Should You Invest in Training and Career Development for Your Employees?

Should you invest in employee training and career development while we are still waiting for the economy to turn around?  Despite economic uncertainty, business savvy Practice Owners know that learning matters and is the key to survival, recovery and future growth.  What are the factors that influence a Practice’s need for providing training/career development?

  • Work environment and workflow changes.
  • The need for different types of jobs.
  • Advancements in technology.
  • Limited opportunity for advancement without certain skills.
  • Organizational philosophy and culture.

Aligning training and career development plans with the strategic goals of the organization is a win-win for all concerned.  A career development path provides employees with an ongoing mechanism to enhance their skills and knowledge, which leads to mastering their jobs and enhancing professional development. Creating a career development path increases employee engagement (a critical driver of business success) and has a direct impact on the entire Practice by improving morale, job/career satisfaction, motivation, retention, productivity, and responsiveness in meeting the Practice’s short term, as well as, long term business objectives. All of these factors have a positive impact on the Practice’s bottom line.

Do you know what really motivates today’s employees?  The top three internal motivators that provide deep personal satisfaction are as follows:

  • Autonomy – the amount of control and discretion in how the work is performed (focus is on the outcomes/results, not the process; decision making)
  • Mastery – to become more efficient and effective at performing a task (the opportunity to learn; teach and educate)
  • Purpose –  the desire to support something larger than ourselves (achieving personal goals, your ‘passion’ in life)

How would you rate job satisfaction at your Practice? Do your employees experience enjoyment as a result of performing the work itself?  Would the following top drivers for job satisfaction be available within your organization?

  • Opportunities to apply one’s talents?
  • Opportunities to succeed?
  • Opportunities to learn?

An additional benefit of investing in training and career development reinforces to your employees that the Practice is concerned with their well-being by providing an avenue to reach individual, personal career goals while growing the Practice.

You may have been thinking about this value proposition of investing in training/career development for your employees and your Practice and wondering what major elements need to be addressed. When framing the dimensions of creating training and career development plans, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Review the Practice’s functional organization chart in support of your mission statement and goals.
    • Analyze the needs of the Practice – do you have the right skill sets in the right positions to advance and sustain your business?
    • Do your employees have the requirements to meet the challenges or are there gaps in their skill levels to perform current or future positions?
    • Are you developing high potential (‘A’ players) employees for your bench strength succession planning?
  • Determine the employee development budget.
    • Plan a realistic budget in which you use internal resources, such as cross-training or web based training (lower costs, convenience).
    • Evaluate the need for specialized training and its impact on the bottom line.
    • Don’t forget competency training that does not necessarily involve technical skills.
  • Create a career development plan for the employee with information obtained in active, participatory discussions with the employee in line with the needs of the Practice.
    • Prepare large but attainable goals with established timeframes to meet the goals.
    • Establish the resources that will be needed in order to reach the goals.
    • Consider impact on staffing so that employees have the opportunity to receive the training/education (don’t plan empty actions).
    • Link the goals to the employee’s performance appraisal (essential component of performance reviews is employee development).
    • Consistently encourage employees to achieve and demonstrate established goals (give him/her the opportunity to use the new skill set).
  • Determine the types of tools/resources that could be used for development purposes (be creative).
    • On the job training.
    • Certification training.
    • E-learning/online training, webcasts.
    • CE, Seminars.
    • Cross-training, lunch & learns, knowledge sharing.
    • Mentoring.
    • Job rotation.
    • Internships, externships.
  • Monitor the employee’s performance in order to evaluate and provide feedback on knowledge gain and skill mastery.
    • Supervisors/Managers are accountable for planning/supporting the employee’s need for time off and the use of other avenues to assist the employee in achieving individual goals as well as the Practice’s goals.

Training and career development are strategic drivers for your Practices’ growth. Think about it as a positive, joint venture. The Practice reaps the benefit of an enhanced expertise that was not in place before and which allows the operations to function more efficiently. At the same time, the employee has satisfied an internal motivator.

