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Jun 19, 2023 · 23 min read
David’s background in consulting
David’s transition from human healthcare into veterinary medicine
The model David Uses to run veterinary practices successfully
What leveraging up means
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How's it going everybody! Welcome back to another episode of Vet Clinic Convos. Today, our guest is Dr. David Bennett. Dr. David, how are you doing?
I'm doing well, thank you. Appreciate being on board with you today.
Great. Now I'm real excited that you could come on board. I know that we have spoken a bunch in the past and I'm kind of really excited to get into what we're gonna be talking about today.
But just for the listeners out there who might not know who you are, if you don't mind giving a brief background on yourself, how you got to where you are today and kind of what your main focus is.
Sure, be glad to.
It'll give me an opportunity also to clarify that I'm not a doctor, but I work closely with doctors.
A lot of people confuse my initials, DRB is Dr. Bennett.
In any event, my background is, I have a bachelor's degree in behavioral science. So I've spent a lot of time in undergrad work learning about people and behaviors and what we bring to the workplace. As I continued on in my career, I spent the first probably, oh, 15 years working in human healthcare, managing different environments, doctor's offices, urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, and really focused a lot on bringing medicine and business together, and that often, many think that those are two separate entities within a healthcare facility.
Back in 2000 then, I moved over, had an opportunity to manage a couple of veterinary practices with two veterinarians that had practices within half an hour of my home, one of my kids and my wife, and I spent a lot of time. I've weaved in and out of veterinary practices, hundreds if you will, and then I left that work and went into corporate. entities both managing on a regional level of general practices, but also specialty and emergency practices. I then about eight years ago ventured into consulting and have been doing that ever since. I have been in hundreds of practices, worked with many, many practice teams, practice owners, veterinarians, not surprised by anything happening anymore.
Don't have all the answers, but certainly know how to seek answers out through the teams and empower people to solve issues for themselves. So a lot of leadership, a lot of focus on how to run businesses, but also how to put patient care first rather than the business first. I did skip.
I have an MBA also that focused on organizational behavior and quality. So, nice mix of behavioral science, quality, but also organizational behavior as we come together as teams and gel.
Well, great. I apologize for mistakenly calling you doctor the whole time. Your initials definitely threw me off. But no, I think what you just described is something that is very important. And people, I don't want to say miss the mark, but they might forget about it. And what I say by that is how you talk about the business aspect of a veterinary practice is very important, but it isn't the most important. Patient care is the most important. And I think most people take that and are like, of course, patient care is most important, but then they forget all about the business side. And that's kind of the thing when you run a business is you need to make sure that you're running it effectively or else you can't do the core mission of helping out animals.
Well, I think it's very true. Sorry to interrupt, but it's very true. And if we just think about veterinarians who went to school to learn how to be clinicians, and they focused on medicine and how to deliver wonderful medicine, there's more today than there used to be. But there still isn't enough focus on how do you run a business?
How do you focus on some of those business results that are driven by patient care? And that's what I like to bring together for the entire practice team. what we do every day and how it matters for our patients and clients and how it also supports the business model. It's not separate anymore.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, I completely agree. I was blown away that after talking with some people that in our own backyard here, the LSU veterinary school doesn't even offer a business class anymore when they used to.
And that's just something that kind of blows my mind, especially when I think it's probably part of what plays into the extreme consolidation. in the veterinary space is partly because not enough people understand the business enough to keep it in their own hands, so they'd rather put it into the hands of the business experts.
So yeah, I'd love to, if you don't mind, if one of the things we were looking forward to really talking about is the operating model that you kind of have for veterinary practices and how you use that to drive growth and just create value as a practice and love it if you kind of just could, I guess, start off explaining it and then we can just go from there.
Sure. The operating model was, I created it back in 2010. I had a wonderful opportunity to present it at AAHA and put this operating model together that I had used since I moved over to veterinary management and veterinary medicine.
And it really basically has six components to it. If you think about a wheel and having six spokes, that's what I focus on. And so when I start working with a client, I analyze and assess. where the practice is with regard to those six key focuses.
Those focuses are, do practice priorities exist and are they being utilized well? Are we focusing on our people? Our people are our key ingredient in the practice and so are we taking care of them? Are we doing the right things for them? Are we creating a culture in which they can survive in and thrive in? And... All of those things matter as we hear a lot about today.
