By Silvia Janská MRCVS

Somebody once told me: ‘you’ve spent years learning all the professional things, now it’s time to learn all the non-technical things’. On reflection, life alone continuously teaches the ‘non-technical’ things, and in vet school we have the opportunity to attend ‘Wednesday lectures on communication’ that sadly ‘no one’ goes to. Nonetheless, I believe these non-technical skills are super important, and the more I learn about veterinary business and business in general, the more I see how they are a key to success. What I envision under the term non-technical skills are skills around communication, self-management, workload management, and decision making, for example. So, the question I have been asking myself recently is how can we measure the impact of those skills on how success a business is, for example a vet practice. However, how we measure the value of non-technical training can feel a bit wooly and usually businesses don’t allocate large sums of finance and resources to this area. Having recently chaired a webinar on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) delivered by Olivia Oginska (vet and positive psychology & EQ coach), where she briefly touched on some of these non-technical skills, I wondered what she had to say about this.   

Firstly, I was interested to know about the return on investment (ROI) of non-technical training. Research suggests that there is monetary value in businesses engaging in emotional intelligence competency concepts. Some claim as high as 1484% ROI (Spencer, 2000). I asked Olivia: what is your experience of this in the veterinary businesses?

The elements that improve business profitability and can be significantly enhanced through emotional intelligence:

  1. Customer trust and loyalty.

Loyalty is one of the greatest intangible assets that any organisation can possess and improving client loyalty is a primary marketing goal that can have a significant financial impact on any business. It has been estimated that acquiring a new customer is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one, and that increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95% (Gallo, 2014). Literate shows that clients often measure service quality on how the experience with a business made them feel, rather than what service was actually provided (Pine & Gilmore, 2011). Satisfaction with communication has been shown to improve patient retention and adherence, as well as being considered an overall positive health outcome (Shaw et al., 2004). Employees with more developed emotional intelligence are better equipped to understand the needs of their clients, as well as to self-manage their own responses to stressful situations, which leads to more successful dialogues and better client experience.

2. Communication within the team

Research shows that communication with other physicians and nursing staff, case management, treatment and discharge planning, as well as communication with administration are crucial for the success of medical teams (Drazen & Shields, 2014; Rosenstain, 2012; Rosenstein, 2014). Experience shows that the same applies in the veterinary practices, where often multiple members of the team overlook the treatment and progress of one patient, and safe and swift communication between vets, nurses and administration staff is essential to provide the top-notch standards of care. In a high stress extremely complex environment, with multiple touch points and end points, the guidelines and protocols can only go so far, the rest is driven by individual behaviours. The growing focus on patient safety and satisfaction, combined with the need to reduce the incidence and impact of bullying, intimidating, disruptive behaviours, highlights the need for new tools that will help individuals to become more self-aware, manage their behaviour better and understand others more deeply – all of which can be provided through EQ training.

3. Utilising individual skills and strengths

The American Veterinary Medical Association states, the veterinary profession is enhanced through efficient utilisation of each member of the veterinary health care team by appropriate delegation of tasks and responsibilities to support staff” (AVMA policy on veterinary technology). Therefore, when veterinarians have a better understanding of their peers and embrace individuals’ strengths, they may delegate more effectively to free up more of their own time, consult more patients and serve more clients, which will directly impact productivity and profitability of the company. In order to see and utilise the individual strengths of team members, the workplace must have highly developed psychological safety. The prerequisite of psychologically safe environment is the team’s ability to understand and respect the underlying humanity of each team member, which requires high levels of emotional intelligence.

 

4. Employee engagement and wellbeing

Employees who enjoy their work experience have high levels of intrinsic motivation, which makes them put their best efforts into their daily tasks and provide the highest standards of service, which reflects on client satisfaction and company’s profitability. Psychologically safe and emotionally intelligent teams create an environment in which deriving satisfaction from the job is not only possible, but also facilitated. Emotional intelligence has been shown positively correlated with increased job performance and better health and wellbeing (Keefer, Parker, & Saklofske, 2018). Leaders with high EQ show higher integrity and win teams trust, and they also gain the ability to self-regulate, self-motivate and improve interpersonal relationships (Nguyen et al., 2020)

5. Diversity

A study that surveyed 1000 companies in 12 countries, evaluating workplace culture and tying it back to profitability and longer-term value creation, showed that companies in the top quarter were 33 percent more likely to outperform less diverse competitors (McKinsey, 2018). Diversity and inclusion are supported by communication, mutual understanding and psychological safety, all of which can be built on the foundation of emotional intelligence.

This sounds very promising, so how can we measure our EQ relatively quickly and effectively?

Defined as an ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions and; recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others” (Goleman, 2005), EQ dictates our human behaviour and our ability to understand and communicate with others even in the most stressful situations. There are many different tools available and this website present various options, depending on the purpose of the EQ testing – individual curiosity, organisational change or research project: https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-tests/

The tests that are the most appropriate for the organisations that aim to improve performance and wellbeing of their teams involve consultation with an external consultant who can perform a 360-EQ testing of the veterinary leaders in a non-biased and reliable way. Such assessment – like with Vet Gone Real (www.vetgonereal.com) – provides detailed feedback and allows organisations to establish the action plan to enhance leaders’ EQ, improve team’s performance and protect mental wellbeing of everyone involved.

While this is a huge area, Olivia has presented a nice and succinct business case for how emotional intelligence training in particular can be beneficial for veterinary practices and illustrated some key outputs it can yield. Upon my research I have come across many industries that utilize various types of non-technical skill training programs. It is particularly in high-risk industries, such as aviation, healthcare and offshore drilling, that these personal, social and thinking skills have been identified as important. In my ‘stay-versified’ vet role, I have come across many veterinary practices and business that engage in these kind of training programs for their teams, and I hope that those that do not, will be prompted to give it a thought.

References:

Drazen J, Shields H, Loscalzo J (2014) A Division of Medical Commu- nications in an Academic Medical Center’s Department of Medicine. Academic Medicine 89(12): 1623-1629.

Gallo, A. The Value of Keeping the Right Customers; Accel-KKR: Menlo Park, CA, USA, 2014

Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (10th Anniversary ed.). Random House Publishing Group.

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

Pine, B.J.; Gilmore, J.H. The Experience Economy, 2nd ed.; Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA, USA, 2011.

Rosenstein AH (2012) Physician Communication and Care Manage- ment: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Physician Exec 38(4): 34-37.

Rosenstein A (2014) The Clinical Quality Challenge: The Importance of Physician Communication Health Leaders 8.

Shaw, J.R.; Adams, C.L.; Bonnett, B.N. What can veterinarians learn from studies of physician-patient communication about veterinarian-client-patient communication? J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2004, 224, 676–684.

Spencer, L. M. “The Economic Value of Emotional Intelligence Competencies and EIC-Based HR Programs.” In The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: How to Select for, Measure, and Improve Emotional Intelligence in Individuals, Groups, and Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass., 2000.