In this ongoing, and occasional, series I discuss the process of learning to be a manager. Since my background is for the most part in the veterinary field we will mostly focus on the peculiarities of that industry; however, the majority of points made here are transferable to other professions / industries.

In the previous post, we looked at the initial steps in becoming a new manager. In this post we look at potential areas of responsibility.

New managers, or rather managers who are new to managing, can face a couple of dilemmas in their first few days in the job. The unlucky ones face both!

The first is being overwhelmed by all the areas of responsibility that have now landed squarely upon your shoulders. The second is not knowing what your responsibilities actually are, and therefore, not really knowing what your job is.

Take a deep breath and relax.

The first is easy – you will be overwhelmed, you will always be overwhelmed. It is the middle name of all managers. Split your days up, as much as you can, by focusing on different areas each day (see below), and prioritize.

The second is also easy – the buck stops with you. If it doesn’t, then you need to act like it does unless instructed to by your owner, or a more senior manager. You may not know anything about Information Technology (I.T.) other than it is a fancy term for computers. But if the computers are not working then you are the one responsible and in all likelihood fixing them or calling the person who can.

I have identified a number of areas that managers may, or may not, be responsible for. Depending on your particular circumstance, some of these will not apply, or you may share the responsibility with another person. If nobody is looking after that area then guess what? That area is now your responsibility.

We will look some of these areas in more depth in future posts, but for now, welcome to your new world…

The Building

I have worked in buildings that are over 100 years old and in buildings that are brand new and they all had one thing in common: things always break down, never worked properly, or need upgrading. In other words buildings, and the equipment inside them, need looking after. Few things can grind a business to a halt as quickly as a building problem. Having no water, no electricity, or no access to your building, means that in very short order you are closed. This does not mean that you have to understand plumbing, electricity, how quickly concrete sets, or the basics of I.T. (however a little knowledge is very useful) but it does mean you need to work closely with those that do and ensure that you trust them. You do also have to listen to them, and not just hear what you want to hear. They know nothing about veterinary medicine, for example, so they know more about their field than you do.

Staff

We are going to cover managing people in a future post; however, it is important to note that the staff look to you to be there for them. Remember the only stupid question is the one not asked and communication can never be a bad thing. So encourage the staff to talk to you.

H.R.

Human Resources (or H.R.) is the general catchall term given to the hiring, firing, benefits, coaching, and disciplining of employees. It is usually a job that requires a lot of paperwork and attention to detail. Depending on your circumstances, H.R. can make up a significant proportion of your time and it can also land you in hot water if handled incorrectly. I consult colleagues regarding H.R. issues more than any other subject.

Payroll can also sometimes fall under H.R. although this may be more of a support roll to either an outside company or in-house accountant. If you do find yourself handling payroll in its entirety and you do not know what you are doing – STOP! There are computer programs, companies, and accountants who can all help with this. Nothing will undermine you quicker than getting payroll disastrously wrong. 

Belonging to an organization such as your local SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) chapter is also a great way to get tips, C.E. and to build a support network in what in itself can be an overwhelming area of the manager’s responsibilities.

 Financial

You don’t need to be an accountant to have a significant interest and impact on the financial management of your business. The days takings need to be reconciled and deposited with the bank. Credit cards need to reconciled both daily and monthly when the statements come in. If they are not already in place, controls need to be developed so that nobody, including you, has too much access and unsupervised control over any financial area. Bills need paid, money put aside for taxes and payroll, but an eye also need to be kept on how the business is doing. Are we doing better than last year or worse? Not are we busier, but is more money coming in the door?

Marketing

I’ve covered starting a marketing program in this series of posts; however it is important to remember that marketing can be as simple as making sure that your opening hours are correct on the front door and, for a veterinary hospital, that your vaccine and appointment reminders are going out.

Inventory

Supplies need to be ordered, expired stock needs to be removed / returned, and checks and balances need to be put in place so that pilfering can be noticed and stopped.

Safety

Safety is more than making sure that all of OSHA’s boxes are ticked. Although this in itself can be a monumental task depending on where you are starting from. Being responsible of the safety of the employees, and your clients, means that you have to be the bad guy. It is not enough to tell staff to wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you are now responsible for ensuring that they do.

San Juan College have a great presentation on OSHA and the veterinary practice that forms part of their Veterinary Technician program – well worth checking out.

Scheduling

Even if you do not handle the mechanics of your hospital’s schedule, you may well have to give guidance as to staffing levels and when is a good time to give vacation time and when is not – for example. It may not be your fault that you do not have enough staff on a busy day or time of year but it is your responsibility.

