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It can be tempting to poke your nose into everything when you run a small business. But taking a step back and empowering your team with more responsibility reaps rich rewards for everyone. By Angela Tufvesson
Rarely satisfied with your team’s work and can’t shake the feeling you could’ve done it better? Constantly peering over the shoulder of your staff to check samples under the microscope or that they’re putting a catheter in correctly? You might be a micromanager—a leader who’s overly controlling of work and processes.
It might seem like keeping up to date with the minutiae of daily tasks is good management practice, but here’s the thing: most of the time, it’s not. Micromanaging can harm your team’s confidence and performance, not to mention your effectiveness as a business owner. A more impactful approach builds trust and promotes a thoughtful, inclusive workplace culture.
Micromanaging is “telling someone what you want done, but then also telling them how to do it,” explains Dr Emma Davis, a veterinary career coach and managing director of Global Veterinary Solutions.
“We think that because we’re used to doing something one way, and we’ve had a lot of experience in it, that we’ve settled on the best way. So the quickest way for others to do it is just to follow what we have decided is the best way.”
In pursuit of the ‘best’ way, telltale signs of micromanagement include always needing to know what everyone is doing, requiring that every task be signed off, and difficulty delegating.
“Hovering and constant checking are common behaviours,” says Jane Bindloss, director at SANE Management Solutions for Veterinary Practices. “You might be going back and looking at someone’s work and checking whether or not it’s been done correctly.”
While the corporate world may portray micromanagement as a calculating behaviour popular among ambitious middle managers, in many veterinary practices it’s often motivated by good intentions. “The person who’s leading or managing the team really cares about the outcome,” Dr Davis says.
But the trouble is that micromanaging smart, qualified and experienced people stifles confidence and erodes autonomy. “It’s a diminishing feeling when a manager is sticking around and getting too involved in the details,” Dr Davis says. “People know what they’re doing, they’re paid to be there, to be an expert at their particular role, and they’ve got the experience—yet they aren’t trusted to get on with their job.”
Bindloss says micromanagement can signal a breakdown of trust between employer and employee. “Trust is a foundation for positive practice culture, and it takes effort to build trust. If you’re busy micromanaging, you’re not going to have the time or enthusiasm to try to make trust a fundamental part of your practice culture.”
In extreme cases, she says, this can contribute to poor staff retention and stunt individual career progression. “If trust is not present, healthy, vibrant, and transparent, then you’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands because your whole employee body is in danger of being dissatisfied at work.
“If people feel as if their seniors have no confidence in them, it also prevents them from developing and growing because you just feel that if you haven’t even got this job right, how can you ever climb the ladder or go on to better things if you’re being so closely scrutinised at this level?”
Learn to trust
Ready to banish your micromanaging tendencies in favour of a more hands-off, empowering management style? Bindloss says building trust is a core focus. “We have to start realising that the modern veterinary workplace has different values to what it had 10 years ago. We want to encourage transparency, vulnerability, sincerity, authenticity, and empathy within the practice.”
Dr Davis says clearly defined and articulated job descriptions and procedures set clear expectations that allow managers to step back from the day-to-day demands of individual roles.
“You need to write down job descriptions for every single person that’s working in a practice so it’s very clear what their job roles are,” she says. “Then at a higher level, write down your procedures for everything—how surgery day works, how the front desk runs and so on.
“These are your rules of racing—they are living documents that should be revised every year or so. They’re what you measure against and what allow people to know their role and how the place works. When you start new staff, you run them through an induction process that introduces them to how you do business.”
The national registration scheme for veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians, which lays the foundation for mandatory registration, may also help vets to more confidently hand over responsibilities to staff.
“The buck stops with the vet if a nurse gets something wrong, whereas if we have registered nurses, it will help vets to stop feeling they have to micromanage,” Bindloss says. “If they’re a registered nurse, there’s a lot more on the line.”
Ultimately, Dr Davis says, having systems in place that build trust allows freedom and flexibility for managers and practice owners—and perhaps the opportunity for a well-earned break.
“You set the rules, train people in the rules, empower them and let them go,” she says. “The end goal of a well-managed business is that you can step out of the business for a week. Everybody knows their roles, everyone knows how the place and the culture works, and they keep it running without you being there.”