This article concludes a series of articles featuring the results of Dr. Ivan Zak’s MBA dissertation, “Lean Thinking in Veterinary Organizations to Improve Employee Experience.”
At Veterinary Integration Solutions, we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. So besides assessing the degree of burnout in the profession, Dr. Ivan researched whether there are any specific management strategies that can help. The mental wellbeing of employees in a consolidated setting became the focus of his study, considering that ownership change can potentially cause additional stress for the staff.
The veterinary industry has been going through significant corporatization in the past decade. Over 20 percent of animal clinics in the U.S. are currently consolidated, and the M&A marches on despite the general economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many benefits to consolidation. Optimization of support business processes and lowering the cost of service delivery are a few to mention. The challenge can be, however, to effectively merge the different cultures, workflows and business systems into a single framework. If not handled right, the frustration among hospital workers can lead to burnout and eventually, massive turnover post-acquisition. As a result, there is less capacity to create value for the shareholders and also for the employees and the patients.
Lean thinking, as a methodology to reduce burnout, is not new. Its application in human healthcare has been widely studied and proven successful. Considering the correlation between human and animal medicine, lean holds great potential for the improvement of the veterinary industry.
Lean thinking principles imply a total transformation of work culture along with continuous improvement of performance delivered by health practitioners in all roles. Everyone within the healthcare system ought to be involved in the implementation of lean thinking.
There are six core principles to guide the implementation of lean thinking, suggested by John Toussaint, one of the foremost figures in the adoption of organizational excellence in healthcare:
- Principle 1: Lean is an Attitude of Continuous Improvement. Managing the health of the work environment should be a never-stopping process. When a certain degree of success has been reached, the bar should be set higher.
- Principle 2: Lean is Value-Creating. The ultimate goal of lean in healthcare is to improve value for patients. Getting rid of waste is essential: duplicate or unnecessary processes that don’t create value should be eliminated.
- Principle 3: Lean is Unity of Purpose. The purpose of the organization should be well-defined, understood and shared by every member of the team.
- Principle 4: Lean is Respect for the People Who Do the Work. Lean leadership empowers front-line staff to make their own decisions, which created the feeling of being in control when dealing with difficult problems at work.
- Principle 5: Lean is Visual. The placement of displays in staff areas helps to increase understanding of the application of lean methods, and facilitates communication and ideas exchange.
- Principle 6: Lean is Flexible Regimentation. Standardization of procedures helps optimize the workflow but standards should not be set in stone. The essence of lean: take nonstandard work processes and transform them into standard processes that improve performance and continue to improve the standard work design. Flexibility is the key.
Veterinary consolidators, as complex corporate structures, can benefit the most from applying lean. Lean can lessen the risk of burnout and employee turnover post-acquisition. Lean environment facilitates value creation while providing an optimal experience for the staff.
Veterinary consolidators have the capacity to apply lean at scale and take the lead in burnout prevention. As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing veterinary businesses to rethink how they operate, now may be the time to embrace lean.
Lean thinking has three foundations: purpose, process, and people.