When Dream Team Employees Reach Pay Caps: Three Strategies to Use

Originally Published in Today’s Veterinary Business, March 2018

At your practice, let’s say you have the veterinary nurse of your dreams. Not only is she wonderful with the animals brought to the practice, she is compassionate with their owners. She communicates clearly with your clients; is highly experienced in necessary skills; is always on time; is willing to do her share and more; and avoids gossip, among numerous other positive traits. She is, without a doubt, a star-level veterinary nurse, one you’re extremely lucky to have on your team.

The problem? She is already receiving the maximum pay allowable in her range, according to your practice standards – and a nearby corporate practice is known for wooing away top talent. A cost of living increase is due soon, but that’s not going to make a significant difference in her pay. You may not have this exact same situation at your practice, but practices often face challenges that are very similar. If your practice is, what can you do?

Here are three possibilities, ones you can mix and match for your unique practice needs.

Strategy One: Double-check the Current Market

When is the last time you checked to see the going pay rate for, in this example, veterinary nurses? If it’s a been a while, it’s likely you’ll need to review the pay ranges you’re offering. As a starting point, review this chart of hourly pay amounts being offered in small animal companion practices, according to current key indicators. This is not an all-inclusive list. Rather, it’s step one to help you determine if your practice is on target with pay ranges or if you’ll need to consider some revisions.

Job Title Starting Hourly Compensation: Median Starting Hourly Compensation: 75th Percentile
Hospital Administrator $29.65 $35.10
Practice Manager $21.65 $22.80
Receptionist $12.00 $13.00
Credentialed Technician $15.00 $16.00
Veterinary Assistant $11.50 $12.50

 

How closely does your pay structure align with these figures? Where you live in the United States will likely affect the local rates paid, but this chart is a start. Is it possible to extend the upper range of your compensation rates to keep dream employees at your practice? Because the economy has remained strong for a while, the reality is that you may continue to lose your top talent if you can’t find ways to compensate them appropriately, and this unfortunate fact will continue to be true until the job market tightens. And, let’s face it. Your best employees will likely continue to find higher-paying opportunities, no matter the economic situation.

If you can’t offer a higher pay rate to a star employee, how you explain salary caps is crucial in your attempts to keep that employee at your practice, so be prepared to sit down and have an honest talk about your practice policies and budgets.

Also, be creative. Can you offer a one-time bonus to fill the gaps as you consider strategies two and three provided in this article? Can you formulate incentive pay structures for your team? This will help your star employees to add to their paychecks, and other employees may also become motivated by these incentives. Win/win!

Strategy Two: Career Opportunities

If you can’t offer more money for the person’s current job, consider what promotion opportunities exist for this employee within your practice and then talk to him or her about the possibilities. How does your star feel about the responsibilities involved in a new position? If the promotion will require more education and/or training, can you help to provide that – or at least do all you can provide a conducive work environment for this transition to happen?

Here, though, is an important caution. Let’s say a supervisory position is open at your practice and it would allow you to pay a star employee more than he or she is currently making. It’s easy to become enthusiastic about the idea of promoting this employee, but it’s also crucial to take your time throughout the promotion process for multiple reasons, including these two:

  1. You need to follow your practice’s standard policies and procedures each and every time you hire or promote.
  2. This new promotion may or may not fit your employee’s strengths. If it doesn’t, then not only have you promoted the wrong person, you’ve also taken a star team member out of the position where he or she was shining.

Whether you can or can’t employ strategies one and/or two in your practice, all practices should consider strategy number three.

Strategy Three: Creative Perks

What perks can you offer your employees? One of the most in-demand perks today is more flexible scheduling. And, while you may not be able to offer telecommuting to most of your employees, it may make all the difference in the world to your star employee if you re-arrange schedules so that he or she will have the flexibility to come in to work 30 minutes later in the morning – which allows him or her to see his or her children safely off to school. And/or, you can help to ensure that this employee can always take a lunch break when it’s time to pick up his or her children. In the relatively rare instances when telecommuting can work with a veterinary practice employee, this will likely be a treasured perk.

