VHMA exposes communication gap between practice managers, owners

Even though veterinary practice owners and practice managers are working together toward the same shared goals, there is often a communication gap between them that can lead to counterproductive efforts.

The Veterinary Hospital Manager’s Association (VHMA) sought to learn more about this communication gap with its “No Baloney Survey,” the results of which it recently released. 

The survey asked veterinary practice owners and managers to anonymously answer one question: “What would you like to say to your practice owner/manager but don’t know how to?” The VHMA presented respondents with 14 different options for answering the question, and respondents were allowed to choose as many answers as they wished.

The survey garnered 513 responses, including 425 practice managers and 88 practice owners. 

Concerns raised by practice managers

Survey responses from practice managers revealed that overall they appear to think highly of their working relationships with practice owners, but there are some areas where the communication could improve. Results included:

  • Practice managers who responded to the survey often wanted to tell practice managers that when they fail to follow and enforce practice policies and procedures, they undermine managers’ effectiveness. More than 40 percent of managers said this was a concern.
  • Twenty-five percent of managers who answered “other” elaborated that they felt unappreciated, underpaid, misunderstood, or otherwise undervalued.
  • Twenty-eight percent of managers said they would tell owners, “I don’t think I thank you enough for all your support.”
  • Thirty-seven percent said they would like to say, “Thank you for creating an environment where I enjoy working.”
  • Twenty-three percent reported that they would tell owners: “I feel this clinic is not that important to you,” “You need to run the business as a business,” and “Sometimes you are so uninvolved in the business it makes it difficult.”

Brian Conrad, CVPM, VHMA vice president, said one statistic in particular stood out to him as he reviewed the survey results.

“I was surprised that nearly one-fourth of the managers felt the practice owners to be distant and absent from the overall practice operations,” Conrad said. “We have many practice owners that are nearing retirement. While they have spent years building a profitable and successful practice and deserve a break, now is not the time to take the foot off the gas pedal. Years of hard work, sweat, and tears will dissipate quickly without continued and focused leadership.”

Conrad said owners should commit to meeting with their managers on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to review priorities and goals for the hospital. Spending this time together can help managers feel more connected to practice owners, he said. 

“As the owner, demonstrate your dedication to the practice and your support for your manager. The extra time spent will pay dividends soon enough,” Conrad said.

Practice owners voiced few complaints about managers

Practice owners who responded to the survey voiced relatively few complaints about their managers, the VHMA reported.

The VHMA pointed out the irony in the fact that while many managers reported feeling unappreciated, 40 percent of owners said they would like to tell their managers, “I don’t think that I thank you enough for all that you do in this practice.”

The most common complaint lodged by owners - 28 percent of them - was that they felt they were spending too much time doing things in the practice that they believed the manager should be doing.

The VHMA suggested in its report that owners have the power to improve the work environment by being more generous with displays of appreciation and respect for their managers. The VHMA also said that managers stand to gain from voicing their need for appreciation from owners.

“Managers who are concerned that they are underappreciated should realize that bringing their concerns to the owner is more effective than internalizing their discontent,” the VHMA reported. “Honest and respectful communication will maintain professionalism and ensure progress and satisfaction.”

Using the survey results to strengthen owner/manager communication

According to Conrad, the VHMA will use the information gained from the survey to work toward opening new and better lines of communication between practice owners and managers.

“With this information, we are able to tailor our education events such as our annual meeting that will take place in St. Louis in September of this year,” Conrad said. “In addition, you will see webinars, articles, and blogs with continued focus on the owner/manager relationship. Just having owners and managers actually take the survey can start conversations with each other that might not take place otherwise, aiding in solutions.”

Learn more about the VHMA at the association's website.