In this fascinating episode, we are talking to Shawn McVey, co-founder of Pathway Vet Alliance. Shawn has had phenomenal success with helping veterinary businesses move from reactive and inconsistent practices to successful, profitable, and fully integrated workspaces.
Providing real-world examples from his many years of experience, he also talks us through his journey with numerous clinics and associations that formed and benefited his journey to conceptualizing and implementing Pathway.
Welcome to Consolidate That! Ivan, great to see you again, super excited about our guest this week.
Yeah, I’m Ivan Zak. I’m very, very excited to finally meet in person, Shawn McVey. Shawn is the co-founder at Pathway and his extensive work as a consultant and a speaker in the veterinary industry led him to start a company dedicated to bringing people back to doing what they love. Also, he is a chief team development officer of Veterinary Growth Partners, but we do know that Shawn comes from an interesting background. He actually has a Master of Arts in Behavioral Sciences and also, he has a master’s in Political-Social work. Shawn, very excited to meet you in person, thank you for finding the time.
No problem, great to be here, thanks for having me on your show and we certainly need to talk about consolidation and how we can do that in a way that isn’t so scary. Because consolidation has a kind of a bad rep right now and there’s a lot of benefits too as well. But yes, happy to chat about anything. Fire away, what would you like to talk about?
Maybe we can start with, how did you end up from that background in your education, how do you tap into the veterinary industry and made yourself so successful?
Well, I guess, success is I guess, that’s always strange because I’m a kid from a trailer park, no kidding. I’m the American dream personified. I come from very humble origins, I happened to be blessed with some intellect but you know, the school of hard knocks in a lot of ways. My parents were uneducated although intelligent, laborers, my dad is the – well, he’s passed now but the personification of what the modern angry white man is today.
Passed up by manufacturing, passed up by all of these things that he thought were going to happen to his middle-class life that never really occurred. Therefore, he was resentful and he had too many children and I was the oldest and in the back of my mind, running up all the time was like, I don’t know what the key to success is but it involves money at some level.
I am not going to struggle like my parents struggled because I saw, just the corrosive effect it had. I couldn’t use the words then, but on their psychology on the culture of our house, what I know now is that if you have money and/or time, your children are going to be a lot better off than if you’re parenting kids and you don’t have money and/or time.
Two of those things is like but that’s amazing, right? I just wanted to kind of break the curse and I became a psychotherapist and social worker, really, because I wanted to figure out my own stuff. I wanted to really figure out my own stuff and it probably is we’re saying, I’m a gay man, and that in the 80s, was a really difficult thing to navigate because of the onslaught of HIV and the politics were changing to the right. It was really kind of a frightening time and I felt like if I don’t get a handle on all the changes that are happening around me and my life, how do I navigate this, right?
I was just unmoored, I felt like, and not prepared for what the world presented me at 20, 21 years old. It was a curiosity that led me to marriage and family therapy. It turns out, it is a really great background for managing veterinarians. Why? Because if you talk – I’ll get to the story of how that happened but if you ask most veterinarians who are entrepreneurs at heart, scientists by training, the way that they manage their businesses without process when they start is through a family dynamic, you will hear many employees say, “Oh this is – we’re like a family here, you know?”
I hear that shit and I just want to throw up in my mouth when I hear it because family to me means dysfunctional. Family to me means the rules don’t really apply, you can do whatever you want to do and we’re never going to kick you out. I think that’s true because family relationships last a lifetime, and you’ve got to make a lot of concessions for family that you wouldn’t ordinarily make in the workplace.
I discovered coming into veterinary medicine that in absence – and I think this is a truism about business – in absence of process, we will fill it with dysfunctional emotional responses. In a business place, if there is not process in place, the only way that we can fill that void is to fill it with how we feel about lack of process, or too much process or whatever.
I think veterinarians made a deal with the devil and that was, “You know what? To staff and clients, we will love you and we will support you and we will try and fix you and be your parents and take care of everything you need but we’re going to do it just with our feelings and our skills. We’re not going to do it through good customer service and we’re not going to do it through good training of our employees.”
The result is, we get a lot of emotional attachment to people, animals, and clients with really shitty service. No service, and by service, I mean, a consistent client experience every single time. No matter what the client is, they get charged kind of the same way, they run through the business in the same way, they have the same feeling of contact with employees even though it’s delivered by different people.
