Picking the Right Battle in Times of Crisis



I just ended my MBA business education after an interesting two years. I was the only veterinarian in a group that included human medicine professionals like general physicians, a dentist, a cardiovascular surgeon, a theriogenologist, and a urologist amongst others. It was eye-opening and thought-provoking to use business and leadership principles from other industries and apply them to the health care industry including our veterinary profession. Some people will say we cannot use healthcare as an industry, but there is no way around it. To provide care at an acceptable level it has to be financed, organized and lead. And there is even more to it. You can have the best doctors in the world, the best facilities and the best research, but is it accessible to all of your citizens? Or do you choose to have healthcare at a (slightly) lower level that’s available and affordable to everyone? So there is also a political component to it. To me personally, strategy development was the most appealing part of my MBA education. Making a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall goal. I have to admit, it wasn't until our last lecture when I woke up and realized that strategy is great, but often overruled by reality. At our last lecture, two things happened. First of all the continuous phone calls that took my fellow students out of the classroom one by one. It was the start of the Covid-19 crisis and they were summoned to go back to their hospitals. And secondly, how appropriate, the introduction of a quote from the boxing legend Mike Tyson on strategy: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. In our veterinary practices we are so used to adjusting our schedule or calendar to new patients that come in, emergency calls, demanding customers, demanding staff, that we often forget to work on the bigger picture. Why we became veterinarians, why we became practice owners, how we want our clinic and team to be, what culture we cherish. There is always a reason or excuse not to do the strategy part, not to work on the team, not to work on your practice, not to listen to your staff members, not to have the conversations you should have. Now don’t get me wrong, the current Covid-19 crisis is real and we have to take appropriate action for the health and wellbeing of our society while at the same time provide necessary services for our patients. The point I want to make is that we have to pick our battles. One of the things that could be of help is the matrix Covey made to prioritize the issues you face and how to deal with them. It’s quite simple; you have urgent and non-urgent issues and issues that are important and non-important to you as a leader or owner of a practice. When issues are urgent and important: ACT. With the Covid-19 crisis, we have to act personally as leaders. Adapt our way of working to local- or national government institutions and use all of our intelligence and skills to deal with it, keep our team members aboard and take care of our clinic, our customers, our staff and our families. However, when issues are urgent but not important: DELEGATE. Of course one can argue; important for who? Delegating things as leaders are difficult but you will be surprised what other people are capable of. Here your confidence in your team members plays a crucial role. Confidence and also how well you prepared and trained your staff. In case issues are not urgent but important: PLAN. This is where strategy comes in and also understanding the fact that important things may not be urgent but do need your attention. When you can delegate urgent, but not important issues to another professional within your team you buy time to contemplate and think about the future of your practice. You cannot keep sailing on the top of your adrenaline levels forever. That’s not good for yourself but also not for your direct environment and your practice. If issues are not urgent and not important: ELIMINATE. This buys you time for important things in life and helps you to aim for where you want to go and make it happen. This simple grid has helped me and can help you, to find the time, also during a crisis, to make plans for the future. Your compelling future. The fact that the future doesn’t always emerge the way you expected means that you will have to adjust on the go. But if you keep this simple grid in mind it helps you to fight the right battle.