Caution: make sure you offer perks to all employees in a fair way. Although you do not need to offer the exact same perks to every employee, it’s crucial that you ensure you aren’t discriminating based on race or gender, as just one example. And, even if you aren’t providing perks in a discriminatory way, to keep office morale at a quality level, you also need to make sure you aren’t acting in a way that can reasonably be perceived as unfair. If you are unsure about what is legal, consult your attorney. If you’re unsure about what may cause other employees to lose heart, prioritize coming up with creative perks in the best way for your entire practice, including but not limited to your best employees.

What professional development perks can you offer? How can you help employees who take you up on bettering themselves and improving their skills to juggle all their demands? How can you relax dress codes to a degree that allows your employees flexibility while still keeping a professional look to your practice? In which instances can you allow employees to help choose the technology they will use at work?

When you ask your employees what perks are most important to them, how do they respond?

More about the Pay Plateau

Rather than waiting until a situation arises in which a top performer reaches his or her pay plateau, create a policy on how the situation will be handled and know what conversations you’ll need to have with that employee. How much information will you share about practice financials to help him or her understand why pay plateaus exist where they do?

Know ahead of time what options you can offer that employee (more flexible scheduling, incentive pay and the like), and be aware of those you should avoid. As in virtually every challenge, well thought-out policies and preparation are key.

Click Here for Link to the article Today’s Veterinary Business: https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/put-on-your-thinking-cap/

Recordkeeping: Employee Personnel Files and Records ©

Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.

www.veterinarybusinessadvisors.com

The legal requirements for employer recordkeeping and the retention of employee files are not as straightforward as your average business owner would hope. In fact, sorting through the complex and varied requirements can be a daunting task. Here’s why: recordkeeping obligations stem from a number of federal and state laws that vary based on the industry, location, and number of employees. To confuse things even further, similar records are often required by more than one law with varying retention requirements.

To simplify the recordkeeping process, one must consider the four basic elements of legal requirements: create, maintain, protect, and destroy. Once these elements are understood in the context of recordkeeping, it will be easier to approach the process methodically.

Create:

Employers should begin by establishing policies and procedures for recordkeeping in their operations manual, ensuring that they comply with all state and federal employee privacy laws. The manual should define what files are created, how long they should be stored, and who has access to them.

An employee’s personnel file should contain a clear record of his or her employment history. It should provide insight into the individual’s work history, benefits history, prior work performance, training, career development, and other documented employment-related facts. The specific layout of these files is up to the employer as long as it fulfills applicable laws. The following records should be stored in each personnel file:

  • Employment application, offer letter, and resume
  • Job description, and handbook acknowledgements
  • Hiring, plus records of promotion/transfers, rates of pay, and other forms of compensation
  • Training/education documentation
  • Letters of recognition
  • Performance evaluations
  • Disciplinary and demotion notices
  • College transcripts, and background screening
  • Test documents used to make employment decision
  • Termination records, and exit interviews

As already mentioned, it is important to determine who has access to employee files. Some people will have access to the entire file, while others may only have limited access; some auditors, for example, may have access to some portions of each file but not to others. It is therefore recommended that you keep sub-files within employee files to distinguish what is permitted for certain people to review and what is not. The following records should be included in the sub-file:

  • Medical files; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require employers to keep all medical records separate and many states also have privacy laws to protect employees
  • Payroll files to maintain time keeping records, garnishments, and wage deductions
  • Equal Employment Opportunity information and investigations to minimize claims of discrimination
  • Immigration (I-9) forms to reduce the opportunity for an auditor to pursue and investigate information unrelated to the audit at hand
  • Safety training records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect the employer from an auditor pursuing and investigating information unrelated to the audit at hand

