Navigating Change Management With Your Team: 3 Stages to Success

As the maxim goes, the only constant in life is change—and that remains true in both our personal and professional lives. Change management, therefore, becomes an essential skill. This is especially true at veterinary practices, where change can be hard on team members, but also incredibly exciting.

Change comes in three stages: pre-change, transition, and post-change. As a practice manager, helping your team navigate these stages is paramount to success. Your intention and focus during these different stages will also help guide your team members every step of the way.

Let's say you want to change to a new line of vaccines at your practice that would be safer for your patients and cheaper per dose—a clear win-win. Even though this seems like an easy transition on paper, it can be stressful for your team, as there may be a learning curve on the new vaccine line and trepidation on the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine.

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Here's one path to managing this change and striving for success through all three stages.

Pre-Change Stage

First, your team will enter the pre-change stage. At this point, your focus should be educating the team on the basics: Why are you changing vaccines? When will the switch happen? What's in it for the practice? What's in it for the employees? What might happen if you do not make this switch? These are all powerful questions to address the "why" behind the change, and they need to be answered. Otherwise, you may encounter more resistance.

From there, provide training and education for your team members on the new protocol, the more channels the better. For example, invite your vaccine vendor in for a lunch-and-learn event, provide brochures to the team to look over, or share links to articles about the vaccine.

Take your time in this stage, as this is when the baseline feeling about the change will be formed. Giving ample time to digest the upcoming change can help ensure its success.

Pro tip: Focus attention on your practice's natural leaders—not necessarily the ones in official leadership roles, but those who have the trust of the team. Ensure they have all the education and knowledge they need to feel comfortable with the change, as they can help their teammates accept and adopt the change faster.

Transition Stage

In the transition stage, you are actually implementing the change at your practice. In the vaccine example, this is when you stop ordering your old vaccine line and start to add the new vaccines as each type needs to be restocked.

During this stage, you can help your team members manage the uncertainty by ensuring that you continue talking about the "what" and "why" behind the change in multiple ways. The more they hear a consistent message, the more they will feel comfortable with it.

Be sure to make communication a two-way street as well, asking for feedback from the team and taking that feedback seriously. If one team member has a question about a part of the change, others surely do, too. Don't just tell them, either; show them. For example, model the behavior you want them to use in the exam room and communication with the client about the new vaccine line.

Whichever methods you adopt, keep your process very high touch with your team members. It's important to be there with them through the transition.

Pro tip: During this stage, transparency is essential, so make every effort to be transparent yourself and to ensure your team members feel they have that visibility. Any sense otherwise can damage the transition.

Post-Change Stage

Once you are fully transitioned into your new vaccine product line, you start to enter the post-change stage. This is the time to actively recognize your team members for their hard work and dedication to bettering your practice.

However, that doesn't mean stopping the consistent messaging about the change; in fact, it's best to keep reiterating what you did and why you did it. This is also a great time to talk about next steps in the change or any necessary modifications, if applicable.

Pro tip: As a leader, hold your team accountable after the transition. Do not let things slip back into the old ways because you've stopped checking in on the new protocol. Continue to check in until it has become second nature to everyone on the team for at least six months.

Change management at your practice may pose many challenges, but breaking it down into steps and employing consistent communication and modeling will help ensure success.

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Amy Williams

Amy has been in the veterinary field since 1999. She has worked in both small and large emergency and wellness hospitals in a variety of positions, including: Kennel Technician, Veterinary Technician, Customer Service Representative, Inventory Manager, Practice Manager, Practice Administrator, and currently as a District Manager for Lakefield Veterinary Group. She served on the Board of Directors for the Houston Veterinary Practice Managers Association and the Montgomery County Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, she serves as a consultant and speaker for many associations and companies, such as the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. 

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