In the early 90s, 1991, ‘92 when I finished my second master’s program, if you remember in America, HMOs and PPOs came on the scene in our healthcare system. We could no longer provide, they would no longer provide third-party reimbursement to master’s level clinicians. My first year out of graduate school, I made like $90,000 a year which 1991 was good money. I was working primarily with HIV, chemically dependent clients, that was a niche kind of clientele. The second year out of graduate school, I made $42,000. Third year, I made $12,000, just because insurance wouldn’t pay and I had to reinvent myself.
I was always on the sideline teaching fitness classes, kind of a side hustle, and this woman who took my fitness class happened to be an animal dermatologist. I’ll shout out to her, her name is Dr. Linda Messinger at the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado, and we had the kind of relationship that only a gay man and a straight woman can have. It would have been inappropriate for other people to talk to her like I talk to her and the way that she talked to me but we just kind of hung and had a real connection.
She asked me if I’d ever thought about managing a veterinary hospital because at the time, we’re the same age and I’m 58 now. At the time, she was just finishing up her residency in dermatology, coming out of Colorado State University and she had been approached by this group of specialists at an emergency clinic in Denver, which is now the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado.
Deciding to relieve academia and start their own practice, they had no clue what they were doing, just said, “I like you, you seem like a lot of good energy, will you come run our veterinary hospital?” It turns out that I had some experience running psychiatric facilities, non-profits centers, that sort of thing.
That’s really how it started and I walked into what was within six months, a five-million-dollar a year business in a 3,000 square foot facility with one bathroom for everybody. Literally, my office was an old broom closet with a sawed in half an old wooden desk that they could fit in there and prop it up on cinder blocks.
The shitter was right across the hallway from me so literally – the treatment area was right over here so all day, I just smelled defecation, that’s all I smelled all day long. It was like a third-world country is what it felt like to work in this environment.
And people crying all the time, I’m not talking about the clients, I’m talking about the employees. Doctors routinely going off on one another, cursing at each other, fighting over space and I was like, holy shit, this is – because I bought into what everybody else in the public bought into which is, “Kumbaya, it’s puppies and kittens, and we love animals and everybody’s so nice and we’re all so sweet” only to find out that behind the scenes, veterinary employees and veterinarians eat their own.
They’re kind-hearted people but they’re at the end of a very, very thin rope almost all of the time. Those pressures are a lot about why I started managing like I did. Because what I learned is, veterinarians are really smart people, and veterinary employees by the by, are really smart people but you have this cultural schism that had to be addressed.
On the one hand, they were extremely bright people like the intellectual 1% who often came from backgrounds of Rich Dad Poor Dad, and they were the rich dad scenario. Often, we’re myopically involved with the culture with only other white people who were really, really smart. None of them were the prom king or the prom queen, they we’re usually a bit nerdy, socially ostracized, so there’s an anger and resentment built up about all that shit.
Then they spend the next 10 years, 12 years of their life from 18 to 30 in books with other white people who came from the same myopic background they did, married somebody from that background, and go open a practice, then they have to work with the world. Which is, we know who the world is, but specifically, veterinary technicians and veterinary CSRs who often have the same love for animals, they have that same church bond if you will.
Because every veterinarian will talk about how they knew they were going to be a vet from the time they were seven years old. It was like an emotional thing that drew them and that attracted me to veterinary medicine. It feels much like the dynamics of a church, a synagogue, a religion in that we all really want to be here but we don’t really want to be accountable for how we practice our faith.
I could kind of relate to that because as a gay man, I was involved in the church and the church was not real accepting of me. My experience with that was, I had to find a new value system to be able to live my life. Speaking that language, the language I discovered in therapy, the language I discovered and kind of navigating my own life, was the exact language that I needed to speak to veterinarians and techs and nurses and CSRs.
Because they come from humble beginnings, not a lot of money, often come from psychologically destructive backgrounds that addictive backgrounds, compulsive behavior backgrounds. Let’s face it, who would work for $12.50 an hour in the environment that they have to work in, with no possibilities of upward mobility, who has high levels of self-esteem?