Maintain:

Records retention encompasses three components: what, how long, and how. These are dictated by federal and state laws. Nevertheless, there is considerable debate on record retention, so it is recommended that management err on the side of caution and base record retention upon risk tolerance and available resources. In other words, do as much as you can to minimize risk (without proper records, employers may be vulnerable to unfounded claims by former employees) with the resources available. The following list is the recommended retention period for each type of record:

Records                                                                                  Retention Period (Years)

  • All HR-related records 6
  • Any record to support gender pay difference 3
  • Payroll records 3
  • IRS tax-related payroll info             4
  • FMLA/USERRA 3 (after termination)
  • I-9             3 (after hire) OR

1 (after termination)

  • Pension & welfare plan documents             6
  • OSHA logs & summary of recordable injuries 5
  • Employee exposure to toxic substances, including MSDS 30
  • Employee workers compensation claims 30+
  • Resumes & applications 1-2
  • Polygraph test results             3

It is important to take the time to double check that personnel files and records are up to date and stored accurately as practice liability issues can result from improper employment record maintenance procedures. Fortunately, technological advances have greatly facilitated the maintenance of record keeping and personnel files, and records can now be stored on paper or in digital format. No matter which method you choose, the records must be maintained in a reasonable order, in a safe and accessible place. Digital recordkeeping systems must have controls in place to ensure the integrity, accuracy, authenticity, and reliability of the records. They also must be able to be converted into a readable paper copy, if necessary.

Protect:

Employment records are confidential. Security procedures should therefore be in compliance with all relevant current federal and state laws. Access must be limited to the human resource department and other personnel with a need to know. This will apply to personnel files, payroll, and medical records. Auditors and investigating agencies may also be allowed access to data, but only limited to the scope of the audit; employers should be aware that many states have laws regulating employees’ access to their personnel files.

Destroy:

Any time that records containing personal information need to be destroyed, acceptable methods include the following: shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying personal information to make it unreadable or indecipherable. Employers should obtain a lawyer’s advice on establishing a destruction schedule to limit liability.

Conclusion

Recordkeeping of employee records may seem like a daunting task at first, but it can be managed by taking a systematic approach. Employers should begin by establishing a set of procedures that indicates the necessary documents and timeframe on storage. If there is a question about whether or not to retain a document, always err on the side of caution. The documents should be periodically audited to make sure they are up to date and stored accurately. Finally, the documents must be destroyed in an appropriate manner to ensure confidentiality.

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 2013 SHRM Learning System, Module 2: Workforce Planning and Employment, Section 2-12, 2:282-292, 2013.

Increasing Employee Motivation

One of the greatest challenges involved in operating a successful veterinary practice is keeping staff motivated. It takes more than a paycheck, and instead requires motivated leaders and a hospital that provides training, rewards, and career development opportunities to its employees.

Selecting and hiring employees compatible with the practice culture and owner philosophy, while beyond the scope of this article, are key to creating a motivated health care team. But having motivated employees in your practice takes more than hiring the right people. In fact, the main reason employees are unmotivated is not because they don’t have the “right” attitude, but because employers have failed to create a motivational work environment.

Understanding Motivational Theory

In order to create this environment, one must first understand the basics of motivational theory. Per Abraham Maslow, a founder of “motivational theory,” there is a hierarchy of needs, starting with the most basic physiological needs and progressing to more sophisticated needs. These include:

  • Physiological—survival needs like shelter, food, and water
  • Safety—environment free of fear
  • Social—interaction with other people and having friends
  • Esteem—being well regarded by other people and appreciated
  • Self-actualization—realizing one’s potential.

 Employers cannot inspire employees effectively if they don’t know their primary needs. For example, rewarding an employee with a plaque “for a job well done” when she has insufficient income to provide for her family will be an ineffective motivator.

