Emmitt Nantz Of Galaxy Vets: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Have fun. We are all here for a short while and we can’t take it with us. Invest in others, enjoy their company and achieve things together. This is the point. When we approach work as a required means to an end, we lose the point. Work is an opportunity to bring joy to others, to engage with others and to achieve great things together. Too many companies make money the objective and many of us have worked in those companies, but the money is just the measurement and the vehicle of our economy. The engagement, the fun, the accomplishments are the point in life, so it’s important to always remember to enjoy all aspects of life including work. If we all share a common purpose, know the why of our organization, and serve each other, then we can enjoy what we do and take pride in the accomplishments of the team.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Emmitt Nantz, COO at Galaxy Vets healthcare system.
Emmitt Nantz has been part of the veterinary family for nearly two decades and is driven by a personal mission to make the veterinary domain better. Emmitt spent 12 years working at Banfield starting out as a single-site hospital manager. Having majored in agriculture management and business, he expanded his education to include an MBA, a Black Belt in Six Sigma and a Project Management Certification. Emmitt applied these learnings by creating large-scale operational improvements for the entire Banfield network with a focus on improving employee and client satisfaction. He is now the Chief Operating Officer at Galaxy Vets, a veterinary healthcare system co-owned by its employees.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My professional career after college started in the food business where I worked for a large Japanese company in the main office managing distribution and warehousing. I was invited to participate in a startup in the food space and that sparked an entrepreneurial flame that I have since nurtured. Later in my career I started a farm-to-fork distribution from a large ranch in Central Oregon.
I started in veterinary medicine about 20 years ago while attending the University of Oregon for my executive MBA. One of the other students in the class worked for Banfield Pet Hospital and introduced me to a position managing one of their locations in Portland, Oregon. That experience gave me the opportunity to learn more about the people in the veterinary space and the passion that they bring to their work every day. Since then, I’ve been on a personal mission to enhance the work environment for people in the veterinary industry. I found that I have a complementary skillset that enables them to pursue their passion while also allowing me to live mine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’ll actually go back before my professional career started and share a story about when I was working on the farm back in Eastern Oregon. I spent much of my teenage summers working on a farm that produced wheat, grass seed, and mint. To this day, one of my favorite pastimes is driving the tractor in the field. It’s a great way to get some alone time with your thoughts and it’s responsible for some of my greatest epiphanies over the years. Anyway, one summer, I finally got the opportunity to drive the brand new combine instead of the old dilapidated one. This combine had a fully enclosed cab, air conditioning and a great radio. It was luxury on wheels and I had finally put in enough time to graduate to the big leagues.
The second day I got to drive the new John Deere 9600, I had a visitor who joined me in the cab. It was big enough for two and I was ready to show off. Well, after filling the hopper and then unloading it into a truck with the auger, I neglected to turn the auger off. I went back to harvesting and showing off the machine while sitting on my throne and proceeded to dump all of the grain I was harvesting right back on the ground. I don’t know how many bushels I dumped on the ground before someone caught up to me and pointed it out, but it was a lot. Credit to the farmer, I didn’t lose my seat on the 9600 but I did lose visitor rights and I certainly became hyper-aware.
I’ve carried that experience with me my entire career because I came away with a strong appreciation for checklists. Like many things in life, there is a process for doing things well and when you deviate, you make mistakes or lose track. I self-adjusted in the tractor to repeat the mental checklist every time when unloading the hopper but since then, I have really leaned into process, checklists, and continuous improvement. It’s become my area of expertise as I’ve applied project management, lean-Six Sigma, theory of constraints, checklist manifesto, and much more to the way I conduct my own life and lead others. Now, I help veterinary teams achieve success by helping them define the process, measure lead times, and identify bottlenecks that cause mistakes and embed inefficiency in their daily lives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have found that success is an evolving story over time where its definition is subject to change based on circumstances and experience. I’m not sure it is ever achieved, but it is always pursued even as it changes. I look at success as a milestone accomplished and a step forward in the discovery of what else I can do. As an individual’s story of success matures, different characters come and go that play relevant parts in each chapter. We can learn from all of them and reflect on the pieces we want to emulate and the behaviors we want to reject and prevent assuming in our own character.
