Deborah Stone owns and operates Stone Veterinary Practice Management and VetWorldMedia based in Austin, Texas. She has been involved with the veterinary profession for nearly thirty years and has experience in specialty, emergency and general practice management. Dr. Stone also brings several years of experience from the hospitality industry to the veterinary industry in order to provide fresh and creative solutions.
She earned an MBA at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, with a concentration in business management and completed her PhD in Organizational Leadership. Dr. Stone is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, accredited from the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. She holds memberships with many associations and serves on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative and the Board of Trustees of the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation.
She currently serves as Editor-In-Chief for NAVC’s Today’s Veterinary Business (TVB) journal; check out her latest column. Dr. Stone is a national speaker, the founder of Austin City Unlimited Veterinary Management Symposium, a published author and the Health and Well-Being Program Coordinator for VMX 2018
NAVC: We’re grateful and delighted that you are serving as Editor-in-Chief for NAVC’s newest publication, Today’s Veterinary Business. What do you say when people ask how this journal can contribute to their business success?
Dr. Stone: I’ve seen lots of change in the veterinary profession over nearly three decades, especially concerning the growth of what I call the “companionship” between veterinary medicine and management. Today’s Veterinary Business provides content that focuses on leadership, innovation, and success for veterinary professionals.
The veterinary profession is ripe for tools and information that leads to personal and professional success. Today’s Veterinary Business is a valuable resource that strives to increase our readers’ knowledge by presenting relevant and educational content. We have an amazing Editorial Advisory Board that consists of experts and thought-leaders in our profession.
Today’s Veterinary Business also provides great information that our readers can share with their entire teams as it offers insightful content for all veterinary professionals.
NAVC: We appreciate your participation on NAVC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Please tell our readers more about the purpose and desired outcomes of that committee’s work.
Dr. Stone: Diversity and inclusion issues in our profession have been a longtime interest of mine. We’ve seen the increase of women veterinarians, which is a positive contributing factor toward increasing diversity, however, when growing a diverse workforce, it’s also necessary to consider race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, career pathways, lifestyle, and other perspectives of groups and individuals.
An important factor concerning diversity and inclusion is educating everyone on what I call “the gift of diversity”. As we become more aware of “others”, we will become less fearful of “different”. Often, our lack of understanding those who are different than us causes fear as well as the ripple effect of that fear.
We avoid or push back or do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from that different person or philosophy. On the other side, that “different” person also feels many things, like they don’t fit in or feel picked on or excluded from the in-group. This all results in barriers and impedes the development of relationships and opportunities.
NAVC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee recognizes the benefits of growing diversity and inclusion and has the platform to do that through its many educational outlets. This committee is working on collaborative educational opportunities with a diversity of associations and organizations to educate our profession about the “gift of diversity”.
I’m thrilled to announce that Today’s Veterinary Business recently added a column, “Diversity Toolbox” that provides another educational opportunity to learn about each other.
NAVC: Through Stone VPM, you facilitate strategic approaches and leadership development with veterinary practice leaders and teams, including refining their communication skills and self-awareness. Is there a common denominator that you have witnessed among thriving veterinary practices?
Dr. Stone: Consistent components associated with thriving practices that I have seen include the leadership team’s openness and willingness to doing things differently and not continue a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” philosophy. Ultimately, in order to make effective change happen, they must be ready to move out of their comfort zones.
Often times, the reason we stay in our comfort zone is because we are afraid of all that is required to change, what the change may lead to, and entering the unknown. I refer to this status as “familiar misery”. Someone may not be happy with the results they are realizing, but they know what they have so they stay where they are or keeping doing what they’ve always done.
I often associate the openness for making change happen with courage as I believe that’s what it often takes to step out of our comfort zone, smash the familiar misery, and make effective change to realize better results.
Another facet I see concerning thriving practices is the level of the leadership team’s locus of control. Locus of control is a construct that identifies one’s own perception of their manageability of life. Do they feel like they can “make it happen” or do they feel they have no control over outcomes?
When one demonstrates a high internal locus of control, they are confident in managing outcomes; when one demonstrates a high external locus of control, they feel that outcomes are a result of external factors or luck. In essence, they don’t feel that they can make things happen.
My research indicated that there are significant relationships between internal locus of control, self-esteem, and authentic leadership. Click here for access to the full study.