Information about employees’ needs can be obtained directly by asking them “what motivates you,” or indirectly by asking them about their short- and long term personal, professional, and financial goals (see Nonfinancial Incentives, below).

Building an Incentive Program

Once employers understand what motivates employees, they can create a work environment that meets their basic employment needs and uses incentives to reward desirable work behavior. Implementation of a reward program requires that:

  1. Employers communicate the organization’s goals and expectations to their employees
  2. Employees understand their respective roles and responsibilities in achieving the organization’s goals
  3. Each employee understands how the reward is earned.

For employers to communicate the organization’s goals and expectations to their employees, they must develop short- and long-term plans for the business and create a mission statement for the hospital.  The short- and long-term plans should:

  1. Establish financial goals
  2. Consider growth of the practice and how the facility and staff will expand accordingly
  3. Develop a marketing strategy
  4. Determine the type of veterinary care and products to be offered
  5. Develop and periodically review a strategic plan.

In establishing a mission statement, owners must consider the unique and specific attributes of their veterinary practice. An example of a mission statement would be: To provide comprehensive, high quality veterinary care, with emphasis on exceptional customer service and patient care, while providing owners and employees with desirable, fulfilling, and financially rewarding employment.

Next, employees should be provided with specific job descriptions and pay scales for each position. Evaluations should be conducted by the employer at least once annually and two to three times during the first year of employment. During the evaluation, employees should be told what they do well and areas that need improvement, as well as the time frame in which the improvements are expected. New challenges and responsibilities also should be identified, and employers should be prepared to provide additional training to assist employees in their professional growth.

All of this must be in place before implementing a reward program, which should be measurable and attainable. Contrary to what most employers think, financial rewards are not always the best motivators. Bob Nelson, author of numerous books on employee motivation, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, has consistently found that long-term employees stay with employers because they are recognized for a job well done and appreciated as significant contributors to the success of the business.

In Summary

To have a motivated health care team, employers must know what kind of business they want and who they want to be to their clients. Once the successful practice is envisioned through a mission statement, employers must hire employees with attitudes that are consistent with that vision and communicate expectations to employees through the use of specific job descriptions and providing regular feedback.  By instituting reward programs that are measurable, attainable, and tailored to the employees’ needs, employers can maximize employee enthusiasm and secure long term loyalty.

Special thanks to James Wilson, DVM, of Priority Veterinary Consultants (www.pvmc.net) and Shawn G. McVey, MA, MSW, of Eye Care for Animals (smcvey@eyeclinicforanimals.com) for their gracious contributions to this article.

 

Modern Mentoring: How Mentoring Has Evolved and 7 Keys to a Good Program

Originally Published in Today’s Veterinary Business October 2018

Although mentoring is not a new concept in the workplace, modern partnerships are not necessarily like those in the past. According to HR Magazine, formal mentoring relationships in previous eras would have typically lasted at least a year. Informal ones? They could last a decade. In today’s workforce, though, these relationships are often shorter and more specialty-oriented than before.

Because of this shortened timeframe and accelerated pace, lines between mentoring and coaching can be blurred. Increasingly, mentors are no longer necessarily higher on a company’s organizational chart. In fact, reverse-mentoring now exists. In reverse-mentoring situations, newer staff members are teaching older, more experienced ones about new technology, as just one example. As one scenario, a Millennial employee may be teaching her Baby Boomer supervisor about how to effectively use social media and crowdsourcing, while also sharing insights into new ways of thinking about business.

According to a survey taken by the Association for Talent Development in 2017, 29 percent of organizations have a formal program in place for mentoring, with 37 percent of them having an informal one. Mentoring opportunities are also available through professional organizations, either online or in person.

A skilled mentor can help the mentee become his or her best possible self. This happens when a mentor takes the time to really understand the person he or she is mentoring, including where the person is in a career path – and where he or she wants to go, career-wise. Once this is discerned, then each of the actions by the mentors should help the mentees participate in the types of behaviors that allow them to become aligned with their own best selves.