Regulatory Compliance

Taking a critical eye to a practice, or any business for that matter, and ensuring that things are being done in a correct and legal way can be a seriously challenging task. This is particularly true when you may be asking people to change how they have done things for a significant period of time. However, it is part of the job and is one of the areas where getting it wrong can have significant consequences for both the business and you personally.

State Veterinary and Pharmacy boards vary widely in how helpful they are in response to questions about interpretation, but as a rule it never hurts to ask.  Certainly reading the practice acts that govern your state is a great start and reaching out to other managers through a local organization as we discussed in the last post will also be extremely useful.

Clients

All businesses are ultimately about clients. You can have the best veterinary practice in the world but without client’s you’ll close. Ensuring that they are looked after and that they have a great experience at your facility is outside the remit of this post; however, it is part of yours as manager. If you want a starting point take a look at this earlier post of mine about getting the basics right.

Managers can have an extremely wide, and challenging, portfolio of responsibilities. The most challenging ones; however, are the ones you don’t know about.

Remember, the buck stops with you. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

For those looking for more on being an existing manager and starting a new position, this may be for you.

Additional Resources:

Be Safe! Manager's Guide to Veterinary Safety by Philip J. Seibert, Jr. CVT

Click on the image to take you to the AAHA Press page for this book.

It is hard to beat Philip J. Seibert, Jr. CVT when it comes to putting together an OSHA program and this single volume, Be Safe! Manager’s Guide to Veterinary Safety which I reviewed here, although pricey is a great place to start your program.

Just like Phil is hard to beat when it comes to safety, it is hard to beat Scott Stratten when it comes to customer service. I strongly suggest seeking Scott out on YouTube; but for those of you who might like the written word The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome is for you and my review is here.  

As always, clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon and where Amazon may give me a tiny percentage to help my book buying habit.

This year’s Western Veterinary Conference, in my adopted home town of Las Vegas, is a great time to catch up with old friends, former colleagues, and new friends who I had only met online.

One of the conversations that I had over a very nice dinner, was with a former colleague wanting to know about my world – the world of practice management – and how to start down that path.

This was more difficult than I imagined – mostly because my own route into office management / practice management / hospital administration was so accidental. I therefore thought; “there is a good idea for a series of blog posts if ever I heard one,” and so here we are!

Because my world is the world of veterinary medicine and practice management this series will concentrate mostly there. However, it is my hope that this series, much like my blog in general, will also work for anyone in a relatively small business looking to move from the trenches into management.

A Brief Recap

Before entering the world of veterinary medicine I had a very successful career in the world of entertainment lighting (theater, television, events, etc.). Within that pretty specialized and small world I worked in London’s West End as an electrician, a Company Manager (someone who corals actors and worries about when the show is going to close), a touring production manager, a console programmer and operator, sales and technical support for lighting suppliers, marketing of lighting products, and ultimately an industry writer and commentator.

After being in the industry for almost 20 years I decided I wanted a compete change. I moved to Arizona and took a job in a tiny veterinary clinic to keep myself busy, feed my DVD habit, and allow me time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I really enjoyed working in a veterinary hospital and it seemed I was well liked there too by both the doctor and the other staff. When the office manager announced that she was moving, on a few months after I had arrived, my name was suggested as a possible replacement. The rest, as the very overused saying goes, is history.

I knew a little about veterinary medicine, some things about people management, not near as much as I would have liked about financial matters, and almost nothing about human resources. I did know about marketing and customer service, and I knew what I hated about going to the vet with my dogs. Mine in not a path I would recommend for everyone, and I made a lot of mistakes. However, I feel I have been at this long enough that I have some insights about getting to where I am and how others can get there too. If they want to!

Terminology

One of the things that is very annoying about my job, is that I am routinely described by titles other than the one on my business card and employment agreement.

Officer Manager

The generally accepted definition of an office manger is of a reception supervisor who also may handle scheduling and other areas such as accounts receivable. More than a lead receptionist in other words, but less than a practice manager.

Practice Manager

A Practice Manager oversees all the areas of hospital in addition to reception, may also handle payroll and other human resource functions.

Hospital Administrator

The job of a hospital administrator is one of having overall finacial and management responsibility for all areas of the the whole hospital, with the direction and supervision of the owners.It may also include all the functions of an office manager and practice manager. They will be involved in the hiring process for doctors and may also have supervisory responsibilities over them. There will also be a significant strategic and planning element to their function.

In all likelihood, managers start as office managers and then progress to practice management and then hospital administration. There is not right or wrong way, however, as long as the needed skills and / or experience are there. It should also be noted that all hospitals are different. I have effectively been a hospital administrator at three different practices and my job and responsibilities has been different at each.

