Successful leaders know when–and what–to delegate

It would be difficult to find a practice owner who doesn’t believe that labor makes up one of the most significant components of a hospital’s overhead. The cost of staff is one of the most substantial expenses a practice sustains, and while there are practices that are guilty of overworking and underpaying their teams, employees are often underutilized and overpaid for the actual work they are doing.

No matter the profession, it’s common for business leaders to be reticent when it comes to delegation. Why hand this off to a subordinate when I know that I can do it better? seems to be the prevailing school of thought. In reality, however, it’s impossible for practice managers to attend to all the details that contribute to the smooth operation of a hospital. Just because others may attack specific tasks differently than you, doesn’t mean they’re doing a poor job.

Tracy Dowdy Veterinary Practice Consultant

Over the last six months, I have consulted three different practices on this very subject. After conducting an audit of the various management roles and responsibilities in one practice, we identified six main areas of focus: human resources, marketing, client service, operations, finance, and the management of medical supplies and equipment. Naturally, each of these categories features routine tasks that don’t need to be handled by the practice manager (or, in cases where there is no practice manager, the practice owner). By making better use of their existing employees, one practice is now utilizing one of its technicians to tend to the monitoring and maintenance of surgical equipment and supplies, surgery workflow, and the administration that applies to hospitalized cases. Another long-term nurse has recently assumed the responsibility of managing the upkeep of lab equipment, assimilating lab data, ensuring the doctors follow up on lab work, and overseeing pharmacy refills while another key client service representative has assumed the responsibility of assisting the owners with managing the internal marketing programs. In the interest of standardizing these tasks and procedures, thus laying the groundwork for them to be delegated again—to new or different employees when necessary–all the employees are documenting their methods in the form of a how-to manual. By the time we had finished, we had delegated 50 percent of the tasks that were historically handled by the practice’s two partners to the existing team.

Delegation can’t happen overnight. Before you start handing off responsibilities, consider the following three tips:

Get team buy-in
For the delegation of additional responsibilities to work, employees must be motivated by the practice’s vision and future success. Do you have a clearly defined vision and strategic plan for your practice? Have you shared it with your team and are they committed to it? This is the first step to delegating effectively. Practice leaders must identify which team members demonstrate a keen interest in developing professionally and evolving in their role. People are motivated by being challenged and receiving the opportunity to grow. When delegating additional responsibilities to your star performers, help them understand the eventual outcome, and this not only involves the acquisition of new skills, but how it achieves the practice’s vision and future success.

Create a culture of empowerment
Veterinary hospitals are in the business of solving problems—whether it’s with pet owners or the internal workings of the practice itself–and not all of these issues need to land on the practice manager’s desk. I recently consulted a practice for the distinct purpose of streamlining operations, which primarily consisted of delegating new responsibilities to employees. The manager was complaining about the problems she was continually solving for the team, and she believed her team didn’t want to be empowered. I assured her that was not the case, and I recommended she read The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard. This priceless resource is one of the best management books I have come across that deals with the subject of time management and delegation. The cover of the book poses two questions that every practice owner or manager has asked themselves at some point in time: How do I free up my time and deal with priorities? And, how do I stop taking on a problem if it isn’t mine? Practice owners and managers are much too busy, and their time is far too valuable, to be concerned with things like burned-out light bulbs or the enlisting of repairmen to fix a malfunctioning faucet. When an employee comes to you with a problem, throw the ball back in their court: How would they go about solving it? How would they wish to be handled if they were the client in this situation? Often, their proposed methods will be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Communicate often
To encourage employees to take the initiative, practice leaders must continually empower their staff through constant communication. Therefore, I am a big proponent of weekly meetings, during which the entire team can review what went well that week, what didn’t, and how to act accordingly to achieve the desired result. Most importantly, however, leaders must emphasize, repeatedly, the core message: Employees are empowered to make decisions. Even though they may not always make the best decision every time, if they are learning and growing from their mistakes, they will not face repercussions.

Over and over I’ve heard practice managers complain, “I don’t understand why they don’t get it. Why don’t they get it?”

They don’t get it because they can’t read your mind. No matter how gifted they may be, people require clear direction and consistent communication on a continual, repeated basis. This has nothing to do with competency or the lack thereof, but everything to do with managers demonstrating their confidence in their team. Only then will employees be confident in themselves and in the actions they take and the decisions they make on your hospital’s behalf.

Learn more about how to create a self-reliant team, so you’ll feel more comfortable with delegation in the future.