If you are an experienced and wise gardener, you have planned and planted a wide variety of plants in your garden. Herbs, vegetables and flowers are all important components of a well-managed garden. And much like your garden, your veterinary practice has a wide variety of “plants,” too; your doctors, nurses/techs, customer service representatives and kennel attendants are all important components of a well-managed practice.
Now, humor me on this garden analogy…
Some herbs are grown for medicinal purposes, similar to your doctors who provide medicinal services. Vegetables are for nutrition and support of good health like your nurses/techs support and care for the patients. Flowers add color, fragrance and pest control; your CSRs attract your clients, provide a welcoming environment and keep the chaos of appointments under control. (I did not want to call some clients “pests,” but you are free to label a few.)
My point to this garden analogy is that the veterinary practice is comprised of many different “plants,” and you cannot manage all the plants the same. Each one has some special requirements for it to grow. Therefore, managing a garden means tending to each plant as an individual, and managing a veterinary practice means tending to each team member as an individual.
Team management is so crucial that it must be a part of the practice’s annual strategic planning (“SWOT” analysis). Managing this diverse and talented group is easiest if you follow these five steps: Recruit, Retain, Develop, Engage, Reward.
Recruiting is more than placing an ad and interviewing the respondents. An excellent recruiting program means that there has been a lot of groundwork laid prior to starting a search, such as:
Having job descriptions that spell out what is expected for that position.
Conducting a “needs analysis” and determining what position you want to advertise and what skills you want the new hire to possess.
Developing behavior interview questions based on the job description and needs analysis.
Having an orientation and on-boarding program to get the new hire acclimated and performing as expected.
Going through the planning stages listed above will save you time and money. It will ensure that you have identified the key skillsets needed for your practice, and have aligned these with the practice’s strategic needs and the position you are advertising for.
Team member retention should not be viewed as all take and no give. Experts in the Human Resource industry recommend conducting regular “stay interviews” with your team to see what aspects of the practice and the job keep them committed to the business. Retention is critical to the long-term success of the practice and can be accomplished by:
- Establishing open communication (e.g., open-door policy).
- Involving team members in decision-making. (This will empower and give them opportunities to learn.)
- Making the work environment enjoyable and positive (in addition to safe and productive).
- Creating work/life balance (e.g., flexible work schedules, comp, benefits).
- Conducting stay interviews.
- Conducting exit interviews.
Turnover is costly, but there are additional benefits associated with retaining team members that go beyond the calculated expense of turnovers. For example, retaining good team members will affect client satisfaction, the culture of the practice, team relations, and delivery of excellent care to every patient and client.
The development of a team member does not mean blindly giving development resources (AKA your CE Budget) for anything and everything. Instead, it means linking an individual’s strengths and passions with the practice’s needs. An individualized development plan consists of:
- Assessing competency levels (skills, knowledge, ability and attitude).
- Arranging opportunities for growth (continuing education, training, cross-training, project teams and job rotation).
- Setting up coaching or mentoring partnerships.
- Utilizing adult learning techniques.
- Keeping the development life-long and self-directed.
- Connecting the individual’s development plan to the needs of the practice.
Having a career development program in your practice will help your team grow and boost their engagement—and all of this links directly to your practice’s financial performance.
Engagement goes beyond retention and development. It is about a personal, emotional and motivational connection to the practice, not merely a job satisfaction rating, It includes:
- Performance feedback.
- Positive reinforcement and recognition.
- Coaching and counseling.
Engaged team members are on task and know their target. They are not just a warm body that has essentially “checked out” for the shift; they are energized and creating experiences for your clients while delivering exceptional medical care.
Whatever the choice of recognition or reward, it must be from you, the leader, and it must be face to face. Kouzes and Posner, authors of Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, outline seven steps important for an effective recognition program:
- Set clear standards that speak of what is valued;
- Expect the best, being aware of the Pygmalion effect (self-fulfilling prophecy);
- Take time to walk around and look for those demonstrating the values and standards;
- Personalize rewards to that individual recipient;
- Tell a story about the value or exceptional standard, don’t just say thanks;
- Celebrate with the whole team, don’t just hand out an award in private;
- Set an example yourself.1
Let’s look at some examples and considerations for the recognition program:
Rewards should be personal. I enjoy reading, so a book on a subject I am interested in would be great. Gift cards to a store or restaurant are good, and you can make it even better if you send it to your team member’s family with a personal note of praise for their family member so everyone can bask in the praise.
Tell a story to the whole team about the exceptional team member. Let’s say you have a team member who devotes a lot of time to a community service organization. Why not acknowledge that and recognize them for the effort during a team meeting?
How many of our practices have a board where we hang “Thank You” cards from clients? Do we ever tell stories about that situation to let everyone know how we wowed the client? Do we post notes of praise from one member of the team to another? Recognition can be powerful. Maybe you can use your website, newsletter or Facebook page to praise a team member for their outstanding efforts.
You can even reward someone by giving them more work! I have a friend who enjoys working with children just as much as she enjoys working with animals. She loved being given the “job” of educational liaison to the local schools; doing career day presentations, science fairs and animal health fairs. The practice recognized her passion and paid her to take that passion to the community—a win-win for business and individual.
Rewards and recognition are like sunshine; they help your team grow. Giving recognition for special efforts is a simple way to provide an explicit example of what is valued. Recognition, appropriately done, is a powerful motivator. It can show others what it means to go above and beyond.
Comparing gardening to managing a practice is not such an odd analogy after all! You want your plants to grow and produce a good harvest just like you want the practice to grow and produce. And the only way the practice is going to grow is if the individual team members grow and produce.
What do you do if your vegetables are withering or your flowers are brown? You look for causes—soil conditions, moisture, fertilizer, pests, weeds, etc. In most cases, you have a plan and keep an eye on these things to prevent a considerable loss before taking action.
Managing your talent “plants” in the veterinary practice can be considered the same way. If you notice withering passion or lackluster performances, you look for causes. Some common factors in businesses that hamper talent growth and productivity include feeling stressed, having limited opportunities, feeling they aren’t valued and experiencing long work hours. So why not have a plan to address these things before you suffer a huge loss?
Pay attention to recruiting, retaining, developing, engaging and rewarding, and “harvest” the rewards of a high-performing team. +
1. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1999). Encouraging The Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.