In 2010, the economy was starting to decline in Colorado and as the managing veterinarian of a 3-doctor practice with 15 employees, I had some sleepless nights. After much thought, I decided to go big or go home. I carefully crafted a detailed plan to ramp up our services to offer a weekend referral center for the community. I had been working months on the plan with thoughtful consideration to all the potential curve balls that could get thrown my way. After all, I live in a small mountain town where the closest ER facility is 200 miles away. I paid a visit to everyone in my local veterinary community and confirmed they would refer all of their weekend cases to us. I had identified the perfect veterinarian to hire (a former employee that had recently graduated veterinary school) who wanted to move back to our area. I had two ambitious and energetic technicians that I knew would be up for the challenge. We debuted our weekend service in July 2010 and it quickly turned into a revenue- generating success that resulted in income growth throughout the recession. But, the truth is, I consider it one of my biggest failures. The reason? Read ahead to discover all of the mistakes I made that nearly cost me my team.
Revealing my big plan to the team didn’t exactly go as expected
I couldn’t wait to unveil my idea to the team at our staff meeting so they could be as excited as me for our future. With the new case load and revenue, we wouldn’t have to lay anyone off as we were navigating the recession. The big day arrived. I stood in front of the team and laid out the game plan letting them know I had worked out every last detail so they needn’t worry and we were ready to launch this thing. But instead of excitement and joy, I was met with open mouth faces, eye-rolling, sighing and even some sounds that could have been considered moaning. I was in shock. How could this be? How could they not see how great this idea was?
In my attempt to save our hospital, I had chosen to do everything myself and failed to give consideration to the biggest factor of all—the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me”) factor and what I also call the Warmup factor. Basically, I dropped a bomb on them—a new way of doing business that was going to greatly impact their lives, and I had given them no say. They felt the rug was being ripped out from under them. It was pretty clear they were upset. It didn’t take long for me to completely lose control of my meeting and realize that the entire team was starting to form a mutiny against my new carefully crafted plan.
What should have been a smooth roll out took months and months of group conversations, support and exhausting one-on-one conversations to get the program lifted off. It turned out to be a major game-changer for our hospital and the financial impact ended up being much more than I ever could have predicted. However, if I had to do it all over again, I would. And here is what I would have done differently.
Inquire first with the team
When the time is right, present the problem you are facing to your team, not the solution. Even if you have the solution, keep it to yourself until your team has time to discuss the problem and kick some ideas around themselves. One of two things will happen:
- The problem will be deemed unworthy of solving or maybe some minor tweaking of current processes will resolve the issue; or
- The team will come up a slew of ideas and discussion. Some of the ideas may be better than yours, some worse, or perhaps they end up coming up with your idea.
Regardless, they will have an opportunity to kick the tires on the problem, the proposed solutions and voice their opinions. The main point here is that everyone wants to be heard especially if the problem (or solution) directly affects them.
Analyze team feedback
As tempting as it may be, don’t present your idea at the first meeting. The leader’s job is to create a “safe zone” for wide-open brainstorming and encourage the team to think big and present all ideas, the crazier the better. Dream big! Often this kind of big discussion will spark further ideas to move your solution into a higher success bracket. After the discussion, thank the team and let them know you are going to take all of their great ideas to come up with a decision soon.
Decide, inform and execute
After consideration of the team’s brainstorming, announce the winning decision to the team. If the final decision is an idea that wasn’t discussed in the brainstorming session, then let the team know that their ideas sparked the final solution. Ultimately, the leadership team will make the decision but the trick is to allow the space for the team to share their input. Even if you don’t implement their suggestions, the team will feel that you cared enough to ask them.
Don’t roll out the idea locked and loaded
As I learned the hard way, doing all the work yourself because you don’t want to bother anyone, is probably the worst thing you can do for your team. They ultimately feel dictated to and undervalued because you didn’t even “care enough to ask” their opinion. Plus, it is 100% fact that you will overlook something. When this happens, the team will blame you, because after all, it was your idea resulting in “I told you so”.
Don’t fall in love with your idea
It’s hard not to think your idea is the best. I mean, you’ve spent hours and hours thinking about the problem and solutions. You’re a thoughtful leader trying to solve problems. But, as soon as you fall in love with your idea, you become defensive when others try to shoot it down. And you stop listening to new ideas. You lose the ability to collaborate. This is where your team will start to feel they can’t approach you with new ideas. It’s best to not go here if at all possible.
Don’t be afraid to let people off the bus
After you make the decision, you will have to find grit and determination to carry it out. Your job as a leader is to do what is best for your organization, not specific individuals. The reality is that businesses need to evolve and innovate to continue to grow and if you have team members that are not able to get on board, then the best thing to do is let them off the bus. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be necessary if you are going to have a successful rollout of your new idea that will benefit the majority. It’s a team sport and we can’t win the game if we have anyone on the team constantly spreading the word that the idea is never going to work.
It’s tough managing a hospital and we often have to make high-stakes decisions for the business that can leave our team feeling uncertain, blindsided or sometimes angry. So the next time you have a big idea, follow these simple rules for total team buy-in, and maximize your success!
Dr. Stacee Santi, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet
Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 DVM graduate from Colorado State University and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology startup that builds personalized custom apps for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, Stacee brings an “in the trenches” approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has also served as a medical advisory consultant for NVA for 5 years, medical director for a general/ER practice in Colorado as well as current President of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.