Education

I am a big believer in education. That might sound strange coming from someone who hates actually taking classes themselves and does not have a degree. The bottom line is that your life will be easier with a degree and more doors will open with an MBA. Trust me I know from experience. It is not impossible to be successful without those things it is just harder. If you are planning on learning a lot of new skills, whether as DVM interested in practice ownership, or a technician or receptionist looking to get into managment, you may as well get some letters after your name for the effort.

Becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) is a qualification designed for the job at hand. Several times I have considered getting the qualification myself. If you are having problems as a new practice manager, or making the move from office management to practice management, this qualification is for you.

If formal education is not an option, or just not you, then CE, CE, CE. Continuing education wherever you can get it: online, locally or nationally. It all helps. Speaking of which…

Get Help

I would not be the Hospital Administrator I am now, and would not have the career that I have had, if it was not for my local hospital managers association whose meetings I attended every month while I was in Arizona. Being able to meet with other mangers, find common ground, and being able to talk issues out that you might be having was incredibly useful. If you don’t have a local managers group look for other business groups, including the chamber of commerce, that might be able to help support you. It is a cliche but still true – it really is lonely at the top.

Resources

Throughout this series I plan to give some reading suggestions. The two books below tackle the difficult issues of enthusing others about your ideas, and how to make things change. One of my current favorite sayings that keeps rattling around in my head is “As a manager it does not matter how good your ideas are; it is your ability to implement them that matters.”

I have reviewed both these books before and other than providing a very basic introduction I have just provided links to the reviews. As always, clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon and where Amazon may give me a tiny percentage to help my book buying habit.

“Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip & Dan Heath

The title pretty much says it all: not all ideas are created equal and how we present things can have a dramatic impact on whether ideas take hold or not. You can read more here.

“Switch – How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

You’ll note that both these books are written by the same pair of authors and therefore they work perfectly together as the two sides to the same coin. You can read more here. These books are, at their core, about the nature of communication. If you can’t communicate as a manager then you can’t manage.

For those who are looking to get into management I’d love to hear from you, and for those who are already there I’d love to hear how you got there. Comment away!

Next Time – Part 2: Time to Focus

For frequent and long suffering readers of my blog (there are some of you out there so my analytics tell me) may already know that I am a bit of a Scott Stratton fan boy. Last year I reviewed The Book of Business Awesome / Unawesome and wrote my own diatribe about kittens and QR codes which owes a lot to one of Scott’s talks. I am also a huge fan of the new “UnPodcast” and the “Vegas 30″ podcast. The bottom line is  then, how could I not review Scott’s latest venture into the publishing world.

Subtitled “How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground,” QR codes kill kittens is familiar territory for anyone who follows Scott on a Twitter or Facebook (and familiar content if we are being honest about it). Essentially a short picture book, if gives example after example of bad implementation, missteps, and general marketing / social media insanity which makes QR codes are an excellent meta fore.

It is not that QR codes themselves are bad, it is that on the whole the implementation sucks and we use them for the wrong reasons – it is not customers who want QR codes, but rather the companies that think using them says something about how “tech friendly” they are, when in truth it normally says the reverse due to bad implementation.

This is not a how-to guide by any stretch of the imagination (see his two previous books for that kind of experience), but rather an affirmation that you are doing things right (or wrong).

Funny, clever, and vintage Scott, QR Codes Kill Kittens is the perfect present for the marketing or business person in your life…

…Or just a great treat for yourself.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

 

 

At first glance this book does not have a lot to do with management or marketing, and even less with the practice of veterinary medicine (the three focus areas do my blog. However, Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, deals with how the subconscious mind influences us in everything from our daily interactions, teamwork, and hiring, to our business and product choices.

Although the book starts off slow and in a manor that one might expect of a research based science book. The revelations start coming about half way through and don’t really stop.

Using, and citing research, as well as history and personal experience, Mlodinow draws a compelling picture that we rely on our unconscious mind more than we realize. The book does assure us that we can overcome the influences of the subconscious mind; however, it is difficult, and on the whole we are far better off with its input than without it. The real insight of the book, however, is the window it opens into the behavior of others – particularly for managers about their staff and their customers.

Possibly one of the most startling revelations of book is the scientific experiments that prove that our expectations of others are self fulling. In other words, if you believe that an employee is going to underperform, the chances are that they will because of your non-verbal cues and unconscious actions, that as a manager, you give to that employee. Researchers gave two teams of research students two sets of mice. One set they were told were normal, the other set had been genetically modified to increase their intelligence.