Most of us would go, “Get me the hell out of here, this is lovely but…” like I did, working in non-profit in psychiatric medicine, my first thought was, “This is great and this needs to be done but I need to make a livable wage.” I didn’t suffer through all this education to be poverty-stricken still. I expected something different, I didn’t expect it to be veterinary medicine, but the good news is, veterinary medicine paid a little bit better than non-profits and psychiatric care in the early 90s and so I made my transition.
And the very first three weeks I was there, as I told you, I had people melting down when I would give them simple directives like, “The appointment started at 9:00, I expect you to be in the rooms at 9:00. In fact, I actually expect you to be here early so that you can be ready.” You think you get a response like, “Oh boss, thanks for that, I appreciate that, sorry, I’ll work on that next time” No, what I would get is crying. What I would get is throwing of shit, what I would get is, “I’m going to go talk to the owner and we’ll see how long this lasts.” It was just unbelievable stuff. I thought to myself, “Are these people idiots?” I literally was like, “I know this is not the problem, they are not dumb people.”
None of them are dumb but simple directives like have a budget, let’s have a plan. Let’s talk about facts rather than feelings. Let’s discuss what’s right and what’s wrong, what is good data, what’s bad data. None of that was really a starting place for conversations.
And it occurred to me then that, “Oh my god, this is an EQ problem.” This is because I’ve been a proponent of Dr. Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence stuff since the early 90s when he first started writing it, because that was my coming-of-age era.
Again, I wanted to understand my own background because as you can imagine, I grew up with what would be a lot of rage, a lot of anger, a lot of – I mean, it took me until I got arrested in my early 20s for punching somebody that I didn’t realize that expressing your anger in that way was actually assault. Just like, “Well, it’s kind of what happened in my house and if you’re not going to get beat up by kids for being queer, you better hit them first. That’s what you have to do.” And I had this big chip on my shoulder of like, “Well, I will just punch you before you punch me.”
I didn’t take directive very well yet, I was pretty good at what I did and it took me getting fired from a couple of jobs before I realized – and legal intervention, thanks to good attorneys that’s not on my record – it took that for me to go, “I need to look at me.” All of the talent and skill in the world.
And later on in my life, I would recognize myself in surgeons, in owners of practices, in really skilled nurses that would just like cut themselves off at the knees because they didn’t know when to shut their mouth or they didn’t know how to manage.
I never even looked at as, “Oh, I need to manage my feelings.” I had a real thought that “I have justified righteous anger and fuck you, I’ll give it to you whether you want it or not.” That worked in my personal life to move me forward and get me out of victimhood, but it didn’t land a lot of friends at work and my managerial style left a lot to be desired. My way of dealing with a lot of people at VRCC initially was, “You’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re stupid. Two of you go sit down in the room and figure your shit out, and whoever comes out gets to keep their job. I don’t have time for this.”
The result was, I just kept losing employees and this was all in the first six months. And I needed the job because it was the early 90s and it wasn’t – the economy was shifting in a way that it just wasn’t easy to find – now, if you have a specific skill, whether you know where to go look find a job. But everything was shifting then and I was nervous. I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and so I went to Tim Flanagan and Craig Runde’s workshop and school of – Center for Synergistic Leadership in Boca Raton Florida.
I was introduced not only to expanded EQ but I was – this is after my graduate studies, I was introduced to a conflict competence, and becoming a conflict competent organization, these are the books that these two gentlemen wrote and that shit is life-changing because, if you know anything about emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence is comprised of 18 competencies that are measurable competencies that make up quantifiable emotional intelligence.
One of the biggest competencies is conflict management or conflict resolution. In other words, how do we deal innately with conflict which is a thinking tactical skill that most people manage with an emotional response to their regret, almost all the time. With that as a background, I kind of came into the practice and said, we’re going to – I talked to the owners and negotiated a little, ownership deal for myself of 2% over three years, if I could raise the profitability to this level and could I buy into the real estate of – which, for veterinary medicine, again, was novel.
I wasn’t that smart, I just had a couple of master’s degrees and I knew to ask questions. People before me that were managers of hospitals were nurses or CSRs that got moved up to the position, and they were literally sociological redundancies of the owner. They were just mini-me’s if you will, “Yes” men and women. And it was unheard of in veterinary medicine for somebody to come in and say, “Doctor, you know about this but stay the hell out of what I know. Here’s what I know, go do your job.”
