Monthly Archives: January 2018

Coach, Mentor or Both?

This question came up on the recent Vet Your Life Webinar and follows on nicely from my last blog. I hadn’t really given it much thought until someone asked the question “what’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?”

Coaching is aimed at getting us to work out what we want and how we’re going to achieve it. The important thing to know is that a coach won’t tell you the answers. I can remember coaching sessions where my coach just kept asking me questions, challenging me to come up with the answers and I sat there blankly, desperate for her to tell me what I should do! Sometimes it would be a week later before I had that light bulb moment and knew what the answer was.

For me coaching was really tough, I hated not having the answers straight away. If I relate this to my riding I have always loved training with instructors who tell me what I need to do, it fills me with confidence and if I am doubting my own ability gives me the kick up the backside to just get on with it. But the very word ‘instructor’ implies there is quite a difference between the ‘coaches’ that we are seeing teaching now, many of whom have come through the UKCC accredited system and the instructors who came through the traditional BHS exams.

A mentor on the other hand by definition is someone who gives a lesser experienced or younger person help and advice over a period of time. Years ago when Hugh was locuming down in the south of England I met his then Practice Manager. We stayed in touch and over the years she has become a both a friend and a mentor to me. What she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing and no matter how busy she is I can send her an email or pick up the phone and she will always offer me some pearls of wisdom. A couple of years ago I spent a couple of days shadowing her and I can honestly say I learnt more in that two days than I had learnt in the last two years.

I would love to see a proper structured mentoring system in place for those of us working in veterinary management positions. So often it is the time spent over lunch at CPD meetings where we learn the most, discussing our struggles and how we overcome them. I think practice managers can feel quite isolated at times as you are the one member of the team who doesn’t have their own team to fit into. There is usually a vet team, nursing team, an admin team, and probably some directors but it the PM who is responsible for keeping everyone happy.

So in answer to my question, coach, mentor or both I would definitely say both….. BUT be ready to dig deep in finding your own answers with your coach and make sure you are willing to listen and accept some tough love once in a while from your mentor!


Asking for help……

In January 2017 I reached my breaking point. For someone who has often thought she was superwoman the realisation that I wasn’t was pretty bloody tough. There had been wobbles over the last couple of years but the culmination of too many challenging situations to mention, left me feeling anxious, panicky and completely unable to see the woods for the trees.

Having watched others suffer from mental health issues I knew I needed to act before things progressed. I wasn’t depressed but I had completely burnt out and the panicky feelings were starting to scare me. I had been trying to cope on my own for so long, believing I could manage and not wanting to appear weak, and situations that were completely out of my control kept appearing to challenge me.

I now know that autonomy or control over our situation and the support that my family, friends and work colleagues could offer were the most important factors in starting to not just feel like I could cope but actively enjoying life’s challenges again.

I was very lucky to be introduced to a lady called Carolyne Crowe. I would really recommend either having a look at her website or contacting her through the VDS Training Services. I signed up to do some personal coaching with Carolyne and spent the first few sessions mostly blubbing down the phone…….sorry Carolyne! We covered far too much to write about in one blog but I thought I would just share a few of her little gems with you:

  •  One of the things I constantly struggle with is balancing work, family time, and my horse. When my boys are sitting in the office after school I feel guilty, when I am at home with the boys and not in the office I feel guilty and when I am riding my horse I feel guilty. Carolyne uses a phrase called ‘being responsibly selfish’ which has completely turned my guilty feelings around. Riding is for me, my time, when for a hour (ish) my head is free from everything but Splash and my ambitions for him. It is so important and I now realise just how important. There is always a balance to be had and as much as I would love to ride all day every day, I am now very content with once a day, six days a week!
  •  I am by nature a worrier and for a while it consumed me. I worried about everything, what happens if another practice does this or what happens if that person leaves………. Carolyne would constantly remind me that some things are completely out of my control and that I should focus my energies on the things I can control.
  • Another saying of Carolyne’s which I have taken to using on a fairly regular basis is “It’s not the problem that is the problem, it’s our attitude to the problem, that’s the problem” So often I found myself being consumed by a problem, it grew bigger and bigger until it felt impossible to overcome. Carolyne taught me to work out what I could do about the issue, break it down into manageable chunks and to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t influence. So by changing my attitude to the problems I have felt far better equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges life throws at us.


