Give Your People a Voice

Katie Newbold, LVT, CVPM


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Total Quality Management (TQM), the system in which every team member is responsible for how well goals are met in creating and delivering the product or service provided by the organization, began in the mid-1900s.1 The most critical aspect today is the level of employee involvement in decision making for the organization.

In total quality management, committees are formed at all levels in order to give input and ensure accountability for every person’s role in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

In the veterinary practice, asking your employees for input—giving your people a voice in the organization and day to day operations—increases employee retention and job satisfaction, improves your practice’s efficiency and profitability, and has a positive impact on client service and patient care.

The main reason for getting your employees involved is simple; no one better understands how to provide the service and care that you expect your clients and patients to receive than the people on the floor.

How can the leader allow the practice to get the most out of their employees’ contributions and ideas?

1. Make meetings a discussion, not a lecture

In order for other people to start talking, you have to stop. When the boss talks too much, others tune out. The most ineffective staff meetings consist of the most senior leader reading from a long list of things they want people to do differently, while the team stares off glassy-eyed and hopes that there will at least be food to lessen the pain of the meeting. Allow your team to help create the agenda, and make sure they get it ahead of time to allow their thoughts and ideas time to percolate. During the meeting, learn to ask questions and wait for what might feel like an unbearably long time to allow people the space to open up and participate. Instead of presenting your list of fixes, discuss problems to be solved, and allow your team the chance to help develop ways to improve.

2. Give information

Do your employees understand the goals and the mission of the practice? Do they know what your clients think of you based on your surveys, social media interactions, and online reviews? Does your practice have targets for revenue, service, patient care, or any other metrics that you measure? Make sure that every single member of your team knows the goals and where your practice is in relation to them. They all have an impact on the outcome.

3. Create the environment

If you have never allowed your employees behind the scenes of management, it will take time for them to begin to even think about coming forward with ideas. Work to build a culture of trust by openly stating that you want to do things differently. Let your team know you want to move forward in improving the practice with their input and that you will respect the ideas of your employees and allow room for mistakes. When someone presents an idea that you think may not work, ensure that you have taken the time to fully explore it anyway, and explain to the team member the reasoning behind the decision. When you implement an idea from an employee, be sure to give them public credit for both the idea and the manner in which their idea has positively impacted the practice, patients, clients, and employees.

4. Create a variety of avenues for idea sharing

Providing different avenues for input encourages idea sharing from employees with different work styles and temperaments. Some ideas are:

  • Hold one-on-one meetings. This not only gives a voice to those who are less likely to speak up in front of a group, but it gives you as a leader time to allow your employees to feel heard, and gives insight into their own personal needs as team members.
  • Conduct online surveys of your team. Routinely conduct online surveys and ask employees what they feel their greatest challenges are at work.
  • Hold group brainstorming meetings. Encourage collaboration and provide outlets for excited extroverts.

5. Make it a game

While collaborative problem solving is ideal, sometimes healthy competition gets creative juices flowing and brings out innovative ideas and problem solving. Host a competition monthly or quarterly in which you ask for input on a specific new initiative or operational issue, and have a prize for the person who submits the idea that works the best (or is voted best by peers if the impact is not measurable).

6. Open your mind

There is an endless variety and scope of topics which your employees can provide valuable feedback and insight. Anything such as giving insight into your own performance, simple operational changes, input into marketing and growth plans, and decisions on types of software or equipment can be optimized by involvement of staff at all levels. This is the path to continuous improvement in your practice.


1. Total quality management: origins and evolution of the term. Martínez-Lorente AR, Dewhurst F, Dale BG. The TQM Magazine 10:5, 378-386, 1998.

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