Both sets of mice were given the same intelligence tests and the results proved that the genetically modified mice were indeed significantly more intelligent. But in reality the mice were not the subject of the experiment but the research students themselves – both sets of mice were normal. The only difference between the two groups was that one had been labeled “more intelligent.”

As humans, we are very good at showing our emotions, but hiding them takes great effort. As the book points out, great method actors are successful because they actually try to experience the emotions they are trying to portray. The subliminal mind controls muscles that the conscious mind cannot. That is why some politicians, and car sales men, can come over as “sleazy.” Non verbal communication forms a language more complex and nuanced than our verbal communication. In schools, a child’s popularity has been found to directly correlate with that child’s ability to read the non verbal cues of their peers.

Non- verbal cues can also extend to surroundings, logos, and uniforms. Our subconscious mind takes these elements and if they resonate with our expectations of an business, for example, we will actually thinking better about that business than we would if these trappings are not there. It may not overcome a bad customer experience, but it could make the difference between a client returning not if the experience was neutral. The subconscious mind stets the stage for our interactions before they take place. Designers of lobbies and logos, as well as job seekers please take note! Presentation matters, even when we think it doesn’t or shouldn’t.

Another fascinating insight is the area of categorization and groups. As humans we automatically put ourselves into groups and categorize almost everything we see and interact with without being aware that we are doing it.

This explains why departments in a business that have a strong identity can actually harm wider team work. Examples of this abound where people spilt themselves into groups and then have issues with similar groups who should be working towards the same goal. With some fantastic examples from social research, that would now be considered unethical, as well as historical, and scientific examples, the author paints a picture of how we ignore the subconscious mind, and it’s influence at our detriment and peril.

That goes for mangers, employees, wives, husbands, children, parents and humans as a species.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

I had been a big believer in Yelp and the review site model: treat your customers well and they will reward you. I have also had little time for the Yelp haters: “Stop complaining about Yelp and work on your business.”

Well that is what I used to think and then I saw the real, ugly side, of Yelp. Forbes, PBS, and the New York Times seem to agree.

As a rule, the larger the business, the more clients you have, and therefore the more chance that you are not going to be able to keep them all happy. That is not to say that you should not try, but there is always that reality.

In the veterinary world, there is a great product called Vsurv that allows for electronic surveys to be sent out to clients who visit your practice. It plugs straight into practice management software. The great thing out surveying every client for whom you have an email address, as Vsurv does, is that to gives you real data for client satisfaction. Data that you can track from month to month. Even with a 50% – 60% compliance rate you are still talking about hundreds of responses. If I have 30 online reviews 10 of which are filtered (more on that later) but I see 100 – 150 clients a day the online review numbers add up to the statistical error rate of direct surveying.

So a product like Vsurv is better than online review sites. Then what about Yelp?
Well the big problem with Yelp is its review filter. What’s Yelp’s review filter you ask? Well you wouldn’t be alone in not knowing much about it. Unless you run a Yelp page you probably don’t know about the filter, and many who do run pages don’t know about it until they get bitten by it.

Yelp’s review filter is supposed to protect the integrity of Yelps reviews by filtering out suspicious reviews: Overly positive reviews by users that have only one or a couple of business reviews or overly negative reviews by the same kind of user. A least that is the idea…

The problem is that the criteria that Yelp uses to filter it’s reviews is a closely guarded secret – supposedly to avoid businesses “gaming” the system. The filter is supposedly “automatic” and therefore is not influenced by petty concerns such as advertiser preference. However, individual users, and businesses have no recourse to un-filter filtered reviews.

To add to the problems, consistent reports exist of Yelp filtering only good reviews and leaving only bad reviews after the business concerned refuses to advertise with Yelp. I personally have seen a negative review get filtered and then miraculously become unfiltered – not sure how an automatic filter changes its mind but apparently it can.

You can even read the filtered reviews – and it is quite amazing how different a picture of most businesses you can gather by reading the filtered reviews. Yelp only allows access to filtered reviews via a Captcha – why? To make it more difficult to link to? It is quite an experience to see 15 filtered reviews 13 of which are positive that have basically the same user profile as the six recent negative reviews that have not been filtered.

Then, of course, are the online reputation management companies that promise to get bad online reviews removed from Google, Yelp, and other online review sites. All the major review sites say that the only way to remove reviews is with the same tools that everyone has access to – flagging in other words. There is, however, another way – the reviews themselves have been created by a reputation company which can work “miracles” by removing review that they themselves have posted. On a couple of occasions now, I have seen very odd reviews appear and then been approached by some of the more unscrupulous types of Online reputation managers who say that they can work “miracles.” This issue has been addressed by Yelp, but only in the broadest of sense.