As I reflect on my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many people who have guided me, advised me, challenged me in different ways, and all of them contributed to my journey and my current role as a leader at Galaxy Vets. I’ve never been much for identifying heroes or villains in my life, and I’m far more likely to acknowledge the contributions of everybody and how every decision and opportunity has led me to where I’m at today.
In the course of my professional development, I’ve worked with a number of managers who have modeled the behaviors I choose to adopt and those I choose to reject. I recall one manager who insisted on redlining all of the formatting of a report before he ever looked at the content. Even though I’d put hours into the data, he wouldn’t review it until the report margins and font were as he wanted. I take this with me as I lead others and I choose to respect the work they have done above the work that’s left to do. This builds trust and collaboration and it empowers a team to bring their authentic self in a respected environment. I recall another boss who depended on fear to get people to do things. The team was always afraid of doing something wrong or not doing something they should have. They were miserable at work and nobody ever made a decision on their own. The manager felt they were highly productive at “leading” people because people did as they were told. He was never able to see how much more could have been done if he had led collaboratively and leveraged the skills of the entire team. I work hard to empower and enable everyone to contribute to a common goal versus being the only person who knows what to do and how to do it so I do not become the bottleneck. Finally, I reflect on one of the best leaders I’ve worked for. He had a clear understanding of what needed to be achieved but he was able to articulate it and let others contribute to the design and process. I remember him being forgiving when mistakes were made and encouraging as we learned. I also remember him taking time to play with his family and balance work with life. I try to emulate these traits as a leader myself. In the end, I believe we are an accumulation of the experiences we have collected over time, but I feel we should be intentional about recognizing the influence those experiences have on us and how we adopt them as our own.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
At Galaxy Vets, we have a very clear understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. The veterinary industry has come under a lot of pressure as it continues to be consolidated. What we recognize is that the pressure to deliver short-term returns for outside investors forces the people in the hospital to work harder and faster without reward. This has caused many of the veterinary professionals to leave the profession, or worse. Veterinarians are three times more likely than the general population to commit suicide. At Galaxy Vets, it is our mission to bring veterinary medicine back to veterinarians. We want to make a veterinary hospital a place where people want to work and be rewarded for their efforts; where they’re able to contribute to their own well-being and long-term wealth. We know veterinary service is dependent on happy veterinary professionals in order for the business to be successful. So we are building an organization that leverages process improvements, builds vertical integration, and shares the success of the business with everyone in the organization. We know that this model will retain and enable everyone to achieve success and to do so collaboratively instead of at the expense of their colleagues. This is our purpose and it guides everything we do.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In one of my previous roles, I led a team of about 80 people at a multibillion-dollar organization for nearly four years. When I first assumed the role, I was responsible for bringing a few teams under one structure and giving it direction. I had watched others during my career assume that they had the answers and go hard charging into an opportunity like this with direction and answers only to hit a brick wall or be undermined by the team. I had seen the team feel disrespected and unmotivated to contribute to the changes that needed to be made. I chose to take my time, ask questions, and glean ideas from within the team. I was then able to help devise a plan that had buy-in from the team and collaborative contributions that lead to great success. We were able to drive performance that tripled the output of the team and allowed many to be promoted within the organization. This approach and the subsequent results also built trust in the team and empowered many to feel confident in their positions.
After a couple of years in the role, the organization’s leadership changed, and the expectations of the team began to shift. At the same time, sales began to slump and adjustments were required in order to maintain a balanced performance. The team became concerned about their jobs and the positions of their colleagues as they saw other teams struggling with the changes, too. During this time, I was able to draw on the trust and collaboration we had established in the previous years. I was able to engage the leaders on my team with honest discussions about what needed to be achieved and how we could get there. In the end, we were able to navigate the situation better than most and the entire team maintained its morale and productivity. I reflect on this experience often because it reminds me that every day we spend investing in the team is an investment in the future regardless of the situations yet to come. It’s difficult to plan for all scenarios and know how to react but a strong team can navigate any waters and still deliver.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Of course, there have been times where I considered giving up, and times where I did give up. Sometimes situations in life become a poor fit and it’s time to pass the torch while you turn the page in your own career. In those times, I can say confidently that I have invested in leaders who stepped up to lead in my absence and their careers have grown. However, in most instances, I have not given up or moved on because my motivation is the people. My leadership style is very much a servant-leader design. I believe that a business is successful when everyone is focused on the value creation activity. For example, at Galaxy Vets, the value creation activity is the delivery of veterinary medicine from veterinary professionals to pet owners. Everything my teams do needs to focus on enabling that engagement to be the best it can be. So as a leader, it is my job to serve those who serve others to make this possible. This is my motivation and what always moves me forward.