Then I focus on structure. What are the behind the scenes systems that make us who we are? Utilizing Simon Sinek's first, I think, Ted Talk way back when was entitled, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. He talked about people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And so I like to focus on why do we exist? Why do we do what we do in the veterinary practice? What's our purpose? And I find that most everybody has that purpose, but we don't utilize it well enough to ingrain everything that we do is centered on that. And so I spent a lot of time really building that with teams.
Beyond that is how do we behave? How do we treat our clients? How do we treat our patients? How do we treat each other? Are we respectful? Creating core values really matters. Because all of those things really drive the culture, the feel of the place. And... Let's face it, we all spend a lot of time at work, so we want to come to a place that's enriching, where we're fully engaged, and we feel like what we do matters. And so we want to ensure that all the structures are put into place early on so that everyone is successful together.
We focus a lot on processes, mostly core clinical processes. What I'm really focusing on there are exam processes. We have different types of exams, wellness, illness, medical progress, tech appointments, surgical processes, dentistry, and on and on, depending upon the practice and the services that they provide. Do we know what those processes look like? Do we know who does what? Do we know the order of which those are done? Do we pay attention to how the work is done? So not only the process is what we do, but how the work is supposed to be done. That's the quality behind what we do that creates smooth workflow, manageable workflow, drives mental health so that we're not burned out and overwhelmed because it's chaotic.
But we also have a deliverable patient care. Did we deliver the right patient care, right results? But also client care. Did the client have a wonderful while experience with us? So we have to focus on How we work, those are the processes and protocols go along with that as well. So that's the process wheel. Do we have rewards in place? Are we rewarding all of our folks, all of our people for joining us, engaging with us, driving quality medicine, quality work, quality service? And if so, are we sharing profits? Are we Giving bonuses, are we doing the right things in compensation? And are people feeling rewarded through feedback, developmental plans so that we can advance them in their careers with us in the practice? All of those are rewards based.
And then lastly, outcomes. Do we have goals set for ourselves for this day, for this week, for next, this month, for the next quarter, for the year? What about a five-year plan? All of those entail understanding where our journey is going to take us, having a plan for that, and setting goals and achieving those outcomes together. So I focus on where is a practice with regard to those six wheels, those six components of a veterinary business, and then set sights on what are we going to do based on where we should be and where we are today to put that puzzle together and really make that practice shine.
And I'll be honest, it's really a proactive management and leadership approach versus historically what we do in veterinary medicine, which is react to what's happening.
Yeah, I completely agree. I'm actually curious to know, just starting it off from what you just mentioned, how many practices do you see actually have standard operating procedures? Or are they kind of that maybe the doctor has it in their mind and there is nothing actually formalized?
I would say a large majority of practice owners and leaders that I talk to when I start with a client believe they have standard operating procedures or processes and protocols. Very very few have them well documented and ingrained in the operations or the workflow of the practice.
In other words, we think we know how we're supposed to be doing this, but we don't really have it documented. We haven't trained the team well, and it just doesn't feel right. So very few to answer your question.
Yeah, it's kind of what I expected. And it's something that just because you think you have it, it's always worth it to look at it from the other angle.
If you were being trained on these standard operating procedures, do you have it so well documented that you could just hand it over and they could get a pretty good grasp? Or is it like they're going to be lost?
Well, don't get me wrong, Elliott. There are outstanding things happening out there in veterinary practices, even those that don't have everything set up the way I was describing.
But this is just putting the icing on the cake and ensuring that we're all aligned, that we're all focused on going in the same direction together, and it gets much easier that way.
That, and I imagine that it also helps with consistency in patient care, so that if you have the procedure standardized in a way that we're going to do it this way every time, you know that you're not going to have differences in outcome.
Well, that's exactly right. And that's almost the words that I use when I teach.
We want to drive consistency and quality. And those can be very variable when we don't have things laid out and clearly definable for everyone that's doing that work.
And it makes a big difference for us internally in the practices as we're working through the day, but it also is quite telling for clients and what they experience.
Yeah, I mean, I agree. And I think that's, at the end of the day, what pet owners want to see is they want that consistency in care.
