Your team is falling apart or has fallen apart. You are short staffed. Those left behind in the wake of the mass exodus are complaining 24/7. They are angry and are pushing the hospital even further down the negativity pit. You have had countless meetings listening to the complaints. You have made some improvements. The team promised a better mindset and then a week later it’s like nothing changed. You complain to friends, family, and other colleagues about your situation. Most commonly they say to you, “Hang in there, it’ll get better. Keep doing what you’re doing.” The fact is you aren’t doing enough. It’s time to fix things.
Coming to the Higher Power
Yes, it’s about time we all have the “coming to the higher power” conversation with ourselves and eventually our team. Shit is broken, very broken. Pizza, doughnuts, yoga classes, apps dedicated to mindfulness and even money cannot save your team. What you need is:
Develop a plan
Reinforce the plan
Make the hard decisions when needed
First, are you the problem? You cannot help your team if you are broken. If you are burned out (which you likely are) you will need to reshape your own mindset from “I can’t do this, nothing can be done” to “I got this, things can change.” It’s not easy but try to embody Rocky. There he is in the ring, almost defeated, bloody and knocked down. Does he quit? No. He gets his ass back up and delivers a few more blows to defeat the opponent and win. You need to get up and start punching if you want to win this battle. Lying down and giving up hope will not help you or your team.
You need to have a meeting and get to the root of the problem. This is not a meeting where everyone gets to complain, cry and vent. No, this is not that type of meeting. This meeting is productive and fact finding. For general rules on how to hold a productive meeting read my blog on “meetings are mandatory.”
1. Keep it only one hour
2. Set expectations. Ask, “Who agrees this team is broken and wants it to be happier
and healthier? This meeting is the start of that and I need your help to improve this
Set ground rules
Everyone will have two minutes to list 1-2 things they would like to see improved (alternatively you could ask them to write down their suggestions on a piece of paper)
Focus on facts, not emotions
Recognize that leadership needs the team’s help to make changes
Unprofessional language will not be tolerated and will result in being excused from the meeting
The meeting will end on time
3. Get a verbal agreement from everyone that they are committed to change. “Who wants a happier, healthy hospital?” I usually add in, “I don’t want to hear if you think it can or cannot happen. I want to hear if you want it.”
Ensure everyone agrees by asking them to verbalize a yes. During this time look for body language and cues. Who’s committed and who’s agreeing just for the sake of getting through the meeting? Where are the eye rollers at? Those are going to be the hardest individuals to get on board, but for now just make a mental note. Don't do what some leaders do and call someone out. “Are you rolling your eyes? Do you want to tell me what that is about?” The minute you do that is the minute you can end your meeting.
4. Now ask for what they want changed. This is the part where leadership often fails. They speak. If you are a leader reading this, you are only allowed to say, “thank you.” Leadership’s job is to thank them for everything they say they want changed and that includes if it’s against the leadership.
Yes, if someone says, “I want a new hospital manager” the hospital manager must say, “Thank you for saying that.” It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but it is their truth and their reality. When leadership argues against the team or an individual, they lose the meeting. Write down everything they say. If you had them write down their thoughts on paper, you are going to take this time to read all ideas allowed to the entire team. The entire team should be aware of everyone’s frustrations. Usually, you will find trends within the ideas for change mentioned. This meeting is for leadership to listen.
5. Lastly, explain the next steps to the team. You will be meeting as a leadership team, focusing on the larger concepts and you will come back to the team in X days/weeks with a plan.
Develop a Plan
Now it’s time to create a plan. You heard what the team wants change. While I’m not in your hospital I can likely guess you would hear:
Need more staff
Reduction in gossip/negativity
How did I do? Turns out most hospitals experience the same issues. I always challenge hospitals to evaluate their pay and benefits. Think outside the box instead of thinking about “industry standards.” The reality is industry standards are archaic in many ways.
Can you introduce veterinary technician/nurse only appointments to help free up the doctors? Can your veterinary technicians/nurses see vaccine only appointments by themselves? If so, can they receive a percentage of the revenue since they are directly contributing to the profits of the hospital?
How many services to you give away for free? Twenty dollars here, 50 there. It adds up and takes away from the salaries of your team. Tighten that up.
When is the last time you reviewed your hospital’s health insurance? Many health insurances are offering great wellness benefits. Does yours have any such benefits and does your team know about them? Look into it.
Think about scheduling. Curbside takes longer. If you’re still cramming in the same number of appointments while on curbside, you are likely exhausting your team. You will need to cut down appointments so the team can actually take a break.
How can your hospital set boundaries with clients? Talk about it and find solutions. Do your clients know your team is short staffed? Do you tolerate behavior from clients that you should not? Learn to set boundaries with clients.
Get creative in recruiting. When is the last time you reached out to your local veterinary technician school and ensured you were on their radar for externship students?
