dr. Donnelly said. But she recommends that managers start implementing employee development and accountability within the first few weeks of each employee's start date.