Another thing I wanted to touch on that I really liked, and I don't know if you intentionally said it, the number six or the six things in order. But I like that you have processes and goals hand in hand, because sometimes I don't think they're paired up as much. But. At the end of the day, if you are planning as far out into five year goals, I am very much in the belief of the only way you'll ever hit that is if you can break that down to daily tasks that you do every day because if not, it's a lot harder to reach those because they're not very measurable and they're not tangible. But if you know that, okay, we need to do X number of things. this many times every day, and that's how we're gonna achieve it. I think it's not only a lot easier to grasp and to reach, but I just think it allows you to put, not only push yourself, but to just continue to show up every day, even when shit hits the fan, to execute and actually reach those goals.
So I think that's very important that you set those up the way that you did.
I actually did say that on purpose.
It's a key element to our success, I believe, in veterinary medicine.
We certainly have patient care goals. Every time we go into an exam room and examine and treat a patient, it's the same for a veterinary practice. And the more clearly defined our vision is for the future, where we're going, who we wanna be, and what our goals are. It's so much easier for us to understand what we need to do today and tomorrow to achieve that. And without that clear vision, it's almost like trying to go somewhere without punching in an address into our phone, you know, and having that GPS track where we are and where we're going. If we don't have an endpoint, that goal, it's really nearly impossible to get there.
Yeah, I agree. I mean, we very much are in the belief over here that if you can't measure it, you can't improve it. And we try and live by that. So I definitely agree with you on that.
Yeah, and I'll be honest, I take it to an extent where every week we are pulling key metrics, KPIs, most of them are focused on patient care and patient outcomes.
With the philosophy, and I say this to my clients all the time, what's good for the patient is good for the practice. Meaning, what's good for the patient is good for business.
And that's how we join that together and integrate those two things together. And so we measure every week, we meaning my clients and I, on where we are. this week, well, last week, this week, we're looking at last week's results. And how did we do? And if we didn't achieve our goals, why not? Do we have control of that? And what are we gonna do differently this week to get there?
And that's the real time, cool discussion that we have in weekly team meetings that helps us all understand what we're doing, why we're doing it, and what we're striving to become.
Yeah, I think that's great.
And you were actually getting ahead of my next question, where I was going to see what do you think are the most important KPIs that you like to track whenever you are working with the veterinary practice.
Well, if we think about the things that we do every day to drive our medicine, we need to focus on how much are we doing.
So I like to focus on how many exams did we perform last week. And I break that down into wellness, illness, and medical progress exams.
Some clients track tech appointments, some track surgery procedures, some track dentistry procedures. any and all work, but we have to look at our activity. And what that's really centered on and integrated with is how well are we filling our schedule? Do we have a schedule that works for us that doesn't exceed our capability and burn people out? Talking about mental health there, but is there enough there and are we filling it well enough to meet the needs of our clients when their pet needs us? And so those are KPIs that I think are really critical.
Of course, we focus on revenue because revenue pays the bills. That comes after all of the activities to drive patient care, patient compliance, fill the schedule, and we're meeting the daily needs of our clients. So I also look at capacity. If we have X number of appointments available or X number of hours of appointments available, how well did we fill that? And if we didn't fill it, What do we need to do to fill that? Do we need to say yes more? Do we need to work on our messaging when clients call and schedule so that they really get the outcome they're looking for? Do we have schedules that can't accommodate well enough? Are we offering enough capacity?
All of it, it's just all intermingled surrounding those few KPIs that really matter. And as I mentioned, I focus on how many new clients. are we getting every week and every month. It's part of our future growth. And I also like to look at, you know, we lose clients to clients and patients moving to another community or maybe choosing to go somewhere else within our community or euthanasia, part of our business.
And for us to be a viable practice, we have to have more new clients coming in than we have going out. So that's a key metric in my opinion. I look at dental procedures. How many are we doing? How many did we do last year at the same period of time? They're just quick snapshots. I call it a scorecard. Can also be called a dashboard. Quick snapshots that tell us how we did and whether we look at that every day or every week, it helps us manage in real time.
Yeah, I mean, I think those are all killer. I mean, we really try and help practices focus on those as well on our end. But no, that's a, I definitely think, like you said, obviously, even though revenue pays the bills, making the point to break it down further and to see actually what do these numbers mean, as in where do they come from?
Are we doing everything we can to actually not only achieve these numbers but keep growing on them. Yeah, all very important.