NAVC: You use the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) tool to facilitate emotional and social competency development in your clients. ESCI’s website explains the process this way: “Emotional and social intelligence makes the difference between a highly effective leader and an average one. The real benefit comes from the 360° view into the behaviors that differentiate outstanding from average performers. It helps managers and professionals create competitive advantage for their organizations by increasing performance, innovation and teamwork, ensuring time and resources are used effectively, and building motivation and trust.” Did you learn anything surprising about yourself when you first took the test? Did that knowledge lead you to make changes?
Dr. Stone: The science of emotional intelligence has been a tremendous interest of mine for almost two decades. It has provided helpful tools to use especially since I work with a diverse mix of people in a variety of initiatives.
I chose to become ESCI accredited as it provides comprehensive information and feedback due to its 360° format. The results offer opportunities for the participants to learn about themselves and determine what areas they’d really like to grow. The cornerstone to emotional intelligence is actually one of its four domains – self-awareness – and that’s really one of the strengths of the emotional intelligence discovery, building self-awareness.
With my longtime interest in emotional intelligence, I’ve sometimes jokingly called myself, “Ms. Emotional Intelligence” and surely I would completely rock the ESCI.
The interesting thing I learned after taking the ESCI is that although my scores indicated many strengths, my weakest was self-awareness. How could this possibly be? Ms. Emotional Intelligence didn’t have a perfect self-awareness score? Mind you, it was still very high, but not perfect.
This actually was fantastic! We are talking much more in our profession about perfectionism and here I was feeling a bit sunk that I didn’t hit the highest score in self-awareness. It required me to do what I advise everyone else to do: don’t just look at the score, but explore the story behind the score. The score on the ESCI is based on the feedback of others in the workplace. Others in the workplace weren’t always seeing me as demonstrating high self-awareness. Ah, now that made sense. How do others, in the work environment, know my level of self-awareness? Am I coming across as too closed? Do I appear too guarded and not open? Am I not approachable?
So I moved from the score to the story behind the score and then a flood of questions followed. That’s how the ESCI instrument works. The results I have seen with others who have experienced this process have been truly life-changing for many.
NAVC: What are the primary reasons that some practices do not prosper? When you and your team do an audit at a clinic and provide them with a step-by-step plan for improvement, what overall advice to you give them for a successful implementation of the plan?
Dr. Stone: The practices that prosper don’t only know they must make changes, they are also ready to do the necessary work in order to make effective change happen. One of the biggest challenges for practice improvement initiatives is getting everyone on board to make effective change and realize the vision and goals.
There are practice leaders who may know that changes are necessary and want different results, but just aren’t ready to do what it takes to make it happen. When practices choose to work with a consultant, it’s important for both the consultant and practice owner to fully understand where the practice leadership team is concerning the commitment to making effective organizational change. When the timing is right and the commitment is high, practices will have a better experience with change processes and ultimately realize healthier outcomes.
NAVC: There are a lot of changes going on in the Animal Health Industry. What do you see as the most promising change and most challenging change for the veterinary clinics you work with?
Dr. Stone: One promising change I see is the decreased silo effect that was alive and well for quite a long time in our profession.
An example from the past is that there was a time when many practice owners were uncomfortable and not supportive of practice managers getting together to exchange “in-the-trenches” tips and share everyday practice challenges. Veterinary practices often remained quiet about their “secret sauce” and relied on being better than their neighbors or competitors.
Today, it’s encouraging to see the open exchanges of veterinary groups, including veterinarians, practice managers, technicians, and industry professionals getting together to discuss what works, what doesn’t, and other concerns. I see the tearing down of silos as a huge contributor to raising the bar in our profession.
One of the most challenging changes for veterinary practices that I see is actually navigating through all of the change. It’s necessary for practice leaders to develop their leadership and communication skills to help them manage the challenges and impact associated with constant and frequent change.
NAVC: You are known for saying that success comes from “Solutions Developed Together”. We get it about why that’s smart; we are curious about what led you to shorthand the process into these specific keywords?
Dr. Stone: I chose those three words a long time ago as I saw the best outcomes, in just about every endeavor, were linked to collaborative experiences and relationships.
If, for instance, a practice owner wants to make changes within the practice to realize better outcomes and she tries to do it all by herself, it won’t work or last long term. Bringing in the team and having them be part of the change process increases the opportunities for effective change. Asking the team to contribute ideas and insight may actually generate ideas that the owner never thought of, thus making better solutions.
