Ethos Exchange: Technological Innovation and Employee Autonomy in Veterinary MedicineMay 5, 2022
In a science-based job field such as veterinary medicine, the way we interact with technology plays a huge role in day-to-day operations and affects both employee well-being and patient success. Our leadership team recently got together to discuss technical innovation and its effect on veterinary medicine, with a focus on industry-disrupting technologies, and how automation and self-governance might improve the lives of employees.
This Harvard Business Review article from January 2022 entitled “How Companies Are Using Tech to Give Employees More Autonomy” acknowledges that AI and automation have recently earned a bit of a poor reputation for removing employee autonomy and making the lives of workers worse.
However, it points to another side of this coin, in which automation can actually improve workers’ lives and grant them greater autonomy. One example of this included a human health care organization in the Netherlands which used technology to help them entirely manage themselves in small teams, which do all of their own scheduling, performance management, hiring, and firing on a collective, micro level. Giving the employees autonomy over these functions has allowed them to cut out middle management and given them more control over their work lives, leading to higher job satisfaction.
Technological Advancement in Veterinary Medicine
So how might automation, and technological advancement as a whole, have a similarly positive impact on the veterinary community? We asked our regional leaders to imagine their ideal technologies to help improve life at their hospitals. Most described technology which would give them and their employees time back in their day, which could instead be spent on better patient care, employee development, and furthering innovation.
“The first thing that comes to mind is payroll. It requires your attention but not a lot of critical thinking[…] something that was more integrated with our scheduling system would be great.” – Emily L., Hospital Service Manager, Veterinary Specialty Hospital- North County.
“I would love to see things that are daily or weekly tasks use some sort of program that is interactive, where you are checking those duties off of a list, so we can see who has done their tasks. Potentially I’d like to tie that in with gamification and a rewards system.” – Wil M., Hospital Manager, SAVES.
Some managers even described technologies that already exist and are in use in other industries, such as programs that allow employees to select their own schedules. Implementing such technologies would only be a matter of acquisition and education, rather than developing new technology from scratch.
Difficulties in Implementation of New Technology
If technologies already exist that might improve the day-to-day lives of employees, what are some of the barriers to their use? Aside from monetary considerations, our leadership described concerns over the realities of emergency medicine (particularly its 24/7 nature), and reluctance on the part of employees to learn new technologies.
“The fact that we’re 24/7 facilities means there is no time for repairs and updates. Bringing on new platforms is going to be a never-ending challenge, but will continue to be a necessity.” – Mackenzie D., Hospital Service Manager, Port City Veterinary Referral Hospital.
“There’s this fear of, ‘Is this actually going to improve things, or is this going to make our operations less smooth?’ For a lot of people that risk is scary, and it’s easy to go with what works.” – Shawna D., Hospital Director, Veterinary Emergency + Referral Center.
Poor experiences with past changes can also affect the outlook of your team going forward. If, for example, your hospital changes one of your operating systems and it goes poorly, any new technological innovations in that area are more likely to draw skepticism.
To get employees on board with new technology, you first need to address any fears stemming from past failures or difficulties.
Toward a Culture of Innovation: Early Adopters & Resisters in Your Hospital
We know that implementing new technologies can be greatly beneficial to the lives of employees, despite all its difficulties. How might we help shape our company culture to be more encouraging of new ideas and processes?
Our leadership pointed out that most organizations can be divided into rough groups – early adopters, those who struggle to embrace change, and the majority, who fall somewhere in the middle. One of the keys to promoting innovation was to find your enthusiastic early adopters and get them on board as quickly as possible, so they can act as your spokespeople and cheerleaders. However, some pointed out that those who resist change also provide a valuable perspective.
“Touching base with your resisters early on can provide you with a lot of feedback, modes of failure or areas of the process you didn’t even think about. That way when you message the bigger group, you can touch on those pieces so you don’t end up with mass resistance.” – Emily L.
Creating a Positive Culture of Curiosity
Whichever employees you are working with, the key to innovation is to encourage a culture of curiosity instead of cynicism, an assumption of positive intent, and education. Part of education is not only training in new technologies, but also explaining how they will help.
“I think [success comes down to] learning the motivation of each person and positioning the change in a way they’re receptive to, focusing specifically how that person would benefit.” – Emily L.
“One thing that’s important is the assumption of positive intent. We have to assume that, while not everything’s going to work out perfectly, it’s there for our betterment. So we have to lean into it and embrace it.” – Andrew F., Hospital Director, VSH North County.
It may not be easy, but encouraging technological innovation in our hospitals can not only improve hospital environment and efficiency, but also give employees more autonomy in their day-to-day work lives. In the end, when implemented correctly and with care, technological innovation can lead to huge improvements for employers, employees, and for overall patient care.
A huge thanks to Jared Katz (Senior Manager, People and Organization) for leading this discussion! Next up on the Ethos Exchange: Lean Six Sigma and improvements to hospital efficiency.
Written by: Alissa Murray, Talent Acquisition Coordinator at Ethos Veterinary Health