On call… just part of the job or an unfair expectation

Work/life balance is a particularly hot topic at the moment both in the veterinary industry and in most other businesses with lots of articles being written about how to achieve that all important balance.

In our industry it is even more relevant given the out of hours service that vets have to provide. Twenty years ago it was widely accepted that being on call was just part of the job, vets signed up knowing it was a necessity and got on with it.

But with time comes innovation, small animal practices have developed dedicated out of hours providers who act as a central hub for emergency cases out of hours and vets now have more choice about the hours that they work.

Unfortunately because of the distances that equine practices cover, this isn’t a viable option which leaves us with a major problem long term, as more and more vets go in search of that all important work life balance and move back into small animals.

It’s a massive frustration for me knowing that as an industry, equine practices need to think outside the box to solve the problem, but are still unable to come up with a workable solution. Hugh and I have spent hours discussing the possibility of moving to a 7 day working week and implementing shift patterns to remove the extra weekend work for our team. The clients would benefit from having vets working at weekends and no out of hours fees but the extra costs to the practice would be astronomical. We would need a minimum of two extra vets, and an extra admin person and nurse, which makes it unaffordable for our clients.

To add to problem the demographics of the profession is changing with a survey by the BVA in 2016 reporting 81% of vet students are female. A survey by the RCVS in 2014 that found that the number of vets working part-time is continuing to rise. In addition we have equine vets who are working an average of 40.4 hours each week plus 32.6 hours on call per week in a profession where we know stress and working hours contribute to dissatisfaction with vet work, and are common reasons for people choosing to leave the profession (RCVS 2014).

As wife to a vet who works on call and with a young family I understand more than anyone the impact on call has on families, relationships and individuals. In contrast as the director of a business that has to provide on call to our clients I also feel frustrated and concerned with the way the profession is developing. Should the profession be better at managing students’ expectations of the commitment that is needed for on call? Someone has to do it and for every vet that decides to move away from out of hours work, someone else is left to cover.

Frustratingly I don’t have the answer but with a high proportion of woman entering the profession, many of whom will want to have families of their own and work part-time to fit in with family life, the problem isn’t going away… I would love to hear from you if you have the solution!
balance quote



Breakfast with Chris Tiso…

To me walking into a room full of people that I don’t know is my idea of hell! When I here the word ‘networking’ it makes me go cold and feel like I should run for the hills. I have spent much of my career knowing there are huge benefits to networking but avoiding it at all costs.

However in my mission to challenge myself professionally I decided to attend a networking breakfast run by Kinross-shire Partnership. This group has been running for several years now and arrange monthly meetings for local businesses at a fantastic farm shop nearby. We were treated to a full Scottish breakfast and then much to my horror everyone was invited to stand up and introduce their business for all of 60 seconds. Unfortunately no alcohol was provided for dutch courage but I dually managed to stand up and string a few sentences together.

Each month they invite a speaker along to talk about their life and business and this month Chris Tiso from the Tiso Group talked to us about his family business that he has been running for the last 25 years. I always find it fascinating to hear people’s stories, how they have ended up doing what they are doing and what gets them out of bed in the morning. Chris runs a huge company but much of what he has had to contend with is relevant and can be applied to both ours and other small businesses.

Market changes happen to us all and although it hit them slightly later than others the recession was one challenge Chris discussed with the group. Retail businesses found themselves faced with a decision. Increased competition from new entrants coupled with the effects of the recession led Tiso to make some tough business decisions including refocusing their position at the high end of their market. This proved to be a good strategy with retailers at the high end of the market and at the value end such as Mountain Warehouse doing really well, whilst those left stuck in the middle found themselves swallowed up by their competitors.

One of Chris’ s key take home points was that throughout any difficult decisions that were made, they stayed true to their founding principles. If we apply this to our practice we set out to provide a specialist equine veterinary practice that placed us at the higher end of the market. We have never aimed to be the cheapest and yet at times it can be easy to react to what others around us are doing and forget what we set out to achieve.

Chris also identified how important it is to surround yourself with brilliant people allowing you to focus on what you are good at and let others do the bits that you either can’t do or have no interest in doing. That and investing in the business infrastructure are key to keeping the wheels turning.

So all in all, it was a great morning, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, made some new contacts, had a delicious breakfast and learnt a bit about one of our local businesses, who happen to sell fantastic clothing ranges and where I often spend far too much money!

Read my previous post here.

Liz munro