Enlist Your Rock Star Team to Help You Rebuild from COVID-19

2020 has been hard on practices and veterinary clients. Although the challenges of COVID-19 won't end right after states reopen, your practice can start the slow process of recovery now. It will take a team effort to rebuild your practice, but setting new goals, engaging your staff, identifying their strengths, and getting the right people in the right places will ultimately bring your staff closer together and build a stronger and more resilient practice. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Set New Goals for Rebuilding Your Practice

Before you can engage your staff in rebuilding your practice, you need to know what you're working toward. Every practice has been impacted differently by the COVID-19 crisis, from state-mandated lockdowns to staff shortages. There's no one-size-fits-all approach but as a practice manager, you should know what your practice needs to relaunch.

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You can gather data on COVID-19's impact by using your practice management software. For example, you may be able to tell at a glance that you're booking fewer preventive care appointments than you were a year ago, but being able to show year-over-year numbers provides evidence for your practice owner and staff. Using this information, you can create realistic, time-bound, and measurable targets for progress that your practice can achieve.

Be sure to review these key areas:

  • Bringing Back Lost Clients: If you've been closed, or just restricting the number of appointments, your client base may have shrunk. Look for record transfer requests, and reach out to those clients to let them know you're open.
  • Finding New Clients: Many clients have been holding off starting a relationship with a new vet. Your practice management software can show if you're struggling with client acquisition. If the problem relates to a change you made based on COVID-19, such as not advertising or taking calls, reverse that as soon as you can.
  • Jump-Starting Preventive Care: Did you stop making compliance calls or make the decision that preventive care was nonessential? Did your clients make that choice for you? No matter the reason, you likely have preventive services that are months overdue. It's time to reach out to those clients and get back on track.
  • (Re)building Client Relationships: It's much harder to build lasting client relationships by phone rather than with in-person visits. Make sure that your clients understand the value of the care you're providing for their pets and how much you care about them by making them part of the process. When you're not meeting in person, it's especially important to thoroughly explain everything you're doing, allow clients time to ask questions, and help them make informed decisions about the best treatment options.
  • Converting Nonroutine Clients: If your clinic has been dealing with extra sick and injury cases, convert those to long-term clients by providing them with details about all your services and following up on their pet's progress.
  • Engaging With Your Community: Did you stop posting to social media or cancel events? Take the opportunity to bring some positivity online by creating your own posts about the good things your practice is doing. Reaching out to charities and shelters in your area can also help your reputation grow. With adoption rates skyrocketing during the crisis, working with local shelters allows you to meet new owners while benefiting pets in need.
  • Don't Forget Your Team: Your staff has their own worries about their health, jobs and patients. Make their concerns part of your recovery plan.

Prioritizing your goals is only the first part of rebuilding. Once you have ideas, discuss them with your staff to develop them into a full relaunching plan. Your team is bound to have ideas that you haven't thought of, and making them part of the solution will only accelerate recovery.

Engage Your Champions

With your relaunching plan together, take the opportunity to give key staff members a chance to grow and learn while sharing the burden. Every team member is important, but this is the time to reach out to your rock stars — those who bring strong skills to the table and are ready and willing to support you. As you engage your champions, you need to give them the tools to be successful. Ultimately, your practice's success depends on theirs.

Here's how to get started:

  • Align Tasks With Skills: Try to align tasks with each person's skills. A person with analytical skills may be able to restart the compliance program, while someone with strong communication skills may be better at running your social media program.
  • Provide Clear Goals: Make sure you understand what you want, and communicate your expectations clearly. You need deliverables to be measurable or else staff won't know if they're succeeding.
  • Delegate Authority: Guide your champions on when to make their own decisions, when to get approval, and whether or not they can direct others.
  • Provide Support: Make sure everyone else understands that they can go to you for help when they have questions, need clarification, or are having difficulty with time management.
  • Tailor Each Task: Not everyone is ready for full autonomy — the more junior the staff member, the less open-ended you should make the task.
  • Track Progress: These are important changes, so ensure they get done by tracking progress. Regular progress reports help keep people on task and allow you to direct the overall program.

Most of your staff will be excited to have a chance to make a difference and learn and grow in their role. By having everything clearly laid out, you can show them that they will get the support and clarity they need to be empowered. As long as you follow through on your commitments, they'll see you as a partner in their development and look for more ways to help in the future.

Don't Curb Your Enthusiasm

There's a lot to do over the next few months, but every challenge provides an opportunity for growth for you and your staff. Practice managers can learn to better flex their management and delegation skills, working to provide an environment that encourages development and rewards success. A team that feels engaged and valued is a team that is passionate about your practice. That should start to come through to your clients, building further trust and helping them see you as a competent, resourceful, and caring organization that they'll bring their pets to year after year.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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