It was a year ago this week that I started my EMBA journey. During that period we have completed two terms, with one more to go, starting next week. When I reflect back on the year I often think how the experience and education has changed how I deal with my business. Once I get past the horrible anxiety I remember having during the first week I realize that there have been three positive changes in the way I lead and run our business.
Collaboration – When one is studying with gifted people from all walks of life you quickly realize that you are pretty good at a couple of things, but you are much better when work with others with complimentary skills. For example, I love reading data analysis of situations. This probably comes from my veterinary training in that I want proof that a medication or treatment works. Although I find the output of data analysis fascinating, don’t ask me to be the person to mine the data. My Excel skills are much improved since last year, but I am a toddler compared to some of the people in my class that can look at a set of data sources and compile meaningful information from that. Similarly, many of my black and white thinking classmates have a hard time with the abstract concepts in Leadership or Entrepreneurship, since these courses require soft skills. All of us are learning to work in the others world, but we are unlikely going to master those skills that aren’t inherent in a person. That is why complimentary skills will lead to better results. This is similar in the veterinary profession where most equine vets don’t like to admit they can’t do it all, while small animal vets are more collaborative. The later group is more willing to refer to specialists more, and recognize when they are in the deep end, while equine vets are willing to try anything once. As I look at for business opportunities post-EMBA, I am thinking of who would I want to work with that can round out my deficiencies? That thinking was not somewhere I would go a year ago. Until recently, when I had an idea, good or bad, I would pursue it relentlessly until I succeeded, or I crashed and burned. I’m tired of failures and so I’m going to maximize my chances of succeeding by working with excellent people with skills I don’t have.
Veterinary businesses are like any other business….
Discipline – One of my challenges in running our business prior to the EMBA was finishing or continuing what I started. I would get excited about a new idea, and the project, or task, I was working on would languish until I remembered it in the future, or it just dropped off my radar completely. I’m embarrassed about that as I write this, but project management was one of the reasons why I thought I needed a MBA. Over the past year I have appreciated the value of following through on projects I have started in many ways. My co-workers are more motivated and engaged in my projects. Before, they would wonder if my latest idea was going to happen. They would question why they should commit to following through if I wasn’t going to. It had to be very demoralizing to them having their work be discarded or ignored. This also ties into the benefits of having the discipline to be thorough in communicating with co-workers and clients. Now there are fewer unanswered questions that require follow up emails of phone calls for clarifications. Finally, a key focus of my discipline has been the analysis and review of various financial and key performance indicators in our business. For example, we have prepared and adhered to a monthly budget. If the best predictor of future activity is prior trends I am able to predict with a fair bit of accuracy our yearly financial performance. I am also tracking the activity of our vets and certain categories of medical procedures. If we are measuring things we can respond in a timely manner when performance is not up to expectation. Typically most veterinary business owners review financials or veterinary activity after their accountants have completed the year-end review. By that time it is already 3-4 months into the new year and too late to make any significant changes for that year. Veterinary businesses are like any other business and if I’m not on top of what we are doing I am unable to respond to any challenges or opportunities until it is too late.
To keep me on track I have adopted a rule that I have no more than 3 ongoing projects ongoing at once. Until I finish 1 of the 3 I don’t start another project. Sometimes the timing of a project needs to be delayed because of outside factors and so I take the project off my top 3 list and return to it when appropriate.
Confidence – My new found appreciation for collaboration and disciplined behaviour have contributed to a new found confidence and calmness in my day to day engagement with co-workers, and management of our veterinary business. Collaboration means that I don’t have to do everything myself. Partners and co-workers with the skills I lack give our business a better chance to succeed. At the same time, the results from a disciplined and through approach to communication, project management and business analysis gives comfort that future plans will work out. It is easier to have confidence about the future of our business based upon being prepared and understanding how all of the pieces of business fit together, rather than crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Being proactive is more reassuring than being reactive. This doesn’t mean I won’t screw up in the future, but it should be less likely, and costly.
Reflecting back on how I have improved as a business leader I wonder how anything ever got done before. I think a lot of wasted effort was used to get to where we ended up. There were too many two steps forward and one or two steps back instead of steady forward progress. The amount of wasted opportunity and efforts makes me nauseous thinking about it.
Another way to measure my progress is that after a year of the EMBA I can safely say that the expense of the program has paid for itself already. Between money saved, smarter business decisions and improved revenue I have recouped the investment.
Starting next week we will be learning about business on an international scale. At first glance I don’t see how this will impact our very local business, but who knows what can happen. The program has surprised me many times already in what I can apply to our business, so why should this last term be any different?
Mike Pownall DVM