Don't fall prey to these delegation dangers at your veterinary clinic

Don't fall prey to these delegation dangers at your veterinary clinic

Delegate too many tasks and risk taking yourself out of the loop. Don't delegate enough and risk inefficiencies and employee resentment. Here's how to get it just right.
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Feb 01, 2014

Whether you're running a multinational corporation, a family-owned restaurant or a veterinary practice, appropriate delegation is one of the foundations of any successful business. No single individual can or should be doing every task, and it certainly doesn't work to have everyone giving orders and assigning projects to everyone else. Rather, there needs to be a chain of command that gives employees reasonable discretion and a limited degree of autonomy.

Of course, finding the right balance is tricky. A failure to appropriately delegate—or, on the other hand, a tendency to micromanage—can lead to serious inefficiencies and employee resentment. In veterinary hospitals, screwy approaches to employee task monitoring happen all the time. And the legal and economic implications are huge. As discovered by business leaders in the epic delegation debacle known as Enron, the higher you are on the organizational chart, the more oversight duty you have and the bigger the consequences should you foul up your managerial responsibilities.

Consider these areas where too much delegation—abdication of responsibility, really—can lead to problems in practice.

Collusion

One equine veterinarian with a collapsing marriage plus one unattached bookkeeper who finds him attractive can equal some novel accounting practices. Here's how it goes down.

The doctor ostensibly uses his animal hospital's corporate credit card to purchase fuel for his truck, footwear, overalls, oil changes, paper towels and practice-related retail items. But after he begins dating the person in charge of monitoring the credit card expenses, she overlooks the sudden doubling of the gas bill as the doctor fills up his own car on a routine basis. Clothing purchases go up too. It's not just overalls anymore but trousers, designer shirts and underwear—pretty much anything the doctor might look good in when he and the bookkeeper go out for a night on the town.

I've seen plenty of instances where these types of subtle shenanigans have gone on for decades. Two individuals who are independently trustworthy join forces to become a powerful negative influence on the veterinary practice's bottom line when they're given unmonitored control over their own domains.

Power tripping

This type of example is well-known in our profession, especially when the power grabber is the practice owner's spouse, significant other, sibling or child. One day the family member comes into the practice to work and before anyone can say, "Holy nepotism!" he or she is ruling the roost. This individual consolidates and maximizes his or her personal authority, making unapproved expenditure decisions, arbitrarily or capriciously raising some pay rates, and unfairly stalling raises for others.

Sometimes these power-hungry staffers—who may be favored employees rather than relatives—even insist on unprofessional or illegal conduct in order to save money and make themselves seem like more efficient managers. I've run across practices where powerful personnel have ordered veterinarians to use off-label or outdated medications. I've seen numerous instances where office managers or bookkeepers have refused to provide personal revenue figures to associates who ask about the calculation of their production pay.

And often the rest of the staff is afraid to say or do anything. In many clinics, employees who are nervous about these abuses can't even obtain an audience with the practice owner because the power person acts as a gatekeeper, effectively insulating the owner from hearing about important management problems. The hospital owner or owning partners may never even get word of perpetual problems in budgeting, staffing—even surgical or case management improprieties—that could be daily occurrences.