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How to Make Veterinarian Team Members Feel Valued How to improve practices without disrupting them and build an environment where caregivers feel like they matter.

By Ivan Zak Edited by Bill Schulz

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A poorly executed post-merger integration of veterinary practices can lead to operational interruptions, inefficient processes and reputational damages.

The perception of not being in control can wear out the former practice owner who used to have the final word in all business decisions and now gets a new boss in the corporate HQ.

Conflict of values can happen when there is a mismatch within the core values of a new organization, if the teams are not united in the same purpose or if they don't understand it at all.

Insufficient reward due to lack of recognition leads to workers feeling more like a cog in a corporate machine and a perceived lack of fairness can happen when the expectations are not met.

"In our experience, employees tend to be very nervous about a new partnership for several reasons, including worrying about their job security or becoming a "number" by being part of a larger organization," says Tricia Kinne, Vice President of Human Resources at Veterinary Practice Partners, which has signed 69 hospitals in 20 states since 2011.

By recognizing these burnout triggers, consolidators can be proactive and organize the integration process to facilitate a smooth transition. Here are some tips from successful leaders on how they work with veterinary teams to guide them through organizational change...

Related: How Veterinary Consolidators Are Building a Future-Proof Enterprise

Cultural assessment leads to integration investment

Understanding who you are buying prior to the acquisition is very important.

"Look at the historic churn, staff turnover, the average employee lifetime," suggests Thom Jenkins, CEO of PetsApp. "Ask for the most recent set of appraisals because if you don't check beforehand, then you've already got a problem."

At the same time, veterinary teams should not feel a threat to their established ways.

"We never seek to replace the practice's unique veterinary culture, but rather try to understand and preserve it," says Dr. Nicholas Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of BluePearl, one of the largest veterinary groups in the U.S., managing over 80 hospitals in 24 states. "Support team liaisons are assigned to each new practice to understand its distinct culture and possible concerns from clients, staff, or the referral veterinary community."

Tricia Kinne confirms: "Make sure doctors and technicians at the local hospital understand that existing clinical approach philosophies will remain intact. This quickly puts our doctors and their teams at ease."

Building trust or bust

Perception of lack of leadership credibility is one of the negative attitudes that can be felt by the employees of acquired practices, so proactively working on maintaining employee loyalty and gaining their trust becomes the number one task.

A recent survey of American employees thoughts on their bosses, conducted by Motivosity, found that "more feedback on their roles" as the number one thing (53%) they want to see more of from their manager, with "extra compensation" (48%) and "more honest communication" (48%), coming in close behind.

"Included in the things we do to successfully integrate new team members are first, spending time listening and learning, says Bob Lester, Chief Medical Officer at WellHaven Pet Hospitals. "Listening leads to trust and open and honest relationships that allow for successful integration."

After successfully navigating more than 60 integrations, Tricia Kinne dealt with many unforeseen hiccups along the way.

"They are never a straight path and inevitably include change," added the aforementioned VP of HR at Veterinary Practice Partners. "But with open communication and earning the trust of your new team members, the outcome can prove beneficial for all."

Related: Why Integration is Key for Seamless Transition in a M&A Deal

A custom-tailored approach that's beyond reproach

"No acquisition is alike," says Nicholas Nelson. "Given the many nuances that come along with each acquisition, the liaison team undertakes each with compassion and patience; listening and moving at the pace that is deemed best for the individual practice."

Bob Lester also confirms that changes need to take place at a pace comfortable for the hospital to digest: "There is no arbitrary 30/60/90-day integration cookie-cutter roadmap. Every hospital is unique and every integration is a little different."

Tricia Kinne advises listening to practice leadership on what is important to its culture and retaining people.

"Work to keeping their benefits package whole and explain this early in the process in a clear and concise manner," advises Kinne. "This does not look identical from acquisition to acquisition and taking the time to uniquely bridge from the old to the new is integral to success."

Add value and care to what was already there

Extracting synergies while supporting employee mental wellbeing is the healthy approach to post-acquisition integration.

"This could mean having access to veterinary social workers and other mental health resources for their staff," Nicholas Nelson explains. "BluePearl has a dedicated team that provides...educational campaigns activated in-hospital, in-person and telehealth visits and a broad range of mental health e-resource offerings."

Tricia Kinne suggests offering an Employee Assistance Plan as part of the benefits program: "An EAP can be a tremendous tool for employees experiencing uneasiness during change. As an example, VPP started an employee assistance fund in 2020 and thus far has raised more than $200K and disbursed over $150K."

Related: Mergers & Acquisitions: What You Need to Get Right

Ivan Zak

DVM, MBA, CEO at Galaxy Vets

Ivan "Zak" Zakharenkov is a veterinarian with 12 years of practice, an MBA in international healthcare management, a co-host at "Consolidate That!" and "Veterinary Innovation Podcast" and an entrepreneur currently leading Galaxy Vets, a veterinary healthcare system co-owned by its employees.

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