I can assure you if your team is not happy, they are telling their veterinary friends which is hindering you from hiring. Bonuses are nice but are getting old. Instead of offering a bonus to the new hire, what about a bonus for the team member who finds someone for the hospital? I’m talking a great bonus, not $100. What about $1000 or $1500 or more? If you were going to give it to a new hire, then think about giving it to one of your current employees instead. I know of one practice who gives $3000 to their employees if they find a new hire that stays on for more than 6 months. One veterinary technician earned themselves $9000 in bonus money! Cha-ching!
What about the overall toxicity? Your hospital needs to have a wellness plan. I wrote about how to create one. You can read about it HERE. This is where you create a solid plan meant to address wellbeing from all angles. Get the team involved in creating this. You’ll have better buy-in that way.
How do you handle the cranky clients and inter-team communication issues? This is where you need to educate the team on emotional intelligence, resiliency and communication. Consider starting with them taking a Myers-Briggs test (16personalities.com) to get to know each other better. I wrote about this in my book, “Oops, I Became a Manager” and shared other personality tests in it.
Teach them about healthy ways to express their emotions. Bring in someone who can talk to them about reframing their negativity and the power of positivity. Educate them on the skills needed to manage the difficult clients and how to most past feelings associated with a negative interaction.
Veterinary professionals are not taught these skills in college. How can we expect them to thrive and be happy in our hospitals if they don’t have these important life skills? Books, online classes, lecturers, videos and articles can help you educate your team.
It can seem overwhelming, but take it step by step. Don’t throw it all at them. Instead write out a plan and tackle each step logically. For example, here’s a plan on how to tackle healthier communication in the hospital:
· Have team read or listen to “Radical Candor” (one of my favorite books)
· Discuss their thoughts of the book at meeting
· Start utilizing some of the techniques with goals set each month
· Reward those utilizing the techniques found in the book
Now that you have a plan, tell the team. Get them excited. This plan is a plan because you listened to what they wanted changed and developed the steps to make that change happen. Have them recommit to the desire to want to change.
Your plan will become derailed. Habits are routine and easy to do. Breaking them is difficult. When your plan derails go back to the basics. Don’t give up. Look at what happened, remind the team and try again.
What can you do to make it fun? For every client interaction that goes well, the team member can place a token in a jar. When the jar has 50 tokens in it, the team is rewarded with an extra PTO day. Stay away from the pizza. Pizza is the least anyone can do. Do more than the least. You are trying to create a movement.
Have fun with the change by doing something catchy, cool and memorable. One thing I saw around the holidays was the “undercover unicorn” challenge some hospitals did. It was a take on “secret santa.” With undercover unicorn the team members filled out facts about themselves (great way to learn about each other). Each team member was assigned someone to act as the undercover unicorn. For example, if you got my sheet, you’d learn I love chocolate. You may place some chocolate in my locker. Boom! Unicorn moment.
Reinforce the plan with fun! Change is hard, but it’s a lot easier when the team is committed to improving and there is fun along the way. If the team goes off the tracks, have a meeting and figure out what happened. Then get the train back on the track and start it up again.
Make the Hard Decisions When Needed
Some members of your team will not want to change. Perhaps they want to, but they will get in their own way of being able to change. They are stuck in the “old ways” and cannot see how anything new will help.
Have a meeting. Be empathetic. Listen to them. What are they struggling with? How can you help them? Provide them tools, resources and coach them. In the end, one thing remains a fact. People cannot be changed by others. People can only be changed by themselves. No one can make them change, not even you.
I am tired of hearing “we are short staffed. We can’t afford to lose anyone else so we can’t fire them.” If there’s a team member who is damaging the team and you have tried countless coaching sessions, then it is time to make the hard decision and let them go. Your team can’t be healthy with a virus running around. I debated about using that as the analogy, but I also know you all understand it. One virus in your hospital makes everyone else sick. It will be less work for your team if they are happier.
Change Takes Time
Stop Being Impatient.
I once coached a highly toxic team from collapse to unicorns and rainbows. It was a lot of hard work. There were countless meetings, tears to me behind closed doors, my own tears when I went home and many sleepless nights. I kept focusing on the goals. At times it would seem I had not made any progress. But then I would look back on my written-out plan and realize things were improving, slowly. It took two years to turn that team around. In the end they became the best team I ever managed. They were so happy, kind, respectful and had zero turnover. Change takes time. You cannot expect your team to just give up all the negativity overnight or even over a few months. You need to be prepared for a marathon. Tighten your laces if you want to make significant change within your team.
When leaders are looking for a quick fix, they have one meeting about culture. That’s not going to cut it. Your team is broken. It’s going to require a lot of work because you have to rebuild trust, grow relationships, and kick out the toxicity. Be methodical in your plan. Write it down. Come up with goals. Go back and re-evaluate it. Talk to your team about the plan. Keep at it. Be consistent. Have the “it WILL change” attitude. You got this.