Leadership Challenge: Thoughts and Suggestions for Managing Unwanted or Unexpected Change in Your Practice

In today’s busy veterinary practices, we are faced with change on a constant basis. These changes can be welcomed and planned, or sudden and unexpected. They can be big or small, positive or disruptive. And while few of us need assistance in managing what we view as positive simple change, the difficulty comes when we are faced with challenging unwanted changes.


This type of change often leads to feelings of uneasiness, distress, or even can create a crisis mode. Unexpected and unwanted changes can cause you to feel overwhelmed by uncertainty, and even irrational fear of the unknown, which can ultimately decrease your own productivity, as well as the productivity of the entire practice team.


As hard as it may be, if you are a leader in your practice, it is up to you to demonstrate to the rest of your team that unexpected change is nothing to fear. While as an individual you may not always agree with every change your team is asked to carry out, as a leader you must get on board in order for your team to buy in and accept the change.


Leaders tasked with implementing unwanted and unexpected change will find it is one of the most difficult challenges they face. Consider the following tips to help you manage these situations with grace and aplomb:


  1. Recognize the difference between agreement and support for the change. Initially, it is common for a leader to be upset about or not be in agreement with an upcoming change. It is okay for the leader to share their concerns about the change, as long as they communicate honestly with their team. What is not okay is for the leader to personally roadblock the change. Honest communication is good, but outright or passive opposition is not.
  2. Create a positive vision for the implementation of the change. As a leader it is your job to visualize a positive vision for the implementation of the change, or your team members will never see it in a positive light. Even though you know the change will be challenging, envision and communicate a better outcome after the change has been implemented.
  3. Focus on results. When it comes to significant change, it is easy to get sidetracked and focus on how team members (and you) feel about the change. The challenge is that most people do not feel excited and positive when they are being asked to make significant changes in how, or how much, work they are asked to do. Morale and productivity may go down before it rises to a higher level. Focus on the results you are trying to achieve by making the change. If you do this, morale will take care of itself.
  4. This may sound crazy, but promise problems. Most leaders want to tell people that the change is going to make everything better. A much better strategy is to tell team members that with the implementation of this change, there may be unforeseen issues or problems…but what excites you is that if any team can figure out the problems and solve them…this team can!
  5. Involve your team in developing a plan. People don’t dislike change as much as they dislike being changed. Take the time to involve the people who will be responsible for implementing the change…even your most difficult or challenging employees.
  6. Provide training. We know that training helps people learn new ways of doing things, but it is also important to remember that people who fight change will avoid that training. The earlier training can be provided in the change process, the better. Then follow-up the training with shortened sessions where people can get their specific questions answered.
  7. Finally, move as quickly and efficiently as possible. Research tells us that fast change is easier for an employee to deal with than slow change. If you think employees enjoy slow change, put a Band-Aid on the hairiest part of your arm and have someone pull it off slowly, one hair at a time. You get the picture!

If you are faced with unexpected or unwanted change in your practice, the goal as a leader is to remain calm and not allow feelings to get in the way of what has to be done to implement the change successfully. In time, once the change has taken place, and as painful as it may have been, there is a good chance that the results of successful implementation will ultimately create new opportunities and value for the practice.

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