I'm curious to know is there a certain go-to strategy you have for practices either gaining new clients or actually, yeah, let's start with that. Just off the top of your head, just first that you would recommend for, I guess, new clients.
In a nutshell, I would say having a good, strong referral program. Word of mouth is always powerful in our business when we're with family or our neighbors or people we work with.
There are a lot of us that have pets out there. And so when we talk about great experiences that we have, not everybody does. And so word of mouth is important. I think social media, as we all know, is critical as well.
We need to have a strong social media presence that's interactive, that's informative, that draws people in. And then the technologies make it simple in our busy lives to go in, look at appointments, request an appointment, find a day and a time that works.
And the easier that is, the better we're gonna reach new clients. I think those are the key elements right there.
Yeah, I mean, I pretty much agree with you on that.
So switching gears, one of the things I'm kind of curious to get your opinion on, but what would you say is a common bad piece of advice that is often given in the space?
Bad piece of advice given. Are you talking about us as a profession to clients or just out there in the profession?
I would say, in this case particularly, when people are trying to give advice and feedback on how to run a practice successfully, what is something that you hear that you actually are like, I don't know about that one, or I don't know if I agree with that one.
I'll be honest, I read a lot out there of kind of an either or presentation that we've got to take care of our people and if our people are taken care of, they'll take care of our clients. I don't disagree with that, but where I come from and what I teach and what I talk about with clients and my clients' teams is that we've got to pay attention to not only taking care of our people, which I mentioned is part of my operating model.
But we also have to take care of clients because without either, we don't have a business. And so we've got to take care of our people, but it's not just solely that. It's taking care of our people so that they're capable of taking care of our clients, but also sometimes putting the client first and saying, what is it you need and how can we service you?
And it's gotta be a balance in my opinion. It's not heavily weighted to one side or the other. And... I'll be honest over the 23 years that I've been in veterinary medicine, we've, we've cycled in and out of being client-focused more than our team-focused. And then we go back and we end up being more team focused and we kind of ignore the client. And I think we've got to keep a level balance scale on both and really balance out our focuses so that we're really focusing and capable of taking care of both audiences. We both. We need both. We have to have clients and we have to service them.
We're in the service industry, but boy, we've got to take care of our people. And as you know, there's all sorts of burnout, people leaving the profession because we haven't focused enough and we've got mental health issues out there. We have suicide issues out there. And that makes me extraordinarily sad. We've got to do a better job of taking care of our folks at the same time taking care of our clients.
Yeah, I definitely think the balance is kind of the key. And I think people forget. And like you said, I mean, I haven't been in the industry long, but I'm not surprised that it seems like you go way too much in one direction, and then you kind of leave the other wayside. And then you are constantly overcorrecting instead of just trying to keep a pulse on both.
Is there something that you see or that you can or that you suggest? would be a solution to, I guess, taking care of your people. I know you mentioned that seems like, and it seems like from everything I'm seeing, that right now that's the current kind of problem out of those two.
Well, since I started in veterinary medicine and came over from the human side, I've been shocked and have been promoting a focus on careers rather than a focus on positions. I think historically we just haven't paid people well enough, and that's really centered around that we haven't charged well enough for the brilliance and the wonderful service that we provide.
I think of all Medical specialties out there, veterinary medicine provides the most value, and we still, in some cases, underprice ourselves. And so we then aren't able to pay people well enough. And I don't just mean compensation. I mean the full package, the full career package. Do we have salary that helps people be successful in their personal lives? Not live paycheck to paycheck or be behind. after every paycheck, but be able to excel in their lives.
But we also have to pay attention to our benefit panels. We've got to pay people with benefits as well. And I don't mean literally, but we have to offer great career benefit packages. And I think we're finally getting there in the profession over the last probably two to three years. But it's taken far too long.
So, you know, I think we've just got to focus on what do we need to do as a veterinary business to focus on our people and take care of them, not only from a pay and benefit standpoint, but from a scheduling standpoint. I work with clients all the time on what days are we open? What day should we be open? How long or short should those days be? I've got a lot of clients that are offering four-day work schedules for doctors and for everybody on the staff. I've got some clients that have chosen to close on Saturdays. And from a business perspective, haven't missed a beat.