The real issue with Yelp; however, is that is does not practice what it preaches. Concentrate on customer service and customers will give you great reviews. So what does is say when so many potential customers feel that the Yelp system is fundamentally flawed and refuses to engage them on the subject? Yelp encourages businesses to respond to negative reviews however provides no mechanism to challenge its filter. Yelps does provide a flagging system, but no feedback on why it does or does not agree with the business owner flagging the review in question. Yelp also refuses to engage with clients about the review side and will only engage about advertising.

I, for one, do not actually believe that Yelp is trying to extort business owners as some charge. I do, however, feel that the product and company is flawed.

The word from Yelp seems to be do what what say – not what we do.

I’m not a big believer in that.

There is a bad joke / semi serious statement amongst veterinary practice managers; “no good deed goes unpunished.” And while I see the reality in this, and have even said it few times, I ultimately do not subscribe to the point of view. What is wrong with being nice?

I get it, I really do, being nice is hard. But being polite and showing respect for your peers,  those you interact with, those who report to you and those you report to is not only the right thing to do, it is in your interest.

Since being a manager, and someone who hires and fires, I have always been shocked at those who felt that just not turning up for work, and refusing to communicate was an acceptable way to hand in one’s notice. Despite the obvious impoliteness and unprofessional behavior of leaving your co-workers in the lurch, there is the added inconsideration of those who feel at least partially responsibility for your well-being. Stories abound, and I have personal experience of, employees with limited family in serious trouble at home which is only discovered when an employer starts inquiring after their well-being after they fail to show up for work. I never even considered doing this, and I’ve seen this behavior from young and old so the generational clichés don’t offer any answers.

As I discussed in another post, the superstar employee who feels they are above the general rules of behavior in the workplace is another example of a failure to be nice. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this kind of behavior and generally find it to be counterproductive – the exceptions being just that and not proving anything.

And then there is the Dunkin Doughnuts Lady…

The following video is pretty offensive but it does prove a point. A customer feeling that they have been wronged videos herself claiming free food from the day shift of a Dunkin Doughnuts  after she feels her receipt was not given to her in a timely manner the night before. While all the time informing anyone who will listen that she is filming the encounter, and that she is going to post it on Facebook, she delivers an avalanche of racial slurs, abuse, and is generally obnoxious. The employees, to their extreme credit, keep their cool, try to make the customer happy, and are professional throughout despite extreme provocation.

(WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VERY OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE )

The story of the video however, does not end with the video. After being posted online last week it went viral, but not in the way that the original poster had hoped. A tirade of negative comments about the behavior of the customer led her to delete her Facebook account and one can only imagine the personal repercussions – the least of which is finding out that the majority of people do not think the way she does.

This incident also shows of the worst side of social media, where someone tries to leverage it for their own ends and as a shield for their own bad behavior or sense of being wronged. This can also be called the Yelp Effect. I am not a Yelp hater, but I do think it is a flawed system and one that rewards bad behavior from both businesses and customers with little recourse. The Better Business Bureau had its flaws but at least there was an attempt a resolution.

In the veterinary world, an often heard phrase is “you don’t care about animals” often paired with “it is all about the money.” Although uttered by people in difficult circumstances, and born out of frustration, it is still extremely hurtful for anyone who has choose to make their career working with animals and has caused more than a few sleepless nights for a lot of deeply caring people.

We all have difficult customers, employees, and colleagues - it is how we deal with them that counts and makes a difference from one business or organization to the next.  The bottom line is that doing the right thing, being polite, professional and, I guess for want of a better word nice, is the only way to behave for your interest and for everyone else. It is the only way to guarantee that things will not get worse.

And you never know, it might rub off on to someone else.

Over the years I have, and continue to, hire a lot of people.

Due to my own personal preference I also tend to interview a lot.

I work in the veterinary profession. Which is one of those professions that many people feel they would like to try even though the reality is sometimes not all that it is cracked up to be.

The obvious extension of this is that I see a lot resumes, applications, and applicants.

Some are excellent.

Some are bad.

Some are just not right.

And some make such basic mistakes that it overshadows everything else.

So for those on a on job hunt, or starting on the career ladder, here are my top eight tips.

1: Read the job posting!

If the job posting says no phone calls, that means no phone calls.

It is not unusual for companies to receive hundreds of applications. For small businesses, receiving hundreds of phone calls checking the status of applications can be a serious burden. I know a lot of employers, myself included, who automatically disqualify applicants who call when the job posting specifically says not to. It indicates that the applicant has not read the posting or can’t follow written instructions. Don’t be that person!