Now, here are seven keys to creating the best possible mentor/mentee relationship.

Key #1 Be very clear about the goals established for the mentoring program.

Are there specific job-related skills that the mentee needs to gain? If so, what are they? Is the mentor guiding someone to an understanding of a practice’s culture? Perhaps the mentee worked for a private practice that was recently bought out by a corporate one, and the mentor is serving as a guide and sounding board to an employee during a transition period. Whatever the goals are, make sure they are clearly defined and understood by all involved parties.

Key #2 Make sure the two participants are well matched.

Synergy and mutual commitment fuel mentoring relationships, so it’s crucial to put the right pairs together. As mentioned above, mentoring is no longer limited to an older and/or more experienced person at the practice mentoring someone younger and/or newer. The goal of this evolving process is to have one member of the team fill in gaps of the skills and/or experiences of another employee, so form your pairings for that purpose. It can be tempting to put together people because they’re so much alike that they’re sure to get along. They probably will get along, but that alone doesn’t fulfill the purpose of mentoring. Remember: fill in experience and skillsets through mentoring opportunities at your practice.

Key #3 Mentoring usually takes significant time and energy, so don’t expect quick results.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If a Millennial is paired up with a Baby Boomer to teach the use of Instagram, this can all come together rapidly. If, though, that same Millennial is paired up with that same Baby Boomer to help transition the mentee to a telecommuting role at the practice, this can take time and energy for mindsets to evolve.

Key #4 Multiple mentors sometimes make sense.

Some companies pair up a mentee with a primary mentor and are then open to people having numerous more informal mentors to boost the diversity of the learning experience. It can be very helpful, even enlightening, to have mentors from different demographics – whether that’s age, gender or something else. Being exposed to different points of view from thoughtful members of the practice can be quite beneficial.

Key #5 Mentors should provide guidance rather than setting strict requirements.

Your practice will create an overall structure for its mentorship program and, yes, participants should follow the structure you set. But, a mentor is not there to enforce rules or to lecture. Rather, a quality mentor may spend more time asking questions and listening to answers than speaking, offering advice rather than rock-solid answers. Mentees should be encouraged to listen closely to what a mentor has to say and then carefully evaluate how it fits into his or her life and career path.

Key #6 Mentees should prepare and ask questions.

The best mentoring relationships are two-way streets, with the mentee being an active partner in the relationship. Passive listening will only go so far in helping a mentee develop skills and gain knowledge. Instead, engaged mentees should share what has been helpful, what gaps exist in his or her knowledge base and skill sets, and so forth. In a sense, being mentored should also empower the mentee to pass on knowledge to the next person in the practice who needs assistance.

Key #7 Effective mentoring focuses on relationship development.

Near the beginning of this article, we shared how modern mentoring resembles coaching, at least more so than in the past. But, at its core, mentoring has been and should remain relationship-oriented. The mentee should feel safe and nurtured as he or she learns professional skills through mentoring. Although this knowledge will likely enhance the mentee’s ability to perform tasks, mentoring is not as task-oriented as coaching.

Mentoring should help employees at your practice become more self-confident and able to juggle his or her work/life balance. While coaching can be performance-driven, mentoring focuses on developing the employee, both to improve his or her skills and knowledge today and to prepare him or her better for the future.

Starting a Mentoring Program at Your Practice

Be very clear about what you want to achieve through this program and have a plan in place to measure its effectiveness. Determine who can participate, both as mentors and as mentees. Can someone, for example, volunteer or will you select them? Decide how formal or informal the program will be, how often you expect partners to meet and so forth. Explain the program to your team, adding specifics to the employee manual, and strategically pair up mentors and mentees. Invest enough resources to allow the program to be successful, be available to mentors if they need guidance, and use this program to develop your team in a way that dovetails with practice goals and dreams.

Link to the article on Today’s Veterinary Business: https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/modern-mentoring/