Turns out, I was just young enough and pissed off enough to kind of talk about that and it worked. I used to think I was really brilliant but the truth is, it was the early 1990s and I was in Denver Colorado which was growing like a weed, CSU was right there, the American Animal Hospital Association was located in Denver, we were getting, especially medicine was busting out.
It looked like I just built a 10-million-dollar practice in two years. I was there, was part of it, I went on to be the CEO of Eye Care for Animals, the veterinary ophthalmology group. Had the same experience like five practices to 30 practices.
Then the wheels started to fall off a little bit. I decided then to just kind of – by the way that AAHA, the American Animal Hospital Association, I started doing tours of my facility and what you don’t know about my background is, I worked my way through college in two ways. I was a flight attendant, which is performance art, and I was lead singer in a country and gospel band, until the church found out that you can’t be gay and lead a country gospel band. Now you can but you couldn’t in 1985.
I literally have this performance background where I would tour people through my facilities and I point out everything and say, “You see that surgery right there? That cost $7,300, that anesthesia machine cost $13,300, that doctor makes $175,000 a year but she has $110,000 a year that she’s got to pay as student loans” blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And I would make them laugh, I would let them sit and watch the procedures, that they would gown up so they’d go watch it.
All these new approaches to finding value, and the clients really responded to that. I went out and started talking to veterinarians, like what a concept, right? As a specialist, why don’t we go out and ask a veterinarian, “Seems how you’re our biggest client. What is it that you would like from us?” You know what they wanted? They wanted communication, interpersonal connection, and a feeling-connection to the facility.
Their number one fear was the specialist was going to call them back and be condescending or demeaning to them when giving them advice about medicine. And so, this pushback on this theme of veterinarians are great at what they do but they suck at communication skills.
It started this whole idea of, “I’m going to take a practice, I’m going to find out how long it takes to target them from messed up to functional.” And through proven process and what we call Pathway Planning which is, you know, Whitman stuff on traction, which is basically how to write a strategic plan for an entrepreneur and how to follow that, which I found was brilliant stuff.
I had been studying Lan Shili in Harvard Business School from the early 90s about core values and all of that sort of stuff, but Gino took all that stuff and put it together in one useable format that I know you guys are familiar with and it was – I found that that was the trifecta. That if I could get a practice involved in on the ground communication skills training, how to send INU messages, how to speak in first person, how to own their – and then develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management, which is EQ skills. And then put that together with a plan that those three things in conjunction usually took a practice from nine to 10% profitability to 20 to 25% profitability.
The result was, we would usually lose 50% of the employees in the first six months of implementing all of that because they couldn’t hang, because the truth is, they actually didn’t have the capacity because of the reasons I mentioned before, to get there and so we weeded out those people, doctors included, often, they were the highest producers. Then we could hit the reset button and really go. Then we would have traction go for three to five to seven years and so I took that formula and it was successful at every practice, but as I got successful, I wanted more of the pie. And most of the owners were like, “Well, thank you for doing what you’re doing but you know I’m not sharing with you.”
I went out of my own and just started consulting and turns out that people really liked what I had to say. I got this really great tenure run on the international lecture circuit and you know, I still would be speaking every day if I were open to it. That went really well and Jasen Trautwein, the co-founder of Pathway Veterinary Alliance, I did some consulting for him through Zoetis which Pfizer which is now Zoetis, 13 years ago.
In 2011, I did some consulting and Jasen had two practices and I love Jasen, we kind of got along, similar vibe if you will, he was like a little brother to me. I liked his groovy kind of vibe and Jasen really is one of the first veterinarians I ever met that I didn’t have to teach about EQ. That I didn’t have to about EQ and culture without him going, “What are you talking about?” It was a passion for him.
Jasen’s a bit of an idiot savant. He is so smart and he’s also like a lot of people, really conflict-averse, Jasen is so, so nice but he just doesn’t do conflict and that was the missing out limit in his organization. I had purchased a practice in Kansas City because a veterinarian friend of mine was dying and asked me to do it. I bought the practice and was going to make the transition into practice ownership.
