Embracing change in your veterinary practice: Don't let fear hold you back!
Change is scary. We all know that – it's much more comfortable to stick with what you know. But without change, clearly, we cannot move forward. Would you go back to ether as an anaesthetic agent? A 1 in 2 (or 1 in 1!) out of hours rota? Or acepromazine as your main sedative? Or "sterilising” instruments with soap and water by hand? Of course not! But all these changes were slow, painful and difficult at the time. People engage with change because the alternative is better, faster, more efficient, and/or has better outcomes for your staff and your patients.
But even if we know all the theoretical benefits, it’s still scary!
This applies digitally too
Because our IT doesn’t seem to be key to patient outcomes, it’s very easy to stick with what you know. But actually, it's no secret that veterinary workflow software can transform the efficiency of a practice, leading to a happier team, more organised record keeping, treatment systems, and enhanced patient outcomes.
However, it is also true that navigating the change process in veterinary practice settings can be an intimidating prospect. After all, you're busier than ever, trying to meet the increased demands that have come from sky-rocketing pet ownership in local communities across the country.
But while this may not seem the ideal time to make a significant change, it actually presents the perfect opportunity to leverage the myriad benefits that advanced veterinary software delivers.
How to welcome change
Change never comes easily, but don't forget that you and your team have already been forced to make changes to continue delivering a high-quality service to your community within an extremely challenging pandemic landscape. So, you already know that you can do it. You have the power to encourage your team to welcome positive change and provide them with the tools and guidance needed to progress through the inevitable period of transition with ease.
It is impossible to be over-prepared, so planning for the move to more integrated digital technologies is key. Everyone’s already used to using the existing Practice Management Software, so think of this as “the next step” in that process. To do this effectively, use past examples to predict some of the realities that this kind of change may produce - some of you may remember the upsets when computers first replaced the card index, and starting to use modern software is much less traumatic than that! You could also think about the last time you introduced a brand new medical device into your practice; or perhaps when you changed to Alfaxan, or brought in methadone: pay close attention to the amount of time it took for you all to adjust and become familiar with this new element.
Maintaining a positive mindset
It's true that not all change brings with it the outcomes we were expecting. However, our mindset and attitudes towards change can have a huge impact on the positive effects we allow it to bring.
There are countless examples to be drawn upon here, from rearranging the medicine cupboard to driving success on social media platforms. Simply being willing to learn new skills or adopt new technologies can be the driver of positive outcomes, and an unwillingness to accept change could well be the marker of failure.
Seeking opportunities and avoiding failure
Tackling change in practice settings requires everyone to be on the same page. Everyone must be willing to participate, and the practice leadership team must be prepared to listen to both the concerns and opportunities that team members point out. Top-down change rarely works in any sector – and among veterinary professionals, in a recruitment crisis, trying to impose change from on high is likely to result in a retention crisis.
Use your team to highlight the problems, and the possible solutions
As every person in your team has their own distinct role, it is likely that each one of them will be best placed to identify different factors that could either pose difficulties or significantly enhance workflows. This is why maintaining a practice culture in which everyone feels empowered to share their thoughts and ideas is so essential.
It's important to remember that workplace changes can prompt feelings of confusion and resistance because the prospect of learning new things when we are in an already busy environment can be stressful. Acknowledging the potential for these feelings to emerge is key and there are several ways to do this effectively. These include keeping a close eye on morale within your team, making the time to schedule team meetings regularly, and remaining empathetic. Above all, though, everyone must feel that they are genuinely being consulted, and that their concerns are being listened to (even that elderly vet who still thinks that ClamLA is a wonder drug has some invaluable experience to share!).
Responding to red flags
The data you gather when preparing, or starting, a change process can be daunting. We all like to think things are going more or less OK, and it can be disconcerting to suddenly find hard data suggesting that this isn’t in fact the case. Although it can be tempting to overlook red flags and simply hope for the best, facing them head-on is always the best course of action. In a practice setting, this means keeping on top of everything from staff retention and turnover figures to client surveys and changes in pet ownership.
By remaining committed to staying agile and responsive, you will ensure that you understand all the different facets of your business, which will allow you to respond with speed when the statistics indicate that you may be heading towards a problem.
The same goes for staff “red flags” - if your staff tell you there’s a problem with your plans, there probably is. But don’t always assume that the problem is what they think it is! Change is difficult, and people have a tendency to project their existing concerns onto a new process. So use any grumbles constructively to improve things as you go along.
Embracing change in veterinary practice settings
Change doesn't happen without a concerted effort by everyone involved, however, as a leader, it is your responsibility to set the tone and welcome change.
One really valuable exercise is called the “4Ps”: this is a framework that allows you to analyse the nature of the change you’d like to see, and demonstrate why it’s critical to success. Key to it is that if done properly, your team will make the connection between change and success themselves – and that gets them half-way to owning the idea. You can read more about it here.
Another powerful approach is often to make sure that you have what we call “change champions” from every part of the team – at least one person from each team (for example, vets, nurses, support staff, managers) who will engage proactively with the change process and not just act as a conduit to pass problems along but will actively seek solutions to the problems.
Understanding how to manage change and transition periods can be helpful here, which is a process that begins with highlighting the specific reasons why change is necessary. When doing this, it is important to specifically relate this need for change with the benefits it will bring for each member of your team, as this will help to create a sense of unity and establish the sense that you're all in it together.
Effective change management is achieved through the consistent sharing of knowledge and skills, which requires proper training sessions that are delivered in ways that are accessible to all members of your team.
What are the most common issues that arise through change?
Being honest, expecting everything to run entirely smoothly from the outset is a somewhat optimistic approach. However, this doesn't mean that you should simply expect issues to occur, because there are things you can do to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
Teams in the most successful practices understand how to communicate clearly and effectively. To avoid miscommunication and the problems that can arise from it, use your position as a leader to establish strong channels of communication. Whether you want to use an app, email, in-person meetings, or any other approach such as bulletin boards, text, or video content, make sure that every member of your team finds them accessible and valuable (and that’s something else that Plexi will help with, once it’s up and running 😉).
As humans, we are naturally very good at avoiding change. However, as change is necessary to progress, it may be worth implementing timeframes for the adoption of new technology and offering incentives to those who go the extra mile to incorporate it into their workflow.
The change process in veterinary practices won't always come easily. However, as acceptance comes from the top, it is important for the practice leadership to illustrate that positive change in veterinary clinics always equals opportunity, additional success, and an improved workplace culture.
Change is inevitable – so make sure you change on your terms, to something better
Whilst transitioning to a digital cloud-based workflow solution may seem daunting, we assure you it’s not, and our dedicated Customer Success team are here to help with the transition. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help!
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