With more than 75 practice managers working in its practices across the UK, CVS recently launched a bespoke training programme to support these ‘pivotal members of the practice team’. The company's human resources director, Helen Wiseman, describes the group's approach
- British Veterinary Association
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OVER the past 15 years the role of the practice manager has evolved from being the person responsible for ordering products and keeping the ‘admin’ up to date, to being the lynchpin of the practice team, whose skill and performance in their role is often fundamental to the practice's success. Practice managers need expertise in every aspect of running a business, which is not easy given the frequency of changes in areas such as regulation. Yet training and development of people in this vital role can sometimes be overlooked, with practices tending to put a stronger emphasis on training for the clinical team.
Typically, our practice managers have already worked in veterinary practice, often as a nurse or in a junior administrative role, although some join us from related professions, such as dental practice or human medicine general practice. We regard them as integral cogs in our veterinary team, with some working in single site practices, and others having responsibility for a group of practices or a hospital site. At CVS, their two key areas of responsibility are financial management and business development.
Financial management involves day-to-day handling the business side of the practice, ensuring that systems and policies are implemented, that efficiency is maximised, waste is controlled and that productivity – and therefore profitability – is optimised.
Business development is a responsibility that requires our practice managers to have an understanding of business analysis and strategic planning, as well as ways of seeking new and innovative opportunities for growth, improving profits and developing the practice team.
There is no doubt that the demands on practice managers today are huge – and we expect that those demands will increase. As their role has evolved and the marketing becomes increasingly competitive, practice managers need to be much more commercial and ‘business-savvy’. They need to demonstrate a bewildering array of skills, including entrepreneurialism and creativity, in addition to core financial management, IT and interpersonal skills.
It is in these areas that some can struggle, perhaps being adept in performing daily tasks, but lacking the skills and experience to take their performance to the next level. Although external training is available and we have our own team of human resources professionals to assist them, we recognised early on that, the more we can develop and empower our practice manager team, the more highly motivated and successful they will be. As a result, practice manager development has always been a priority.
Our first task, as with training and development for any member of staff, is to identify their needs. We achieve this for practice managers through their practice business plans and objectives, discussions with our regional teams, through their performance development reviews and, of course, by asking them.
It was after carrying out a detailed training audit of their needs and those of our clinical teams that we developed our ‘talent development’ programmes, including our aspirational leadership programme, for future leaders in the business, and our ‘LEAP’ programme, which is for first time line managers, both clinical and non-clinical. LEAP aims to help newly promoted managers to develop their skills in key areas such as communication and staff development.
Many of our practice managers have undertaken these programmes and found them to be beneficial. However, while feedback on their participation was positive, we still felt we needed to work harder at helping to equip practice managers with the specific skills that they need to excel in the key operational areas of their role. That's why we decided to develop a bespoke programme to help them develop these skills and, in so doing, to fill this training gap.
After a detailed planning process, in which our practice managers were very much involved, the result was ‘Aspire’, a six-day modular training programme that will welcome its first cohort this autumn and be repeated annually.
Aspire will cover a wide range of practice-management related topics, including human resources, best practice in dealing with employment legislation, staff management and commercial thinking.
We have engaged a consultancy to run sessions on key management development areas, including planning and time management. Following our introduction last year of sessions on ‘mindfulness’ across the company, a session on stress and wellbeing called ‘Mental health first aid (Lite)’ is also included. We are delighted with the structure and content of the course and are looking forward to seeing how our practice managers respond to it.
Investing in the training of practice managers is a priority for us. They are charged with ensuring the success of their practice through providing the highest standard of patient care and exceptional client service. The least we can do is equip them with the skills, knowledge and support that they need to perform their roles to the best of their ability. And, of course, for those who thrive on the challenge and continue to develop, significant career opportunities are on offer within the group.