My goal was, I want $500,000 a year in residual income when I sell these practices or whatever. You know, 20% profit margin, you do the math, I needed five million in revenue. Jasen had two practices, I had one and away we went. We started applying this formula and literally within a year and a half, we had 27 practices.
We were doing 35 million dollars in revenue and Morgan Stanley came to us. Morgan Stanley. We were the smallest company they ever put money into in their portfolio history, but one of the guys had heard me speak somewhere, where we were just prospecting at the North American Veterinary Conference then. He was like, “This guy and you, you, I want to talk to you” and we did our thing. They invested in our company and then I was no longer the CEO.
We brought in Stephen Hadley, who has much more experience in this realm than I do, and I focused on Veterinary Growth Partners. Veterinary Growth Partners is a buying group but so much more. It is everything that I wanted to do with my career in terms of consulting, spreading the word of EQ conflict resolution, practice management to the masses and to all of the managers, and through that organization, we’ve been able to build.
We now have 6,000 practice members who are exposed to this kind of information on a regular basis. I have at least 25 mentees that I can name off the top of my head that are now out speaking about these topics at national conferences, and coaching about these things. Many of whom with the initial practice managers at my first 10 or 15 practices with Pathway. And so that, you know, it took about 25 minutes to get through it but that is kind of how it all started.
I’m still, literally guys, I can’t believe it. I literally just looked up almost every morning ago, “How the hell did this happen? I can’t believe we’ve been this successful.” I can’t believe that people still want to hear about this. And what I’ve learned is, it’s not me. It’s the information. Daniel Goleman once said that the value of understanding yourself is so compelling that you should charge admission. And I think that that’s really the key.
That organizations that can offer up not only a place for financial and vocational advancement, but a place for spiritual and self-awareness advancement, which is almost always connected to values-based management. That’s where the rubber meets the road, that’s where success happens, and by success I mean not only financial success but people have a feeling of being connected because that’s what’s missing in veterinary medicine.
We thought that just loving people would be enough. Well, that’s like giving people food but no water, you know? There is still some basic human needs of being understood, being connected, being part of something, growing, whatever that means for you that if those needs aren’t met, then the business becomes the third, fourth, fifth priority in that person’s life and then you’re lost. And so that in a really short nutshell is how I got started in veterinary medicine. Would you like to talk now?
There is a couple of things that I want to just mention that are really – well, first of all, that was my experience but you know, all the emotional burden of being in the veterinary clinic it is only you know, it is like spiders in one jar. They are just like it’s – that’s what led me to burnout and the big background of mine is that through working in the emergency hospitals like it is all not puppies and kittens.
Then the overnight where there’s more stress, that’s what all led to my burnout and really all of this environment. That is where we spend our time now, it is trying to also kind of fix that in the veterinary domain, and the hard part is that it is focused on from the consolidation point of view, mostly on the money and understand why, but without having the EQ, the cultural component and some would own process.
The process at the corporate level, a lot of consolidators I found don’t find what to do at the hospital level because they come in from other industries without understanding, so they think we’re just going to provide them marketing, vendor management and treat the P&L and then everything will be fixed. But you know, treating P&L for labor cost, it will do more harm than anything useful.
A couple of things that also resonated with me is treating hospital teams as families, that’s a huge thing and I totally agree with you. And sometimes dysfunctional families or most of the time, dysfunctional families and what I liked, we really follow Netflix cultural book. I don’t know if you bumped into Rules of No Rules, so we love that in our company, we run by those rules of no rules and one of them they talk about the family.
The company as treating it as a family and their analogy is treating it as a sports team but there is an under-performing team player, you just replace that.
Well, get training to a different market where they make less money with nobody in the football stands, I mean that’s how it works. Yeah, they don’t buy when you get coached, yeah.
Yep, exactly. That’s why I love that. Another thing that I bumped into stats recently, it was that veterinary medicine is officially the lowest EQ profession. We are basically the worst.
You might have even seen that statistic somewhere from me. We give EQ assessments and conflict management assessments to attendees in our conferences that we hold and that I conduct four to six times a year, it changed after COVID but still, I started doing my first EQ class with just veterinary audiences again in 2010,so it’s been 11 years now. The mean score for medical service professionals, because the group that we get our assessments from, Talent Smart, they provide testing into hundreds of organizations.
