Veterinary team musical chairs

Cross-training is one way to beat boredom and more successfully cover lengthy absences in veterinary hospitals.
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Aug 12, 2014

This was written by one of 10 finalists for the Veterinary Economics Practice Manager of the Year award, sponsored by VPI. For more from each finalist and a slideshow of the nominees, visit dvm360.com/PMOY.

Another Practice Manager of the Year nominee, Shawn Gatesman, is putting specialization and departmentalization to work at his practice. Read both and comment below to tell us whether you think cross-training or specializing would work best at your own hospital.

Cross-training is a concept I implemented in our team that could be useful for any practice. Cross-training promotes team building, shows each team member the responsibilities involved with each job in the practice and covers the practice in the event of unexpected or lengthy absences. This helps the team continue to operate efficiently and assures the job duties of the absent member are being done without added stress. Also, changing job duties for team members promotes teamwork when two team members—trainer and trainee—work toward a common goal. A cross-trained team member is a valuable asset to any practice. 

Pitching cross-training to your staff

When I first instituted cross-training, some team members had been handling the same duties for years. It was definitely hard on them to accept this change. I made sure to meet with each of them one on one and listen to their concerns regarding their new duties. I emphasized the positive aspects that could result from cross-training. It must have worked, because after a few months these same employees came to me and thanked me! Team members told me they felt more challenged and less stressed with their new job responsibilities. 

Starting cross-training with a job audit

Figuring out who does what and who might be best suited to take over job duties in cross-training took a lot of my time and effort. The long-term job audit was my tool. Over the course of two years, I observed the team and took lots of notes about the work being done and the special skills of those doing the work. I earned my skills at job auditing from previous management experience, so I wouldn't say job audits should be a part of every veterinary practice manager’s repertoire.

The job audit process is to review each job responsibility and review each team member’s capabilities and personality. I used the monthly reports given by each employee presented at our monthly staff meetings and the discussions. I announced the job audit at a meeting. I then met with team members and asked questions about their duties, what they saw as their strengths and weaknesses, and what goals they had in their jobs and in their careers. Over the next several months, I focused on a few team members, paying close attention to each one to see every aspect of their duties. I reviewed the data and crafted a plan to reposition or reassign duties. After the practice owners approved my plan, I held another all-hands meeting to explain the changes and the importance of cross-training.

Playing musical chairs—with guaranteed seats

The final results of the job audit found all the technicians changing job assignments and a grooming assistant with great communication skills becoming a client service representative. The technician changes were ultimately cost-effective for our practice. Changing the technicians around this increased efficiency, which saved us money. We added a cheerful personality to our front-desk team. I explained that the change would relieve some stress, because they wouldn’t worry about missing work, or some that didn’t let others in on their job would stress when they returned with all the catching up to do, and that our goal was to avoid “hiccups” when team members were out.

Today, we have monthly staff meetings and each staff member reports on their job assignments. Our owners and staff are happy with the changes, and I perform job audits periodically and tweak as needed.