What can the profession learn from the way the military works? - Veterinary Practice
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What can the profession learn from the way the military works?

corporate development director
of CVS, reports on the group’s
latest conference where speakers
discussed matters ranging from
military strategy to workplace

IT came as a complete surprise when Major General Arthur Denaro spoke of the comparison between the troops under his command during the Iraq war and the running of practices owned by the CVS Group. The General had been invited to give the keynote speech at the end of the latest two-day annual CVS conference and there was more than one sceptic doubting how his experiences could relate to the veterinary profession. Indeed, at the start of his presentation he talked about the experiences of his distant relatives in the Somme and other notorious battles. But all became clear when he got onto the subject of delegation and operation. CVS owns over 225 practices spread throughout the UK (plus six veterinary labs and a pet crematorium). Each one retains its own identity and is encouraged to maintain its traditional values. It is the company’s intention that the staff at each location regard themselves as part of the local team and not responsible to some greater power.

Make own decisions

This is where the comparison came in with the Army. It was a surprise to most of the delegates attending the conference, who in the main had no military experience, that each unit was left to make its own decisions about how best to achieve the set goals. There was no “high” command instructing them to conquer a local ridge or bluff. The men were well trained, knew what had to be done but were then left to do it in the safest and most effective way possible. As the General said, you must trust your men, trust the adequacy of their training and trust them to achieve their goal. They did not need to be checked on every
five minutes and neither did they need to be told what to do. He also remarked about how a good commander knows his people, has more than a passing relationship with them and is there to support them whenever they need it. He said he felt that the CVS policy of local community practices was far more effective than globally managing a single brand. His speech came at the end of the conference, which was generously supported by MSD Animal Health and Bayer, along with Petplan and, for the awards ceremony, Menarini, Warrens, NVS, PPI and Photon. Earlier, the veterinary and nursing groups had attended a technical lecture on ophthalmology, provided by James Oliver, and a presentation by Joy Howell on the subject of identifying feline CKD. The managerial staff, both from the practices and from the support team had heard about “Adding value”, presented by Bobbie Flight, and the social media from Robin Houghton of Egg Box
Marketing. All the other sessions concentrated on team-working and motivation with inspirational speakers such as Callum Blair
and Michael Ealand, an Anglo-Australian who spends much of his time visiting and helping Australian practices.

‘Mindfulness’ training

One of the subjects discussed at the meeting was a new initiative developed by CVS under the auspices of the health and safety and HR teams in conjunction with Mark Leonard from Oxford University where a new method of “mindfulness” training
has been developed. Designed to help people cope with the stresses of the working environment, the system is being adopted across all areas of the company. Sean Gilgallon and Helen Wiseman from CVS reported on a survey recently conducted amongst 750 CVS staff to try to establish how stress was impacting the lives of its employees and what we could do about it. The usual issues, common in most businesses, included lack of clarity in direction, poor communication and lack of
encouragement. The “mindfulness” approach, based on Mark Leonard’s work, will be phased in across the company in the coming months. The success of this initiative is regarded as crucial to enable the teams to work effectively together and to achieve the levels of motivation necessary to achieve success.

Celebrating success

This conference, now in its seventh year, with 300 delegates, celebrated the success of many staff with an awards evening. These awards recognised the practice of the year, vet of the year, nurse of the year and receptionist/practice manager of the year. All had been nominated by their colleagues and voted on by their peers. A final award for special achievement completed the awards ceremony and was presented to Sarah Warren for her efforts in not only gaining her certificate in dermatology whilst
working full time but also for setting up clinics across multiple CVS practices to provide her services well beyond her host practice. CEO Simon Innes, in commenting on the conference, said what a pleasure it was for him to see so many professional and competent people participating enthusiastically in all the sessions. He made the point that seeing these folks on a regular basis becomes even more difficult as the business grows so this conference gives him and the other managers a chance to meet many more people and share thoughts and ideas.

Heading in right direction

His only regret was the impracticality of inviting the whole of the 2,300 CVS workforce. But he was sure the good spirit that prevailed was a reflection of the care and compassion that the CVS staff have for their clients, their patients and their colleagues. He added: “Although there is lots more to do, we are definitely heading in the right direction.” This final point was crystallised by two presentations, one by Bev Panto and one by Sarah Warren.

Dedicated mentors

Bev explained the progress she had made under the CVS new graduates scheme which had enabled her to grow in skills rapidly in her first year and gain a broad level of experience quickly through the use of dedicated mentors. She even told the story of one occasion when she had to face a tricky surgical procedure. She called her “mentor” for advice who reassured her that she could cope. But part way through the proceedings she found her standing at her shoulder dressed in her evening
best (en route to dinner) just to give her the confidence that she really could do it.

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