Protocol Change Part 3 — Managing Your Team's Feedback

(This article is the third in a series about change management that is going on in real time. In addition to making smaller changes in our practices, we are working on some significant transformations right now.)

Implementing protocol change has its bumps, and I think my team is finding them all. As described in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we're working on a process to reduce team burnout and compassion fatigue. We had two goals: Control overtime and ensure team members took a daily lunch break. Putting your goals into practice, however, can feel like wrestling an octopus — just when you think you have it wrangled, another arm hits you upside the head.

Your team's feedback is one of those octopus arms. Here's how you can anticipate and respond to your team's feedback during the first round of protocol implementation.

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Prepare for Team Feedback

Your team will inevitably have questions and concerns about the protocol. Here are a few examples.

1. Different Perspectives: There may be challenges when team members' priorities are different from yours. For example, some folks were concerned with how the reduction in overtime and regular lunch breaks would impact their financial situations. For this reason it's important to consider how the changes we implement affect the whole team.

How to Prepare: Look at how team members are benefiting from the situation you're trying to change. As a manager, you need to prioritize what benefits the overall team and practice over individual team members.

2. Team Members Changing Jobs: One of the most difficult parts of implementing changes is that you won't always retain your whole team. You may even part company with people you appreciate, but who were not aligned with your practice's mission or plans for growth.

How to Prepare: I've never met a practice manager who enjoys this aspect of change management, and a reluctance to meet these challenges can sandbag your change initiatives. It's critical to keep the vision and goals of the practice in mind as you negotiate team members' responses.

3. Team Stress: The daily stress of veterinary practice often disrupts our plans for protocol change. If a nurse has a sick child and calls out, the nurse who's covering is doing two jobs at once, the schedule gets backed up, and no one gets a lunch break. The medical team says the client services representative (CSR) team is scheduling poorly, CSR says the medical team needs to finish appointments, and everyone's mad at the manager for not anticipating the problem.

How to Prepare: As a manager, it's impossible to completely prepare for chaotic days. When the craziness dies down, let your team know you appreciate them. You need to help your team let those days go and take the long view.

How My Practice Handled Team Feedback

We Brought in Outside Help: As we talked about compassion fatigue, it became clear that it's a problem in our whole field. So, we connected with a compassion fatigue specialist who talked with our teams about burnout and self-care strategies. Our team members found her very helpful, and clearing our schedule for time with her sent the message that we prioritize our team's mental health and well-being.

We Ensured Protocol Adherence: I've had to keep an eye on highly driven doctors who thrive on doing rather than sitting and eating lunch. I've made sure all doctors understand that a lunch break is an important goal that will improve the team's success.

We Trained New Team Members: We parted company with some team members in the transition process. Although that's challenging, training new team members is an opportunity to incorporate new protocols right from the start.

We Made Adjustments: Loss of cultural knowledge initially torpedoed some of our progress. There's always tension between meeting our clients' and our team's needs, and the CSR is caught in the middle. On the one hand, we tell them to fill the appointment book. On the other, we tell them not to overschedule. Cultural knowledge can help you schedule effectively when you know that, for example, Ms. Kramer takes at least 30 minutes with her 13-year-old terrier and asks 400 questions.

We're still struggling with scheduling as a result of our team's feedback. We're flexing start and end times to find appropriate staffing ratios by opening up more morning appointments and limiting end-of-day clients. While we haven't found the perfect mix yet, daily lunches are more routine, which is a real win. Overall, team morale has improved and people are reporting higher work satisfaction.

Move on From Round One

What's next after listening to your team's feedback? More training and clarification about the how, what, why, and when of the change you're making. Communication about goals and expectations is key.

Remember that change is a never-ending process with many bumps along the way. Practice managers don't have to do it alone — engage your team and get help when you need it.

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Read the next part in this series on building client relationships.

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Nancy Drumm
General Manager, Capital Vets

Nancy Drumm is the daughter of a veterinarian and the granddaughter of a dairy farmer. She started working at the family practice at the age of 8, helping her father see patients after dinner, and the practice has been part of her entire life. She has been a farmer for many years as well. She has a burning interest in how things work and enjoys the challenges of running a business. She combines that curiosity and a willingness to try new things with a desire to use data to help us all make better decisions for our lives and practices.

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