They’ve got this data bank now of bankers who take EQ tests, and they have a medical service division. That would be a fee-for- service medical providers, chiropractors, plastic surgeons, anybody who doesn’t make most of their money from insurance. Because they find there is a different EQ attraction to systems like that. It’s not entrepreneurial anymore when insurance pays all of your bills.
Just meld the system.
Right, it then becomes a – the system runs the business, not the owner or the practice or the spiritual leader. The mean score out of a 100 for people involved in service professions like this is what you would expect, 73 to 75, right? A C or C-minus. The mean score for over 4,000 veterinary professionals now that I put through EQ testing and the main score is 57. We are literally and I mean this term, we are sociologically retarded as a profession.
Yeah, no absolutely and I think it is a selection too.
Yes and we select the same people. We have many people in our profession who don’t have the capacity to do what we need them to do, because they are interpersonally damaged to the point that they need to work by themselves in a cubicle, go do some research, or they need like five years of psychotherapy to pull them out of what they’re into. And my message has been to the community, stop trying to drag these people along.
They’re lovely human beings but God has called for them to be somewhere else. They don’t need to be here anymore, because we are going to spend five years, and that’s what the burnout is, five years trying to do therapy and religious counseling with people who don’t have the spirit if I may use the nomenclature.
Yeah, no absolutely.
Now, we’re going to lift the spirit because their self-value is preservation, beyond exploring what they could do, and that is a value that can’t be changed. People don’t change that shit unless they’re in enough pain. Process and systems create pain but not everybody wants to take a look at it.
Now that you are talking about in these terms, I was looking a lot into why veterinarians’ burnout and the whole, becoming veterinarian is a goal. I am kind of chewing on this concept where they set high goals in about 10 or 15 years and then after that, they just arrive and there is nothing else and they don’t –
There is no goals. You’re absolutely right. They go from this highly structured world where they’re thinking, back to what I said in the beginning, which is every new now is just done. They know everything and it is all a bunch of emotions bouncing off of them all the time, for 20 years and they’re not – in fact, that’s the last thing that they want to do and they don’t even understand the impact that it’s having on them.
I think that speaks to our suicide rate. It is a really, really isolated place to be a veterinarian practitioner because you’re in the same walls for 20 years with the same 10 to 20 people, and you literally begin to not realize how the rest of the world functions. That most businesses don’t spend time in staff meetings where they bitch all the time. Most businesses don’t spend the time in staff meetings deciding whether or not they’re going to charge people for their services.
Most businesses don’t spend time in staff meetings deciding if good behavior is acceptable for how much time or bad behavior is acceptable for how much time. They just make the change and they move on, and there is not even a feeling associated with it. And if there is, you’re asked to go somewhere where feelings are more important. And this is me, a psychotherapist saying this, I absolutely believe that feelings are important.
I think the goal in an EQ culture,is and a process culture, is to move from the display and dumping of feelings as a means of coping to expressing and discussing what you feel. Stop the display and the dump and start to express and discuss. And if you’re not able to make that transition professionally, that is a sign that you are not psychologically fit for primetime, and you’re never going to get process because inevitably, you’re going to make a mistake in process.
Somebody is going to point it out to you and you’re going to have emotional response and then we’ll get caught in this conflict cycle where we don’t get shit done and because feelings are absolutely more powerful than intellect, people will revert to child-like ways of coping with what the little mini-society that they’ve built and so I get passionate talking about this because this is literally family therapy, that’s what it is but it is applying it to business. When you get to talking like this, that’s why I am so excited about it.
The other angle that I was thinking about, the whole vet school and how people confine themselves to this sort of 10, 15 years, it’s also a mechanism of coping. That’s really their treatment for all the symptoms that they have as a human being and social, probably isolated a little bit and nerdy at school and then when they find or when they take this direction, I talk only to animals and that’s a hiding spot for personality like that.
The selection towards that is very – well, it’s hard because you have to be brilliant and that to get through the vet school.
