According to management experts, happy employees boost the bottom line. By Andy Kollmorgen
There’s a business management theory out there that goes something like this: the better you treat your employees, the better your business will do. It’s called the Service Profit Chain model, and the management gurus swear it works.
It’s not really that far-fetched an idea: if you invest in your employees by giving them the resources and support they need, they will have the means and the motivation to deliver better services to customers. When customers get better services, they keep coming back.
Or you might just say that satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers, the obvious headwater of any revenue stream. The Harvard Business Review has even quantified the phenomenon, putting the lifetime value of a loyal pizza customer at around USD8,000 (approximately $10,600), for instance, and a loyal Cadillac owner at around USD332,000 (approx. $440,500).
The simple rule, then, is that positive workplaces make for rosy business outcomes, and veterinary services are certainly no exception. But are practice owners and managers concentrating on this as much as they should be? Probably not, according to the experts we spoke to.
Dr Tony Thelander, principal at practice-management firm ValueVet, has come across plenty of room for improvement in some of the vet practices he has evaluated. And he draws a very clear line between employee satisfaction and business success. Most of the issues he’s seen are rooted in a kind of blithe disregard, unconscious or otherwise, for the well-being and future prospects of staff.
“Practice owners can become focused solely on their clinical work and assume everyone who’s working for them is happy as long as they’re happy,” says Thelander. “But it’s very important to recognise that employees have career aspirations and are on a career path just like the owner. If you forget that, they tend to drift away. You’ll be going in one direction and your staff will be going in another.”
It’s a particular problem if you’re a well-established vet who may not be up on the latest techniques and technologies recruiting new staff out of university. It’s never good for employee engagement when your bright-eyed new staffers have to contend with equipment that falls short of what they trained on.
“It’s really about continually investing in the business in terms of equipment, staff training, staff support, your own ongoing training as a practice owner—the whole lot,” Thelander says. “Practices that do this are the ones that do well. I’ve seen clinics whose equipment is not up to scratch and whose owners are not really paying attention, and there is definitely a morale problem. Employees have certain expectations, and if they’re not met they will inevitably be moving on. And we all know how costly turnover can be. The bottom line is that you‘ve got to keep staff happy and productive and fulfilled. It can really cost practices dearly when you short-change your staff.”
“The bottom line is that you‘ve got to keep staff happy and productive and fulfilled. It can really cost practices dearly when you short-change your staff.”—Dr Tony Thelander, principal, ValueVe
A good way to keep staffers onside is to hold regular meetings and get everything out on the table, including one-on-one meetings to discuss career goals, Thelander says. “I find that the better practices hold meetings and talk things through on a regular basis.”
For Thelander, one sure sign that a practice is well run and its employees are on board is that it’s easy to sell.
“The best practices to sell are the practices that can run themselves without the owner on hand, and that’s not possible unless everyone is engaged.”
Yolanda Gerges, principal at Identity Consulting and director of The Peak Performance Practice, a training program aimed at improving vet and other private practice outcomes, also thinks too few practice owners are observing the Service Profit Chain model. Gerges wrote her master’s thesis on how the model applies to private practice.
“There is poor perceived career progression within many veterinary practices, made worse by poor training and support,” Gerges says. “There is also a lack of robust employee engagement plans and systems, all of which undermines the sense of clarity and purpose that is critical to employee motivation and morale. Failing to invest in good training programs, solid career development plans, and performance feedback systems means employees don’t know what’s expected of them. And if they’re feeling lost and don’t really care about the practice, they won’t be inspired to go the extra mile with clients or advocate for the practice. It leads to poor client retention and poor ‘rave and refer’ word-of-mouth publicity, resulting in less profitability.”
The best intentions only go so far, Gerges points out. “I think that private practice owners understand the importance of this, but only the more successful ones actually do it, or know how to do it well. For those who don’t, it’s usually because they see it as an expense and not an investment.”
Gerges cites research from the American Society for Training and Development showing that companies that provide comprehensive staff training have a 24 per cent higher profit margin than those that don’t. Further, the average cost of recruiting a new employee is six to nine months of their salary—and can be up to two years for high earners.
Like Thelander, Gerges says the true test of how well a practice is run—and how happy the employees are—is how sellable it is. “Proof of sustainable retention systems is highly attractive for a new owner. It gives them confidence that the strategies work from day one of takeover and that the practice has a solid database of active patients,” Gerges says.
“Patient retention is the backbone of any successful practice and loyalty is what keeps patients coming back. But loyalty doesn’t happen by accident. The veterinary industry is getting more competitive and the consumer more savvy than ever. To stand out from the crowd, a vet practice must deliver the highest standards in personalised service, build relationships with its clients and have robust retention systems in place. And these systems need a champion and a team that is adequately trained and motivated to help drive this.”