When a person or an organization is focused on the wants and whims of the leadership team, then time and effort is put into finding problems for solutions instead of finding solutions for the problems that prevent value delivery on the front line. In these instances, it is much easier to give up because the focus has been on your wants and needs. If those fall short, you can walk away because your needs weren’t met. But when your motivation is in service of the others on the team and against a common purpose, giving up is letting others down who depend on your contributions to enable them. I find motivation and strength serving those I lead.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I could speak to a lot of books that I reference on and off depending on the situation, but there are four books I reflect on constantly. The first one is often referenced as a political genre, but I enjoy Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand as a personal reflection on how I treat others and how they treat me. It reminds me that I have a choice to value the work of others and I can expect my work to be valued as well. We should not take for granted the skills and efforts of every member of our teams and we should never exploit the passion of others. When I join a new team, I have three business books I reference as a collection. The first is Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard. I love the simplicity of this book to focus on a team on identifying the customer, what they see as value, and then deliver it plus 1%. This creates loyal customers that retain and refer, and this drives a successful purpose-driven company. The second is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I reference this to reflect how a team should engage each other and how a leader should inspire teams to deliver exceptional results as a group. Finally, the most impactful book in my career has been The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. This book introduces the Theory of Constraints and the idea that all processes have a bottleneck. Identify it, improve it, and the whole system improves. Then there is a new bottleneck, identify it and improve it. And so on and so forth. I am certified in project management, Six Sigma, SAFE, and a variety of other process improvement methodologies, but I always bring it back to this simple definition of continuous improvement because I believe there is no real definition of success, but there is an opportunity to always learn and improve.
To serve those you lead. In challenging times, leaders need to show their own humanity and vulnerability as they serve the needs of the team. In this way, the team stays loyal and you retain trust. This camaraderie will carry any team through challenging times.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Reinforce the purpose. The team shares a common sense of purpose and desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. A leader needs to highlight that commonality and invigorate the purpose more during uncertain times than not, because a team carries far more momentum through stormy times than any individual can.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Directly, honestly, and immediately. If you have invested in the team already and adhered to much of what I have shared already, then you will have support and buy-in. The team will know the purpose, they will understand the news/decisions being made, and they will contribute to the impact positively in most situations. Hiding, manipulating, and delaying these discussions breeds distrust and uncertainty that make tough situations far worse and long-lasting.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A leader cannot get mired in the uncertainty of the future. Unpredictability is a combination of multiple variables and each of those variables also carries with it bias in interpretation. I believe two things are important to remember when facing uncertain times. First, it is far better to keep the team moving forward than to get stalled. Oftentimes, I see leaders struggling to find the perfect plan that mitigates all risks and has a guaranteed success instead of defining a good plan that moves in the right direction and assumes some risk so the team can keep moving. Second, the collective knowledge of a team is far better than the brain of a single leader. Engage the team, present the situation, and discuss the options. Not only will you likely have a far better plan, it will come faster and you will already have collective buy-in that will gain momentum.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Know your why. Simon Sinek knows his stuff. I’ve watched a number of organizations lose their purpose and focus solely on the financials. They turn to brute force to drive revenue and costs and center all discussion on the share price. They lose their why and they often succumb to downturns far more than those who know why they do what they do. Keep financials on the dashboard but never let them become the dashboard.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
So many companies get into a habit of managing week-to-week performance and lose sight of the natural trends and overall trajectories. When they fall into this rut, everything becomes an opportunity for scrutiny and in down times these week-to-week or day-by-day figures become opportunities for blame or short-term decisions that can ruin long-term performance. It’s critical to maintain a clear understanding of the long-term goals and what the key drivers of those goals are so you can weather volatility and maintain a steady course. The other key mistake I see companies make as they mature is to shift from purpose-driven, customer-focused operations to ego-driven leadership-focused companies. When this happens, middle management usually becomes a group of people looking up the hierarchy instead of down, and in tough times they all look to save their own skin. This can quickly cause an organization to begin to crumble at an accelerated rate when it falls on difficult times. Staying focused on the customer and operating a servant-style leadership team will ensure stability over the long run.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be a servant leader. Invest in your team and they will invest in you. I have always approached leadership in this way, and it always pays dividends. When you trust in the service of others and the shared purpose, you can achieve much more than you can on your own. While working at Banfield, I was fortunate to be in a role that had low management but high influence throughout the organization. I was able to focus all of my attention on identifying, measuring, and improving systems that improved business performance. The thing I learned was that business performance was unequivocally a result of people. If I focused on enabling people to thrive, then the business would succeed. As I helped to enable new systems and processes, I heard feedback about the impact on people. My favorite was “Thank you. I get to have dinner with my family now.” Recognizing those results and how they enable a business collectively, was reflected throughout the rest of my career as I am able to partner with extremely talented people who have seen this servant focus work and want to partner with me. These leaders want to work together and the collective focus of serving others accelerates any company’s opportunity to grow.