There is an inverse relationship between IQ and EQ like literally. I mean, God or the universe is funny that way, but usually people with high levels of IQ suffer from a lack of EQ. Mostly because their IQ has been used as an excuse for special privilege and I say this all the time, capitalism rewards psychopaths.
I love that.
I want to share it like that.
I can nip you one, I am working on a book and a t-shirt and a podcast and a bunch of shit-Shawn says what we call it. But really, capitalism rewards psychopaths and sociopathic behavior because it gets immediate results. You can change a P&L in a quarter by being a complete asshole.
You can change everything by coming in and terrorizing people.
Yeah, all the surgeons that you mentioned, that’s really the mode of working in. I worked with a human nurse, so this guy, he was talking about his boss who is a neurosurgeon and they’re working in a human hospital and he was throwing shit at them and just had tantrums, and just not a normal human being. I said, “How do you stay so calm talking about him?” because he says the rudest things to him.
I said, “How do you cope with him?” and he said, “But he’s a victim.” He, going through becoming a human neurosurgeon, you’re like 30 years in education, he said, “You know, he never was punched in the face for saying the same shit like that in the bar. It just never occurred to him that that’s wrong and you can get punched.”
It takes a particular kind of lack of attachment in your growing up, to feel the need to prove yourself by that much education and that much self-direction. Many specialists are not financially damaged but they come from psychologically abusive homes. And it is not homes where they were beaten until they’re a piece of shit. It was homes where they were told, “We expect you to be perfect. We expect you to use the gifts that have been given to you.”
Kind of like the stereotypical dragon mom, a lot of specialists come from that hyper-achieve – or doctors – hyper-achieving background that says your self-worth is dependent upon what you can produce and what you can achieve. And the way they keep feeling that way and upping themselves is, they surround themselves by people that are quantifiably incompetent compared to them and then holding those people to the same standard.
Yeah, no, exactly. I want to take a sharp turn into the actual process. I am not going to stay in this surface of traction. I am going to go right in, and which I think that Pathway did it this way, and I am wondering if that is your angle at this, which I thought I disagreed with Bill when we were talking about it. He explained to me when you guys were acquiring or are acquiring practices, and when you implement traction and that you led them to choose their own core values.
My understanding of traction, again, I don’t know Gino Whitman as you do, but my understanding is if you are trying to build a scaled organization, the traction is honestly not as good for several layers of scalability. I think it is like one level and then maybe two down, but I thought that if you build organizations where the core values are different in every sub-unit that may create a fracture at the purpose.
My hypothesis, and the way I recommend the consolidators that I worked with in the executive consulting we’ve done, is that when you were thinking about the core values, they actually do need to align and they have to be exactly the same in the organization because that creates a fracture that culturally, you will depart especially if you’re at the corporate level hiring, firing and reviewing people using those core values.
Then each hospital is slightly different then that’s where departure happens and then you can’t manage the whole organization cascading in core values. Can you maybe comment on that?
Yeah, I can. I think because veterinary medicine practices are so similar in terms of what they – because so similar in terms of what they struggle with, what they deal with, they all been, you know, we SWOT analysis, the top five things come up all the time. When I asked them to do values work, it’s really the same. Three to 10 values that come up over and over again, just discussed in different ways.
The way we managed it when I was here, and the way they are having to manage it now. Because you are right that there comes a certain point where it can’t be as selective, where they can do whatever they want. At first we started and when we got to about a 100 practices, just because the marketing could sometimes be so different from a practice who has these values versus these values.
Then we went to “Okay, we have some basic core values here of communication and respect and we don’t panic that I think we need to all adhere to, but you can pick a couple from your own place.” We never allowed them to go down to unit core values, just practice core values and we try to solve for that by when they are in the buying or selling process by saying, “Look, if you don’t line up with this” owner or the practice, “If you don’t line up with these core values with Pathway then you should absolutely not sell to us.”
This is not the right business for you to sell to because we are looking for self-directed practices, practices who don’t – so we did buy practices with the same values that essentially. I don’t care if you call it communication or if you call it talking or if you call it open sharing. I don’t care if you call it respect or kindness or you know, they all came down to we want some financial management, we want a culture that we can define.
We want a culture of accountability, everybody wanted it but nobody wanted to call it that because what they really wanted was, “I want a culture where people get called in their shit and I get called on my shit nicely or never at all.” That piece did become difficult to scale. What the practices are doing now is there is an uber-culture of Pathway culture that they have to adhere to.
