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What to Say and Do in Times of Crisis and Change

What a difficult time for veterinary practice leaders trying to survive and thrive during the coronavirus pandemic!  In addition to dealing with declining revenues, changes to curbside service, and navigating the new normal of everyday life, leaders must continue to inspire and guide their teams.

Here are some practical, helpful strategies to implement to help your team.

Words to Say Now

  1. Consistently remind your team that the situation is temporary. Yes, there will be a recovery period and long-term effects, but the crisis is specific to this time-it won’t last forever.  Strive to anchor the team to this reality by using specific phrases such as:
  • “This is temporary and we will get through it.”
  • “Right now we must do this.”
  • “From time to time we all experience tough times.”
  • “For now, we will have to limit the number of clients in the hospital.”
  1. Tell the team what to expect and what action to take. Open communication is paramount in times of crisis and change.  People hate uncertainty.  Use these phrases:
  • “Here’s what I know about……”
  • “I will give you another update by the end of the week.”
  • “Our plan for the day is to focus on…..”
  1. Check in with each team member regularly in person, via zoom or Facetime. Team members need an opportunity to express their feelings of sadness, grief, and fear as well as hope and optimism. Ask good questions such as:
  • How are you doing?
  • How is your support system?
  • What is one action you will take this week to take care of yourself?

What to Do Now

At this point, most practices are successfully doing curbside service and adapting to changes in hospital protocols.  But what’s next?  Hospitals that proactively focus on a 60-day recovery plan as well as their 2020 business plan will be most likely to succeed at achieving desired goals.  Here are 3 key action steps:

  1. Set a clear, reasonable, measurable goal. Modify your goals but don’t need to give up on them.  Instead of growth for the year, you may set a goal of maintaining last year’s level of income.  Be realistic but establish a goal that is better than a worst-case scenario.
  2. Implement a 60-day action plan to transition back to a more normal work schedule. Just as hospitals quickly made changes to deal with the crisis, they need to act quickly to be best positioned for recovery.
  3. To achieve #1 and #2, focus on a weekly action plan. Each week, be laser-focused on action steps that will increase revenues, improve client engagement and engage the team. Here are some examples:
    • If revenues have declined, set a weekly revenue goal comparable to last year or higher than last month
    • Pick one strategy per week to increase compliance. This could be increasing compliance for preventives, scheduling dental care procedures or increasing laboratory testing.
    • To achieve your strategy, implement no more than 2 actions steps. For example, to increase dental services the action steps could be to forward book the procedure before the client pays and to call all the clients who have deferred dental care in the last few months due to COVID-19.
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About the Author: Amanda Donnelly
Dr. Amanda Donnelly is a sought-after speaker, author, business consultant, and second-generation veterinarian who combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. Well known as a dynamic speaker, Dr. Donnelly was the 2023 Practice Management Educator of the Year for WVC and has twice been named Practice Management Speaker of the Year for the VMX Conference. Dr. Donnelly is the author of the book Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management and a contributing author for Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Practice Management Consult and Pet-Specific Care for Veterinary Teams. She also writes the Talk the Talk communication column for Today’s Veterinary Business journal.