Why one VIC Innovation Award winner believes people matter as much as pets to a veterinary practice’s sustained success
There is a certain breed that has been a bit neglected at veterinary practices. It’s been something of a running joke in animal health, but to Cassie Sizemore, the lack of empathy among team members and even toward clients isn’t doing veterinary practices any favors. In fact, it could be hurting their business.
“The days of finding the stereotype humorous that ‘We love pets more than people’ has come to bite us all on our butts, not tails!” Sizemore says.
Loving pets more than people hurts individuals and teams, and stunts the growth of those around you, she says. “A grateful staff feels invested in, and their gratitude creates agreeable clients.” Through her experience as a veterinary practice manager and her new venture as a workplace culture expert, Sizemore, recipient of a VIC Innovation Award, is hoping to provide resources and solutions that veterinary practices can use to craft successful environments.
Love of learning
Indeed, workplace culture has been a passion for Sizemore in both her education and career pursuits. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Samford University, with a concentration in training and development. She gained a leadership certification through a three-year training program, and then earned her MS in Organizational Development from Abilene Christian University, with a certification in mediation and conflict resolution. Sizemore has worked to gain her senior certification in human resource management and says she hopes to have her certification in veterinary practice management soon.
Her entry into animal health wasn’t a planned one. For four years she was in general HR work, and never imagined she would be in the veterinary world. Instead, she was recruited. “When a practice owner/veterinarian met me and asked me to manage her practice, I adamantly said I didn’t know the difference between a flea and a tick and that she had the wrong girl,” Sizemore recalls. The veterinarian urged Sizemore to try it for a week. “After that week, I quickly knew I had found a value-driven leader worth following, so I stayed. And little did I realize that her dedication to veterinary medicine was contagious, not to mention that she said she saw something in me that she found useful even after being in the veterinary world for 20-plus years.”
Culture as a rudder
Sizemore joined Advanced Veterinary Care of Vestavia with the goal of bringing people-focused solutions that could bridge the engagement and revenue gaps in the practice. She developed a method to improve workflow and foster better engagement. Advanced Veterinary Care was nominated multiple times for the city’s Best Workplace, Sizemore says. Their efforts also caught the eye of national organizations, including the Veterinary Innovation Council. Sizemore was recognized at VMX for her work in practice management with a VIC Innovation Award.
“A culture assessment used across North America for the last 14 years closely analyzed our team as a whole and captured quality results.” The statistics identified nearly 100 percent engagement, with a 20 percent increase in revenue.
Sizemore attributes the success to an often undervalued part of the workplace – the culture. Businesses can check all the other boxes, but if they fail in that category, their success won’t be sustainable. What does this buzzword mean and how can anyone really approach it? Sizemore says, “A healthy workplace culture is simply how staff as a whole believe and behave. A belief is a unanimous value such as positivity and a behavior is a unanimous skill such as humor. If you have no idea where to begin in assessing if your culture is healthy, then be diligent with both big and small conflicts by having all members ask the question like new, ‘What belief and what behavior can we all actually agree on right now?’ If you fight fair without any hierarchy and don’t give up when things grow sticky or when a bad apple resists or controls it all, then brutal honesty will lead to a desire for agreement on answers to that question. If a clinic staff has culture agreement, it can accomplish anything.
“Even if you manage to grab hold of a revenue increase due to a number of factors such as location and services, that will never be enough to sustain you,” Sizemore says. “Your culture is your rudder and thereby the only thing that will steer you in the direction of being in the green or the red, and definitely the thing that will keep you from hitting an iceberg you never saw coming.”
Three distinct challenges
Sizemore says she and her former boss often spoke about veterinary owners and management needing real resources and solutions that could make clinics become a life-giving place instead of a toxic one. Little to no one comes to the veterinary field without a desire to dedicate themselves to the well-being of pets, but that so often becomes tainted because of what Sizemore believes are three distinct challenges “that are faced by every dedicated person in every type of role in nearly every practice”:
- The lack of understanding how to communicate and resolve problems with people and not just pets
- The lack of business acumen and education, despite brilliance in veterinary medicine
- The lack of quick responses to compassion fatigue, instead of isolation or burned out people helping other burned out people in an effort to create togetherness without any real practical solutions being taken.
Focusing on leadership
After four years of leading a climb toward “a healthy and unbelievable workplace,” Sizemore says she made the tough decision to leave the practice and focus on her PhD in Organizational Leadership, with the emphasis being workplace culture. She is also starting a blog called Vetted Culture, which she plans to launch before the fall of 2018. The blog will have resources for both veterinary owners and management to improve communication (i.e. emotions); core (i.e. values); and conflict (i.e. focus). Sizemore wants to offer real-world, hands-on, practical tools that offer visible results in those categories. The blog will offer both “CultureHow” resources that are user-interactive, and “CultureCalls” which will be brief, inexpensive phone calls for direct Q&A for the people who need to know just how to get through the rest of their day.
“Simply said, I’m pretty sure everyone in the veterinary world can agree that communication skills and
conflict resolution skills stand between a burdened practice and an invigorating one,” Sizemore says. “It just seems too hard. Yet, it’s not and it’s the very thing that bridges the gaps. Such skills can mean a veterinary owner lands a million dollar business acquisition. A receptionist team can experience unfailing friendships while increasing OTC sales at unprecedented percentages. A technician manager can genuinely commit themselves to removing obstacles for their team so they can honestly enjoy coming to work every day. And a vendor rep can feel they actually have a clinic they can rely on because they know they have gained their trust. How do I know it’s possible? Because I lived it!”
Flip the Script
Cassie Sizemore offered four tips that will turn the practice a DSR rep may hate to call on into the practice he or she wants to make sure to stop by at.
No. 1: Quit treating people differently based on their roles in the practice
“You don’t know who is friends with who, or when an associate veterinarian is watching you dismiss her favorite receptionist when that associate is the one who actually uses your product the most,” Sizemore says. “And give the same attention to the technician assistant who held the door open for you like you do the practice owner who just signed an inventory order that meets your quota.”
No. 2: Stop making promises you can’t uphold
Get real with the people you talk to, Sizemore says. “Commit to only what makes sense; nothing more nothing less. There is no such thing as winning favor in a momentary conversation when you are hoping they forget because you know you can’t deliver on your word.”
No. 3: Don’t take advantage of a clinic – period
“If you know a clinic is signing up for stuff that they can’t get off their shelf, then it will hurt you in the long run,” Sizemore says, “and they are far more likely to blame you in hindsight then admit they were impulsive.”
No. 4: People over purchase orders
Focus on the comradery that results in a win-win, Sizemore says. “The only thing that makes that confusing is you can’t know for sure what personality type your talking to. So, figure it out or even ask! Don’t assume the vet you’re talking to wants to chat about their kids or that the vet doesn’t want to see reports for the last 6 months. Some will and some won’t. So, don’t cross your fingers and hope you get it right or trust that you can tell the difference. Ask the no nonsense vet what they want from you on your visits and how often they want to meet and how they prefer to schedule, and then if you have a vet who gets excited for your company perks and enjoys a minute away from a conversation with a client, let them lead the conversation and enjoy the ride. Chances are they are using you for a moment away from their hustle and bustle anyways. Either way, the goal is authentic communication that produces a reliable win-win, not a scripted, manufactured interaction that gambles the lottery of a signed inventory agreement.”