Those are signified by the values that come out of the company but they do use Pathway planning so they have the same values but they can add some values at their own hospital if they want, if they’re not out of alignment. And they have their own mission and vision at their own hospital tied to the objectives of Pathway. How right around that but in all honesty, I would love to talk to Dr. Wickman about this at some point.
I think it is difficult because to scale at this level. The idea of solving problems, we still use a Pathway planner in our executive team, so the way of taking meeting notes, but the cultural and spiritual piece of Pathway, we’re still trying to kind of reinvent how we’re going to do that at a group or regional leve. Just because the truth is, you got to drink the cool-aid of this company otherwise you won’t fit into all the systems and processes.
I agree with you that I’m not sure that traction or Pathway planning is ideal for multilayered thousands of employees. There is other books that are written about that, but I think anybody that’s going to go from mom-and-pop to multi-locations in a region, you know, or even in a nation like less than 50, you know Pathway or Pathway attraction is probably a good spot. What we do take from traction and implement everywhere, is this idea around process.
Everybody who buys into selling to Pathway has to agree that they’re going to partake in process. That what they’re going to give up as an owner is this entrepreneurial way of, “I just do it however I want to do it.” You retain your name, you can retain your spirit if you will, you can keep your uniforms, you can keep the way that you present yourself to the public as long as it’s legal and ethical, but there are going to be 10 minute exams, 15 minute exams.
There are going to be a way to check people out. There is going to be prices that are commiserate with our expenses. There are going to be general HR rules that everybody has to follow, like you don’t sleep with the help and you can’t come to work drunk, general things like that.
I hate to be the one to stop you, and reject on you because it’s important I think on my side to learn when I am surrounded by people that are much brighter than me, so I always enjoy learning from you and Ivan because there is great things to learn there but we have a couple of questions that we always ask every one of our guests, and I think people may know the book recommendation that you have but I think you have two book recommendations.
First off, what should people read so that they can get a good insight on some of the same sort of thoughts you have?
Absolutely, anything written by Daniel Goleman, Dr. Daniel Goleman. He coined and founded Emotional Intelligence. There has since been multiple thesis and books written on the topic. He and Travis Bradberry probably make understanding EQ 2.0. You can find that in airports if you will. It is written for the layman so I would start there. Secondly, we have talked a lot about process and a book called Traction by Gino Wickman.
Traction is a book that talks about, how do you take an entrepreneur’s spiritual house if you will and turn it into a well-run professional house that still retains the spirit of the entrepreneur. So both of those books are really good places to start.
Fantastic and then the last question I always ask is who would you recommend that we have as a guest? We’re definitely going to have you as a guest again but who else should we have as a guest, who would you recommend?
Oh gosh, well, I think I’d go to two places, people that have been influencers to me. The couple of people that come to mind is Dr. Ruben Meredith. Dr. Meredith is now retiring but he was the founder of I Care for Animals, a former Vietnam veteran, pulled himself up by his bootstraps from Columbia and Missouri and was probably one of the problem doctors that I spoke about, who grew to understand all of this and later sold to Pathway.
He was influential in my career and then he taught me some basics about business and just, two more people that are further alike and temperament in personalities yet we – he was kind of like a business father to me for lack of a better description. Then the other person I think you should interview, the other side of the spectrum is a lady called – her name is Dr. Annika VanNoy.
Annika is the director of learning at Pathway Vet Alliance right now but when I met Annika, she was a kennel worker at one of our hospitals. She comes from Germany so she has a different outlook on culture than people in America do, but she was ready to go to – after she finished her PHD in Linguistics and Change Management, she developed while working for us, she was ready to go work at Texas A&M as a professor.
We convinced her to stay here because she had some unique insights into culture and wanting to implement process. And I think she would be a great perspective of an employee who said, “You know, I almost left a broken place but I decided to stay because these things changed.” That is probably a good person to interview as well.
Those are fantastic. Well again, thank you so much. We cannot wait to have you back again on the show. Your insights were fantastic, so thank you again for being on the show with us
I look forward to it. Thank you guys, I appreciate it. Bye.