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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bill Wagner

Talk More: Most Organizational Challenges Are Easily Fixed with Better Communication

Communication is the enemy of Hollywood, but a friend to a well-run organization. There’s an entire library of movies that involved convoluted adventures that never would have happened if the main characters just picked up the phone and talked to each other at the start of the movie. The same is true for many organizational challenges.

Setting up vertical and horizontal communication where information flows seamlessly between lower, middle, and upper management and between departments allows challenges to be identified early and that leadership is connected to the realities of the front line. Robust communication is an investment of time an energy but pays significant dividends when your team is able to focus their work on moving forward instead of constantly putting out fires that resulted from narrow vision or short-sighted decisions.


Scenario: A Failure of Communication

I was recently speaking with an associate for one of the larger, well known veterinary groups whose associate colleague quit the practice where they worked. Their reason for quitting was that they requested a longer period of bereavement leave after losing a family member but was only granted 3 days away from work by their local manager. This veterinary group has, like most veterinary employers in this current job market, been suffering from short staffing of associates at many of their practices including this one and I have encountered job postings by this group with signing bonuses in excess of $50,000. However, they lost a much-needed, good associate over a small matter of granting a few extra days of bereavement leave beyond what their policy dictated was the standard allotment.

What went wrong here?

The problem: This seems to be a case where there was a fundamental failure of internal communication within the organization. The organization’s HR/recruiting team silo and the leadership above it clearly see the importance of maintaining appropriate associate staffing at their hospitals, hence the massive signing bonuses that they’re offering to new hires. However, their management/ops team silo was not receiving appropriate communication of that goal or proper alignment of incentives for local management to allow common sense and best judgement to prevail over policy when it came to retaining this associate.

The solution: Internally inconsistent goals are usually a result of a failure by leadership to keep vertical and lateral communication in place. When decision making becomes siloed every department becomes a slave to their own definition and metrics of success, even when pursuing those is detrimental to the organization as a whole. Cross communication is critical in eliminating this tunnel vision. When I see the rhetoric of leadership at some of the larger veterinary groups sitting at odds with reality at most of their practices, I give the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t some effort by those individuals to deceive. Rather, it seems like a failure of organizational communication, where struggles at the front lines get sanitized by multiple levels of management and a much rosier picture arrives in the board room. I would hope that nobody in the leadership of that group in the scenario above would’ve been happy to hear how that situation was handled, but it is unlikely that it would ever reach their ears because that group didn’t put the effort into building the right lines of communication within their corporate team.


What Can the Average Veterinary Practice Take Away from this Lesson?

Even small organizations can become siloed or suffer from poor internal communication. Practice owners, practice managers, and team leaders such as lead techs and lead CSRs must meet regularly to ensure that they’re on the same page about what issues are affecting the performance of the practice, how they can address them, and what new initiatives can take the practice to the next level. Even setting aside 15-30 minutes once per week where the leadership team can gather, and talk is important. Handling decision making as a collaborative process by the practice leaders also eliminates the “blame game” and promotes a mentality of team success and failure rather than individual. An effective leadership team that communicates frequently and effectively will think of a challenge in one department as everyone’s problem to fix. Setting aside time for the key players in your practice to sit down and talk regularly is difficult, especially since all the individuals involved are usually the busiest people in the practice. However, you may find that talking more often means that you can turn more “two-hour movie” problems into 10-minute conversations!

Happy Communicating!

Dr. Bill

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