Seeking the services of a career coach in running a veterinary practice has helped some vets dramatically turn around their failing fortunes, writes John Burfitt
When it comes to explaining the value of coaching in the modern veterinary practice, training coach Jane Bindloss from SANE Management Solutions for Veterinary Practices in Victoria, shares a tale of one clinic she worked with a few years ago.
“I was coaching with one owner who was disillusioned about being the boss in charge and was burned out by the business realities of running the practice,” Bindloss recounts.
“What this man wanted to do was just be a vet, but running a practice demands a different set of skills and he wasn’t prepared for any of that. As a result, he did not know how to do that part of the job.”
By introducing a coaching program and working with this vet over a three-year period, not only did the vet’s approach to business improve dramatically, but so did the results within the team.
Bindloss says, “We coached him specifically on all those issues that were a problem and were able to turn him around. It became a happier, better-run business that he and his team were keen to turn up to every day. And profits increased as well.”
In recent years, the role of coaching in creating effective business procedures has played a far more central role in the way many veterinary practices operate.
Workplace coaching is best defined as the process of equipping workers with the skills and knowledge they need to fully develop themselves to be effective in their commitment to the practice. It is also a matter of teaching individuals how to navigate their way through continuous change.
Louise Davis of Melbourne’s Louise Davis Consulting uses a sporting analogy to define the role the coach should play within a business.
“The coach is the person who sits on the sidelines of the game, watching what is going on, asking questions, making recommendations and communicating with the team—you never see them run onto the field to play the game,” Davis explains.
“Coaching is all about the value of having an outside perspective of your business, and someone who helps the business owner or worker set goals that are important, and work out strategies of how to achieve them. One of the most valuable things of all about coaching is accountability.”
Davis continues, “It’s very easy as a skilled person to get caught up in the doing, so it is up to a good coach to hold you accountable for how you are doing it, and to look at it in a new way to see if there is a better, more effective way of operating that you had not considered.”
Dr Rob Hill, owner of WA’s Australind Veterinary Hospital, admits effective coaching in the workplace changed the way he operated, and helped to turn his business around five years ago.
“It’s very easy as a skilled person to get caught up in the doing, so it is up to a good coach to hold you accountable for how you are doing it.”—Louise Davis, Louise Davis Consulting
“I was struggling with a growing business largely because I wasn’t good at managing people, setting expectations and making people accountable. I had also not been very good at hiring the right people,” he recalls.
A series of poor hiring decisions had undermined the running of his practice, and forced Dr Hill to seek the services of a specialist leadership coach.
“The business was terrible,” he admits. “After some leadership training, I got my mojo back. I realised I had to get rid of quite a few people and start again by hiring very carefully.
“Business coaches can really help with many aspects of your business. You need to get help to get your business to the next level. With the rise of big corporate vets and increased competition, if you don’t evolve your business skills, you will become obsolete. Most of us were veterinary graduates with little or no business training, and these skills need to be learned.”
Most practice owners as well as their teams would benefit from coaching in business administration, leadership, human resources, financial management and legal affairs, says Dr Lindsay Hay of Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital in Sydney.
“Rather than just grabbing at general business ideas, identifying and setting goals early within the areas of your business that need attention is vital,” he says.
“A coach can then help with keeping those goals on track, and sometimes it is just a matter of having someone to bounce ideas off along the way. As so many of us work in small practices, having a sounding board who can offer direction and accountability can be so valuable.”
Jane Bindloss believes the attitude towards the value of coaching within veterinary circles has undergone a dramatic shift over the past decade. She now recommends four per cent of a practice’s gross income be devoted towards management costs.
“I am surprised these days when working with new practices, that they sometimes mention business mentors they have previously worked with and why they now want more of that,” she says. “That is a long way from where we were 10 years ago.”
Bindloss notes that ‘conflict aversion’ is one issue that is consistently raised by her veterinary clients. “This is such a big issue for many in our industry as most employers want to be liked and so when it comes to being the boss and being firm, they find it hard,” she says.
“It is matter of being coached so you know how to handle those situations and become far more confident in what you need to do and the decisions that need to be made.”
But coaching should never just be a business strategy to turn to only when things are going wrong or the business owner/manager is at a loss about what to do, warns Dr Lindsay Hay.
“This is something that should be done all the way along in running a business, not when things are suddenly bad and you realise very fast you need to fix things. The earlier you can apply coaching to the way you operate as a business, the better for everyone.”
When it comes to finding and determining who is the right coach for your practice, Louise Davis advises that any practice owner should adopt the same referral service that works for most clients—word-of-mouth.
“This is the time to ask around and find out who are the good coaches that your colleagues are getting great results with, or ask professional groups you belong to about coaching services,” she says.
“This is an important investment in the way you plan to move the business ahead, so be sure you do so with someone you enjoy working with as they hold you accountable along the way.”