If the job posting says you need a license, or some kind qualification, that is generally not negotiable. If you still think you are right for the job make sure that you address the fact that you do it have the right license / qualification in your application letter. This shows that you have read and understood the job posting. It does, of course, not guarantee that you’ll even get an interview – but it should stop automatic disqualification for not reading the posting properly.

2: Your résumé should be the right length for the information you wish to present.

There is nothing worse than a two or three page resume squeezed into one page. It is almost impossible to read. Likewise a one page resume stretched to fill two or three pages just wastes time, paper, and shows that the applicant is trying to be something they are not.

3: Fill out an application if asked.

If you are asked to fill out an application, even if you have a resume and letter of application, fill out the application! Yes, it is double work and it may not present yourself in the way you wish to be presented, but that is normally the point and it is what your potential future employer wants – so start off on the right foot.

4: Be contactable. Be professional.

Your phone number must be right, you must have voicemail, and you should check it at least daily.

The same goes for email.

Take a good long hard look at both your email address and the message you have on your voicemail. You might want a funny message on your voicemail for your friends – but potential employers will not be impressed. Likewise, if your email address can say a lot about you. But if it says any thing other than your name, it probably does not say anything good. Email addresses are generally free, so make them professional.

5: Dress for Success – what to wear to an interview.

My personal take is that you should dress at least one level above the person you are meeting. How can you tell what they will be dressed like? Look at the website! If the person interviewing you is in scrubs then business casual will be fine. If they are wearing business casual, then you should probably be wearing a tie. If they are wearing a tie you should probably be wearing a suit.

Please remember that business casual does to mean what you would wear for a night on the town.

If you have tattoos or piercings and you are prepared to take them out / cover them up for work then do so. Some employers don’t care about such things, but many do.

Flip flops, jeans, revealing attire, and aggressive piercings are all inappropriate for almost all interviews.

6: Honest is the Best Policy.

If you have things in your past that you are not too proud of, or if there are holes in your résumé, be honest about them. Being open and honest may be looked on positively. Trying to hide things or lying is always looked on badly.

7: Working Interviews

Many Veterinary practices use working interviews as a way of ensuring that new employees have the appropriate skills and are a good fit. If you are asked to take part in one, it is important to remember that this is your chance to shine. However, many practices have rules about what you can and can’t do on a working interview. It is never wrong to ask, but it can be very wrong to assume.

8: Getting Turned Down

Don’t take not getting a job personally. If you never get called for an interview for your dream job the worst thing you can do it call up and berate a potential employer. Likewise don’t be too pushy about why you haven’t heard back. A simple email thank you for the interview and the chance to meet is a simple professional way to say that you are interested without intruding on the employers timeline for hiring. It is a rare employer indeed, who looses the application and all the contact details for some one they want to hire.

Getting a job is hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself.

No employer has ever said – that person is too professional to hire.

How not to behave in an interview, courtesy of the excellent Trainspotting (Warning Very Strong Language).

How do you handle the first 30 days at a new job, where you are the person that everyone else looks to for how things should work?

For various reasons, I like to think the onward and upward trajectory of my career, I have been an outside manager / administrator to an existing business twice in the last two years. Here are my top ten must do things when in this position and why. Some of these are second nature to me, and come out of my individual management style, and others I have to remind myself to do everyday.

1: Connect with whomever you report to.

If you do not have a rapport with the person who you report to then a good question to ask is why did you take the job in the first place? This is essential. Do not fall into the trap of thinking “I can make this work,” or “they are not so bad when you spend a little time with them.” If you don’t connect when they are on their best behavior because they want to hire you, then you are not going to connect when the gloves come off.

2: Who or what are the major roadblocks?

It is imperative to find out what is going to stop you from being your best. That could be a person, a policy, or a resource (or lack of one). You can’t overcome a roadblock if you don’t know it is there. This should be something that you are always looking for anyway, but it is most definitely a priority when you are newly in the job.

3: Introduce Yourself!

Say hello, good morning – engage in small talk, shake people’s hands. The size of business you are going to will impact how you achieve an introduction to the people at the sharp end; But I would suggest that even if you have a staff of a few thousand there is nothing wrong with touring the facilities and saying hello and introducing yourself to everyone you can. Politicians have been doing this for decades because it works.

4: Look, Listen, Learn!

No two businesses are the same. The day you walk in the door, almost everyone else in the building knows more about that business than you. You need to walk before you can run, but you also need to understand what walking actually is. Show some respect for your new place of work: watch how things work, take notes, ask questions, and don’t be in too much of a hurry!

5: Meet with Everyone (part one).

Meet with as many people as you can.

One on one if possible.

