A Successful Practice Requires an Engaged Team

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Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This is true regardless of the sport, game, industry or practice. Your team is the foundation of your practice and its reputation. Your team is your first, last and lasting impression.

A successful practice is the result of building an engaged and productive team. The results of a 2009-10 Gallup global study of employee engagement reported that disengaged employees currently outnumber engaged employees by a ratio of 2-to-1. How much is it costing you? Gallup estimates that disengaged employees are costing the United States $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity each year.

After 30 years of working with leaders, I am still alarmed by how many business owners struggle with this mission so critical to success—engagement. Are you one of them? Look for red flags.Here are some quick tips to begin building your engaged and productive team.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

It begins with you. Look into the mirror. Most equine practitioners understand the difference between a manager and a leader, but are you modeling it? Building a successful team in this industry requires great leadership. That requires you to be aware of how your leadership and communication style impact your practice environment.

Most leaders are unaware of how their communication influences their practice for good or ill. In fact, some of the very characteristics that bring success in clinical medicine—eye for detail, analytical thinking, focus on quality and accuracy, using logical and systematic approaches to problems and situations—are qualities that can disengage a team. That’s why pairing those qualities with effective people and communication skills is so important.

Effective People Skills

Your people are your greatest asset. They also can be your greatest liability if not properly led or, as I prefer to say, inspired.

We all know it takes time and energy to hire and train the right people. Let’s say you’ve hired a great equine technician, whom you’ve trained and given a competitive wage. The key to turning that person into a successful teammate is using your people skills to get that technician to do what is best for the business because he or she wants to do it. This is called engagement. It creates an environment where people feel valued and feel their contributions are making a positive difference for the practice.

Effective people skills depend on your ability to inspire people. Ideally, you will be inspiring them toward a clearly communicated common goal of accelerating the performance of your practice through personalized, friendly horse owner experiences, all while offering the best in equine medicine.

How do you build engagement? You build engagement by treating people fairly and respectfully. You must trust them and in turn be trustworthy. You should encourage contribution of ideas. You should recognize “wins” in your practice. Coach often. Give employees clear, achievable goals. Create a shared vision for your practice.

Effective Communication Skills

Effective communication drives team engagement and practice performance. This involves several components: verbal communication, nonverbal communication, listening and written communication. Effective communication requires self-awareness. Understand your own natural behavioral and communication style in addition to understanding each team member’s style.

Leaders need to flex their style to communicate effectively with their team. Done properly, it has a tremendous impact on your team, the horse owner’s experience and, ultimately, on the performance of your practice. Keep in mind that poor and ineffective communication is very common. It is one of the top challenges in any business today.

How do you improve communication? Be aware of your body language (hand and facial gestures and eye contact). Listen to your tone of voice. Notice your posture. Make time to connect with your team and your customers. Pay attention to other people’s body language and how it influences how you feel. Focus on being more self-aware. Observe how others respond to your communication style.

If You Build It, They Will Perform

How they perform is a critical variable between passive (paycheck) performance and productive (passionate) performance. That’s a fundamental economic difference for any equine practice. The type of performance will depend on whether your team was built constructively or destructively.

I am sure we each can remember a time when a boss, professor, parent or coach lacked people skills and didn’t communicate effectively. How did this make you feel? What lessons can you take away from those experiences to make you a better leader in your practice?

The road to successful leadership begins with you. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, admit mistakes and share lessons learned for the benefit of the whole business. I encourage you to invite collaboration. It fosters commitment and promotes an ownership mentality. By ensuring your team is happy, appreciated, recognized, developed and held respectfully accountable, you’ll cultivate an environment where success can not only survive, but thrive.

Michelle D. Reines is a leadership coach and consultant for PeopleFirst from Zoetis. She works with veterinarians, equine business owners, pork and cattle producers and ranch and farm retailers to meet their human resources, training, development and leadership needs. PeopleFirst is the industry’s first comprehensive human capital and business management solutions program. These services were created in direct response to challenges customers expressed with managing today’s complex agricultural businesses. For more ways to help develop your employees and veterinary clinic, contact Michelle or visit GrowPeopleFirst.com.