This philosophy also rings true for other practice, industry, or group initiatives. In essence it’s a philosophy of collaboration and innovative thinking.
NAVC: Your presentations have been described as energetic and highly interactive to encourage team buy-in. Change is scary to lots of people. What do you do when you sense an audience is being resistant to new behavior? How do you “power up” for these sessions?
Dr. Stone: When I present to groups, I am very aware of the diversity of experience, knowledge, and interest among the audience. The attendees may be at the session for a number of reasons that may range from wanting to be there (high interest and personal choice) to having to be there (low interest and boss made them go).
I develop the programs with this in mind and allow opportunities for the attendees to discuss barriers to change and share their perspectives on the content. It’s super important to lay out the ground rules in the beginning to let them know they are in a safe place to express their perspectives without being judged. It’s not easy for people to show vulnerability, but when they feel they are in a safe place, not alone, and being heard, it seems to come more naturally. I am always honored when folks have the courage to share what’s going on in their world.
NAVC: Three related questions: How do you think your colleagues would describe you? What are you really, really good at? What do you want to be known for?
Dr. Stone: I’m sure my colleagues would have quite a few “witty” things to say about me, but I believe they would consistently describe me as someone who makes things happen. Each time I see them they always ask, “What are you working on now, Deb?”
Concerning what I think I’m good at, I love listening to people’s stories and I believe I’m good at really hearing what they are saying. This is helpful when consulting, facilitating conflict management sessions, writing songs, and keeping relationships healthy.
This was one of the catalysts in creating my collaborative production company, VetWorldMedia (vetworldmedia.com). We help veterinary professionals, practices, and associations tell their story.
I’d like to be known for making even a small little positive difference in the world. I’d love it if when someone mentioned my name, it caused even a tiny smile…that would be a life success.
NAVC: Please share with us any favorite quotation or philosophy that’s especially meaningful to you and tell us why.
Dr. Stone: “No matter where you go, there you are.” I first heard this while watching the movie Buckaroo Banzai in 1984. I love this because it rings so true concerning how we deal with challenging issues.
If we are struggling with something and don’t want to deal with it, yes, we can pack up and move, but it doesn’t resolve the internal issue. We still wake up the next day and there we are.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” This quote still resonates with me as it is in alignment with my term “familiar misery”. We can stay in our comfort zone, albeit miserable, and the cost may be much more than exploring and experiencing all of the opportunities we are missing.
NAVC: What delights you the most about Mortie and Stevie?
Dr. Stone: I absolutely adore Mortie and Stevie for so many reasons. Our profession is talking more and more about interspecies families and Mortie and Stevie are indeed a huge part of our family.
One thing that I want to share about Mortie is that he wakes up every morning absolutely in love with the new day. No matter what’s going on in the world, he always wakes up excited for a new day to begin. He makes me laugh every morning and that’s a great way to start the day.
I am in awe of Stevie’s gentleness. She is also very conscientious of spending an equitable amount of time with Melinda and then with me. She makes the “rounds” in our home to be sure all is well. I’ve told her since she came into our family that she is extraordinary. She has definitely found her “purr” in our family.
NAVC: Okay. We were impressed when we found out that you sing and play guitar in a band, the LaxaTones. Then we discover you have two more bands, the No-Lo Prophets (No-Lo Prophets in Indy singing You Are My Sunshine!) and Home Bass. How are they different? What part does music play in your quality of life?
Dr. Stone: Music has always played a huge part in my life. I always have some sort of music swirling around in my head and that has helped me deal with several personal and professional challenges.
Although I’ve played music most all of my life and have been in a variety of bands, I never sought big fame or a recording contract. I’ve had a vision since I was a child that I’d get to play music in front of my peers. That dream has come true as I’ve included a musical component in many of my workshops and consulting projects. Music is a universal language and is so powerful, no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing.
I formed the LaxaTones in 2007 in preparation for my symposium, AcuVet (acuvet.org). We all work in the veterinary profession and have played several animal awareness events in and outside of Austin, Texas. The No-Lo Prophets is my VetPartners band and the first gig we played was during NAVC 2012. The band members live throughout the US and Canada, thus requires remote rehearsal before our performances which are typically at VetPartners meetings. Home Bass is my NAVC band and includes NAVC’s CEO and CFO, Tom Bohn and Gene O’Neill. We played our first gig together at NAVC Conference 2015 and look forward to making more music at VMX 2018.