Doesn’t have to be a long meeting, but use it to explain your basic style and philosophy. If you have an open door policy then explain that. I always ask what I can do to help the staff do their job better, mostly because it is my management style, but also so that I can identify any issues that need attention or trends that I might otherwise have missed.

6: Be Humble.

A lot of this comes down to individual management style; however, I feel it is important that the staff see that their new manager is happy to get their hands dirty and to pitch in when appropriate. I think this is an important trait in any manager; however, it is doubly important in a new manager who the staff do not know. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. You can’t know everything straight away and almost no one will expect you to. Having said that it is important that if you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to that you try to find the answer and get back to the relevant person.

7: Find your Allies.

In all organizations there will be people who will welcome change, and others who will not. Try to identify who they are and what their motivations are. If you can be sure of their motivations, the people who embrace change are your allies and will make your job much easier if work with them.

8: Look for the Easy Wins.

The little things that have not got done that drive the staff mad; or just make their lives difficult! The programs that never happened because there was nobody to head them up. The piece of equipment that had not worked properly for ages if ever. These are all examples of opportunities of easy wins. Easy wins will help prove to your new staff that you are here to make their lives better not more difficult. Be careful however, pick things that are not too controversial – remember you have to walk before you can run. Also, make sure that they are things that you do. Not things that you just palm off on someone else to do. The easy win is much more effective if you are the one who solely delivers it.

9: Meet with Everyone (part two).

A general staff meeting to layout some of your vision is important. Just make sure that this meeting is not on your first day. If you must hold such a meeting on your first day, make sure it is extremely short and more of a very brief introduction. Wait till nearer the end of your first 30 days to have a more formal meeting. Hopefully, by this point in time people have got to know you a little and get a sense of your intentions and therefore will be more likely to give you a fair hearing. Of course, it goes without saying, that you have to be really prepared for this meeting. Get it right and you buy yourself an enormous amount of goodwill and buy-in. Get it wrong and you have an uphill struggle ahead.

10: Communicate, comunicate, comunicate…

Make sure that everyone who should know what you are doing, and why, does so. Remember, you are the new guy and so by definition you don’t know everything. The others on your team, however, do know a lot and may be able to prevent you from making a huge blunder. But they will only be able to do that if they know about what you are doing. This also helps your potential allies from becoming disillusioned because there is too much happening that they don’t know about and find themselves too exposed when they try to defend you.

Do you have any tips for new managers in new jobs? I, for one,would  love to hear them!

One final comment, don’t be David Brent from the UK’s original version of The Office!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

– Charles Dickens, ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’

Scott Stratten’s excellent new book is actually two books, printed back-to-back under the same cover.  “The Book of Business Awesome,” as its name suggests, is a collection of examples, ideas and concepts on how businesses can deliver extraordinary customer service through actually communicating and connecting with their customers. The flip side, “The Book of Business Unawesome,” shows the price of not communicating, not thinking, and not caring  about your customers.

As you might expect, social media plays a large role in both the positive examples and the negative examples of this book, but it is not a book about social media per say. Those looking for a nuts and bolts how to I do X, Y, and Z on Twitter, Facebook or practically any another sphere of social media would be better served by Arnie Kuenn’s excellent: Accelerate! that I reviewed this time last year. “The Book of Business Awesome,” however, is more of a call to arms for brands and companies to be something other than normal – particularly because normal can be so crappy – and to go out of their way for their customer.

To be funny.

To be honest.

To be human.

And to apologize because they genuinely regret a mistake, or bad customer experience, not because they got caught or called on it.

Really, this book is about culture and people. The stories that are replayed in both their awesomeness and unawesomeness throughout give a window into the soul of the featured companies. It shows ordinary front line employees doing extraordinary things and those extraordinary things having an impact far beyond the normal, or even intended, business interaction.  As Scott states on numerous occasions: social media doesn’t fix anything – it just makes things louder. If you don’t give a damn about customers when you transact with them – this will be heard loud and clear online and will also come across in your social media interactions.

Filled with links to additional content and even the odd QR code (I’d actually would have liked to see more QR codes, the link typing thing got old after a while) the Book of Business Awesome also has an excellent couple of chapters on public speaking and panel discussions. As a side note, if you ever get a chance to see Scott speak at a conference, or on his book tour, do so – for the rest of us there is YouTube!

Not as funny as Scott’s in-person presentations, The Book of Business Awesome is, however, just as passionate and quite amusing. And this is actually a very minor quibble consider that many business books are about as entertaining as a tax audit. It also probably says more about Scott’s skills as a public speaker than any lack of skill as a writer.

The Book of Business Awesome is nothing short of a bible for customer service in the Social Media age.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

I am all for Return On Investment (ROI).