But from a people standpoint and taking care of our people, we now have full weekends where they have time and energy to recoup, but also spend time with their loved ones and the people that are important in their lives. They also have a day off during the week. We don't have to burn people out. And we also don't have to be there endlessly at the practice because our clients... Yes, we have to try to convenience them, but they'll come when we're there. And if we have a schedule that works for us, it can also work for our clients.
And so it's a full package on really understanding and listening to our people. What do they need? What are they desiring? And then figuring out how to deliver it.
Yeah, no, I think that's very important. I've been even trying in my own life, realizing that one of the keys to being more productive is to giving myself more rest because even by taking that downtime, it allows me to do more and be allotted week it's for sure worth it. So I, I'm not, and I think that's just an overall trend that's kind of we're starting to see is that people were going work, and then now they're realizing that, oh, I can't do that forever.
The key is to actually rest. And I think that's also part of what makes, just for this analogy, I think that some of the best athletes out there are the ones that actually prioritize recovery and can recover the best. And that's what allows them to perform at the levels that they're at. So yeah, I think it's no different there.
One other final thing on this topic that I'm curious to get your thoughts on. As part of the, instead of roles, but for careers and building careers, do you think part of that is practices trying to utilize their staff more and have them more involved and more, I guess, taking more responsibility? I was speaking with a previous guest about how. One of the things they take pride in at their practice is that they fully utilize their technicians instead of just having them do maybe the bare minimum. And that probably, they say it's part of the success of why they have very little turnovers. Because when their technicians are doing everything that they're allowed to do, they're able to perform at higher levels. And they feel like they're actually making more of an impact that way.
I think that's absolutely critical and I agree with you and work with every client on that level.
I call it leveraging up. We have to leverage doctors to only do doctor work. We have to leverage then technicians up utilizing their skills and their knowledge and their areas of expertise as fully as we can.
One of the things I hear all the time is I'm leaving because I don't get to do the things I'm trained to do. or that I'm educated to do, or that I'm skilled to do.
Well, let's face it, we come to work and we wanna be utilized, and we wanna feel like what we know how to do and what we are good at doing is impactful. And if we're not allowed to do that, it just isn't sustainable.
So yeah, we gotta leverage everybody up to really be as impactful as they can. And yes, that's a recipe for success on an individual basis, but also on a team basis.
Yeah, I love the leveraging up.
That's probably the best way to describe that.
Let's see. The final question I have, unless you have some other things, and I don't want to take up more of your time, is if you had to start everything over and you were back at zero, but you still had everything that you know now, what would be, I guess, the first thing that you kind of jump back in and do try and, and I guess in this case, make practices successful.
Of those things there, you know, as I look back, in my early career, I tended to be a manager and not a leader. So as I look back, I would want to focus more on how to be the leader everyone needed me to be sooner. And ingrained in that is a couple of key concepts.
One is It's not about the leader and the leader's success. It's about everyone else's success. And what I think a lot of leaders miss and managers miss is that when the team around you isn't successful, you aren't. You've got to place them first. You've got to place your team first. And they need to be enriched and successful, and then you are.
And also a key concept. of leadership is to learn how to listen. It's a skill to be an active listener. Many of us when we're in conversation tend to pretend we're listening. We shake our head and we nod and we use body language that says, yeah, I'm listening. But we tend to be thinking in our mind of how we're gonna respond to what's being said and we miss the message that's being sent.
We have to learn, in my opinion, as leaders to listen to our people. We have to listen to them carefully so that we understand how they feel, what they need, and then we go about delivering that to them. It's really called servant leadership, and that's been the basis for my career for a very long time.
But as I look back, I would want to get into that soon. When we serve others, it works. and we empower people to tell us what they need, what they want, what they desire, and the rest is up to us to deliver that in their way.
So listening is a key element. We have to listen to understand.
I very much agree with that. I know I personally miss a lot of things and need to constantly relearn things.
So I have found that one of the best ways that I am able to step up as a leader is to basically just be like how exactly you said, servant leadership. How can I give you everything that you need and then get out of the way?
Well, David, if you have nothing else, we can go ahead and wrap this episode up.
I think I'm good. It's a wrap.
Well, great. Well, thanks again for joining us today. This has been another episode of Vet Clinic Convos. And we will see you on the next episode. Thanks, everybody.
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