Leadership Strategies to Keep Your Team Safe and Motivated During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, with widespread closures and restrictions and anxiety-inducing media coverage, leadership is more important than ever. In my practice, I've been working with the senior team to provide reassurance and support for our staff, so that we stay positive and focused on continuing to make a difference in the lives of our patients and clients.

Here are a few strategies that are working for my team.

Lead From the Front

You need to support yourself before you can help anyone else. As the practice manager, you know more information about the risks and issues your practice is facing. To build your team's confidence in the future, you need to bring a positive attitude balanced with realism, which means being honest and addressing your own fears first.

I'm lucky that I've been able to be on-site with my team. That's really helped me to stay connected with them, monitor their mood, and react quickly to their concerns. But regardless of whether you're physically at the practice or working remotely, you can help your team by staying informed. Take the time to read unbiased news, understand official announcements, and keep up to date on state and national changes. This is a time-consuming commitment, but it's essential if you want to be viewed as a trusted partner.

IDEXX collected COVID-19 resources from a wide array of experts to help you manage your business and keep yourself and your staff safe.

Inform Your Team

Veterinary teams are genuinely scared, and they're being bombarded by contradictory messages from the media. The best you can do is to be honest, try to provide accurate information, and keep them focused on the importance of the work they do for your community.

To keep information flowing, our practice added an information-sharing session to our morning rounds and a second daily meeting for when the afternoon shift comes in. We focus on what we think staff needs to know:

  • Are there any key updates on the virus? Keep your team informed of changing local and national restrictions.
  • How is the crisis impacting the business? Let the team know how we're holding up, so they feel safe in their jobs.
  • How are laws passing through Congress impacting us? Explain the programs that are relevant to your practice and which ones you're taking advantage of.
  • What cases are coming into the practice? Let the team see how essential their work is by discussing how the injuries and sickness they treat would be much worse if we weren't able to help.

It's really important to focus on what you know. Don't let your views override the facts. Not everyone on your team will share your political or worldview, and you'll create tension if you get pulled in that direction.

Listen to Your Team's Concerns

Remember that communication is a two-way street. The more time I've spent talking to my team, the more they've asked questions and provided insights I wouldn't otherwise have thought about.

By listening to them, it became clear that they have two main concerns: getting sick and losing their jobs. Assuaging both fears is tough. In order to stay open and keep staff on the payroll, we need them to come into work, which increases their risk of getting sick.

One key step was quickly developing and deploying new protocols, making sure that the team had input throughout. Feeling empowered to keep themselves safe helped to manage their anxiety. Here's how we made it work in our practice:

  • Added telemedicine to allow doctors to triage patients, only bringing in essential cases.
  • Implemented curbside check-in to reduce exposure risk by keeping clients out of the building.
  • Updated our payment gateway to make it easier to accept payments over the phone.

Throughout the implementation process, I asked my team for feedback to make sure that changes actually improved safety while minimizing any impacts to efficiency.

Show Your Appreciation

Lastly, ensure your team is getting positive reinforcement. Practices are asking a lot of their teams, and in the current situation, there's very little that most practices can give back to them. With business constraints, financial rewards are currently out of reach, and practices can't just shut down until the immediate crisis is over.

In my practice, we've focused on making our staff's work environment as safe and supportive as it can be while recognizing the work they're putting in and sharing our appreciation. I try to give specific, positive, public feedback during daily meetings to improve morale and show that I care.

When your team feels appreciated, their positive attitudes will be seen by your clients, who are dealing with their own fears. High morale reduces clients' anxiety, so that it's easier for them to make the best decisions for their pets. Your focus today may be on staying safe and surviving the crisis, but you have an opportunity to build a bond with your team that they'll remember long into the future, and with clients who know how supportive you were when they needed you most.

Lead Your Team Into the Future

In times of crisis, strong leadership can make the difference between not surviving and thriving. It's time to step up and give your team the knowledge and structure they need to succeed. Don't shy away from the hard discussions, but be compassionate as you partner with them and address their fears.

We will look back on this in the future and reflect on what we learned. Until then, focus on what you can do every day to make a difference for your team and your clients.


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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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