However, defining ROI in any small service business, particularly in marketing, can be incredibly difficult to be even remotely useful. Most businesses don’t bother except when it is easy. But for some reason, when it comes to social media, ROI is mission critical.

Why?

You can place an ad for discounted services, with a coupon, running for a month, and a unique web address, and  a unique phone number, and track that (but honestly how many actually do this?) But how can you track the person who becomes aware of your business through that ad, spots your sign one day while driving by, and then six months later needs and uses your services unrelated to the ad?

What is the ROI of your fax machine?

What is the ROI of customer service?

What is the ROI of a strong brand?

How do you place a value on communicating with a significant proportion of your clients every day?

Most businesses consider word of mouth one of the most important forms of promotion. It is essentially free and it is highly effective. With social media, we have the opportunity to insert our businesses into the “word of mouth” of our customers, and thereby their friends, and their friends friends. Why would you not get involved and take advantage of that?

Facebook for my business probably takes up 15 minutes of my day on average. An email, or even a call by the time I’ve documented it, to an upset client can easily take an hour. Should I not deal with an upset client when I don’t have to because the ROI is lousy? Yes, you can place a value on a client and on retaining that client. You can even track that you do get some clients from Facebook, but you may also get clients because you have an email address or a telephone number. When was the last time that anyone figured out the ROI of their email system? Even when buying a new phone system most businesses to not justify it with ROI, but rather than as the cost of doing business.

Small businesses often look up to companies such as Nike and Apple and see their devoted, and almost rabid, fan bases as evidence of marketing in action. I would argue, however, that companies like Apple and Nike create devoted fan bases is by being approachable and interacting with their clients – Apple in particular. I’m not the greatest Steve Jobs fan, but there are lots of examples of Steve taking the time to reply to ordinary consumers and being very interested in what they had to say. HP, Dell, et al. for a number of years, sold dramatically more computers than Apple, but it was Apple who held Mac World every year. Nike became cool because they did not go after deals, they went after people who actually used their shoes – athletes. They engaged their most high profile target market.

Of course, there is a lot of other marketing involved, but remember Apple’s most famous ad only ran once in most markets. Apple, and Nike for that matter, opened their own stores that operate on a quite a different model from other retail outlets. There is some argument that this was to help control the customer experience, but I also feel it was to be able to respond, and engage, with customers. Like all companies, they do not always get it right, but I do think that it is the willingness to attempt true engagement, and a real concern for the customer experience, that breeds fierce loyalty.

Social media is not a strategy – engagement, however, is.

So how to do social media and get some results and some traction?

To me, a major issue for small businesses is when they are on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, YouTube, and are doing all of them badly. Focus on one, and only one, and do it well. Then you can move on to another one.

Create things,or provide a service, using social media that other people will value.

Share other people’s content sparingly.

Self promotion has to have value, or at least not look like self promotion.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your fan base or ask them to share.

Drive fans to your website, or blog, from places like Facebook or YouTube not the other way round.

Pick your social media sites carefully. In my opinion, YouTube, for example, is very useful and can expose you to an enormous audiences, but the attention span is fleeting and the sense of community is almost non-existent. Embed videos in your site or page. Facebook works for my business and my previous business. Twitter does not. However, Twitter will almost certainly work for my new business, and it works for me personally. This has a lot to do with the small towns versus large cities and the  nature of my business – it may well be different for yours. Google+ has some personal value, and some SEO benefits, but has little real world value at this point in time in my opinion. But it does look very pretty!

Numbers of likes or followers are pretty irrelevant. It is the level of engagement that counts. I’d much rather have two hundred relevant, and engaged, fans or followers than 6,000 just making up the numbers. As someone much smarter than me once said: “If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.”

And finally, don’t cross post, post from one social network to another, unless you really know what you are doing.

And even then just don’t do it.

Please.

I beg of you.

I see people I respect and who should really know better, cross posting and it is counterproductive. Content for Facebook does not translate well to Twitter because of the character limit. Twitter’s special characters are not understood by most Facebook users.

There are social networks where cross posting seems to work pretty well, but again, it is a black art, and if you are questioning the ROI of any social network, cross posting from a different network is not any kind of an investment.

To sum up this long, and sprawling post, the ROI of social media is the ROI of engagement. If talking to existing and new customers is not for you then I wish you well.

That just means more customers for the rest of us.

Many thanks to my friends and colleagues on the Marking in Veterinary Medicine LinkedIn group for the conversation that this post was cannibalized from. Also many thanks to Ali Burden-Blake (@inkspotsocial) for her excellent blog post: “Stop! Why using social media won’t work for your veterinary practice.” which inspired the conversation in the first place.

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