- Leverage process. If you can articulate the process, then you can find the bottlenecks in it and improve. This gives ongoing purpose to a team and you can measure results. At Galaxy Vets, process is a key piece of who we are and how we stay aligned. We love Theory of Constraints, Kanban, and Design Thinking. We leverage OKRs and KPIs so we know what we want to achieve and if we did so. Process contributes two key things to any business. One, a process is a series of events that is documented and followed. This allows training and onboarding. It allows efficiency through predictability and it promotes collaboration around a common understanding of how things work. So even though a process is never perfect, it does allow gains in productivity because of the common language. Second, a process can be monitored. By defining a workflow and enabling systems, you can capture data. The data provides visibility for monitoring performance but more importantly, it can be used to identify the bottlenecks that need improvement. As I referenced before about The Goal, if you can improve the bottleneck, then the whole system gets better. We use value stream mapping and Kanban methodology to define and monitor processes so we can promote continuous process improvement. This has enabled significant improvements in hundreds of hospitals over my career that empower people to deliver better service by eliminating wasted effort.
- Stay focused on the purpose. Understanding why we are trying to achieve and why we are trying to do so will allow everyone to contribute to the how. If you focus on the how, everyone will look to you for directions every step of the way and you become the bottleneck. The world is full of experts but so often they are over-managed and unable to bring their full expertise to the table. In my experience, this is caused by a lack of clear purpose shared by the team. In these instances, there must be micromanagement in order to tell people what to do. However, If you have a shared vision, then the how is managed by the experts and you get their full potential contributing to the team. I’ve seen both and the contrast is amazing.
- Model what you expect. So much is said without words. Far more often than not, I’ve worked in situations where the leader says one thing but does another and the team is left confused, frustrated, and far more likely to do what they see the boss doing than what they say should be done. For example, work- life balance (and I’m still not a good example here myself), so many leaders talk about the importance of maintaining balance and priority yet never take time off and constantly work long hours. This is a precedent that the team follows because they see it as the expectation you hold yourself to. Another example is kindness. Many managers will talk about customer satisfaction and the importance of good service, but they neglect to treat their staff in the same way they expect them to treat customers. You’ll never get the results you expect if you don’t model the behavior you expect from the team
- Have fun. We are all here for a short while and we can’t take it with us. Invest in others, enjoy their company and achieve things together. This is the point. When we approach work as a required means to an end, we lose the point. Work is an opportunity to bring joy to others, to engage with others and to achieve great things together. Too many companies make money the objective and many of us have worked in those companies, but the money is just the measurement and the vehicle of our economy. The engagement, the fun, the accomplishments are the point in life, so it’s important to always remember to enjoy all aspects of life including work. If we all share a common purpose, know the why of our organization, and serve each other, then we can enjoy what we do and take pride in the accomplishments of the team.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Internal service begets external service.” I use this all the time and learned it early in my career. It’s even more important to me now because the success of Galaxy Vets depends on veterinary professionals delivering exceptional service to pet owners. They cannot do that if they are burnt-out or feel frustrated or disconnected. My job is to serve them so they can serve their customers. Then we can all feel successful.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Linkedin profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/emmitt-nantz/) and Galaxy Vets social media.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Emmitt Nantz Of Galaxy Vets: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.