Staff Training: Teaching, Motivating and Developing Your Team

In the past, some companies offered staff training at two times only: when someone was new to the company and when a problem arose that they wanted to correct. The value of training is so much greater than orientation and problem solving, and today’s companies are more likely to utilize a form of ongoing education, allowing practices to build much more motivated, educated and proactive teams.

The most effective trainings are ones that truly engage your employees, so the quality of what you offer and the topics you choose are of prime importance. It’s also recommended to make a comprehensive, well developed training program, consistently provided, rather than sporadically offering trainings when someone comes up with an idea.

This article will share ways to create a staff training program that truly adds value to your practice and genuinely teaches, motivates and develops your team.

Orientation Training

This is a crucial element of your overall training program because this is when you can share policies and procedures with your new employee; have him or her receive and sign for an employee manual; discuss company culture with your new hire; answer any questions he or she might have; and so much more.

This is the single best time to effectively onboard your new team member, aligning him or her to your practice’s goals and values. Plus, as you consistently onboard each new employee in the same way, this can significantly help in creating a shared team vision, and can go a long way in preventing a conflict of significance from building.

This is also when you can discuss job responsibilities and timelines, along with who reports to whom, where to go for help, and so forth. If you’re going to pair your new employee with a mentor with more experience at your practice, this would be a good time to introduce them and set goals. At your orientation training, you can also share details about your ongoing training program for practice employees.

Ongoing Training Programs

Next, continuing education can be a combination of the following:

  • reviews of the policies and procedures of your practice; this could be, for example, an annual review of the entire employee handbook or reviews of specific sections of it at select times of the year
  • training in new technologies such as your practice software, or with new equipment used to care for animals
  • seminars on topics like active listening, conflict resolution, sexual harassment prevention, leadership development, effective communication, diversity, customer engagement, and productivity

In some instances, members of your practice could lead the training. Other times, bringing in an expert who doesn’t work at the practice can add variety and a valuable outside perspective. Sometimes, this expert could be from another veterinary practice, and he or she can share how his or her workplace successfully handles an aspect of work. Or, the person might not be from the veterinary industry, at all; rather, he or she may be in expert in social media strategies, ones that can be applicable to growing your practice.

As you plan and schedule these trainings, it can be helpful to determine whether you are focusing on enhancing the technical skills of team members or assisting in their personal development—or some of both. The advantage of a combination approach is that your employees will become more educated while also improving upon their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; employees with this range of abilities are more likely to come up with creative solutions to challenges and forward new ideas to consider.

Each practice will, to some degree, have differing needs and goals. As just one example, if employees in your practice are already polished in their writing skills, it would be less likely that you would focus on business writing trainings, whereas, another practice may have employees who need writing enhancement. Conversely, the other practice may have employees who are quite technologically-savvy, while perhaps some of your employees could use supplementary training in software use. Determine what skill gaps exist and fill them.

It can help to partner with relevant associations and community organizations with resources that provide what you’re looking for in employee training. Also, consider asking your employees what they’d like to see in educational opportunities at your practice. You can do an anonymous survey or hold a meeting to discuss possibilities.

You might decide to hold your trainings once a month, perhaps shorter lunch-and-learn sessions, or as breakfast meetings. It’s often better to have shorter trainings more often, rather than longer trainings every once in a while. Do your best to minimize distractions during the trainings so that employees can focus on learning, although this isn’t always possible at a veterinary hospital. There could be a dog needing emergency surgery that arrives in the middle of your lunchtime meeting, but make it a goal to allow employees to truly focus on training materials.

Also, make it fun! Nobody wants to hear lectures that drone on and on, so incorporate movement and interaction, as it makes sense. What about role playing? Turning certain topics into games? Not every single topic will lend itself to a light approach, but it’s surprising how many really can.

Using the Power of Technology

Consider also mixing in some computer-based trainings. For example, there could be a valuable conference going on that was too expensive or too far away for your employees to attend, but you may be able to access it livestreamed, either free or for an affordable fee. Other times, you can buy video recordings of these trainings and use them to educate your employees.

With today’s technology, it’s much easier and cost effective than it used to be to create your own customized trainings. Perhaps you could create an orientation video for new employees that specifically targets your practices policies, work culture, and benefits. You could also highlight the special expertise of the veterinarians, managers or other employees at your practice. Your videos may even become in demand by other practices in need of your knowledge and experience.

Pay attention to how well online trainings work for your employees. Some people learn well from computer learning while others do much better when sitting face-to-face with a teacher. Over time, you’ll discover what mixture works best for your practice.

After a Training Ends

Training shouldn’t take place in a vacuum. It won’t do your practice any good if you provide an excellent training on something such as handling especially fearful animals—and then, because you’re busy, not use the new ideas for calming them down due to time constraints. If something is important enough to become part of a staff training, then it should be important enough to incorporate into your work routines. Managers should be a role model for these behaviors.

Get feedback about trainings from your employees. You could ask them to fill out a brief survey after each session, while their memories are still fresh; and when you’re planning the next year’s trainings, you could ask employees to rate which ones have been the most helpful over the past year. Also, consider asking your skilled employees to lead your trainings.

The Bottom Line

As you enhance the skills, both hard and soft, of your veterinary team, you’ll likely improve the efficiency of your practice, which can boost your profits. More profitable practices can pay their employees a higher wage and offer better benefits. So, it would be accurate to say that training your staff can both grow your practice and serve as a recruitment and retention tool.

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/

Talent Acquisition Finding and Retaining the Right Person for Your Practice

It has been said many times that employees are our most valuable assets. Without a well-trained, highly motivated staff, it will be difficult for any Practice to achieve its strategic vision and performance goals. Since every Practice will need to hire additional staff at some point, the decision to hire a new employee should not be taken lightly or without careful Talent Acquisition planning. The key to any Talent Acquisition effort is to devise and implement a strategy that will yield the greatest opportunity to attract talent and retain them.

Defining the Job
Every recruitment effort should incorporate strategies to address sourcing, screening, interviewing and selection. Before deciding where, when and how to advertise for a job opening, it is critical to confirm the need for the job still exists. Every Practice needs to accomplish certain basic functions, including reception, patient examination, inventory management, client billing, etc. When a Practice is just starting out, many of these responsibilities are combined into one or more positions. Team members often are responsible for doing anything and everything needed to help run the Practice and job descriptions should reflect this broad array of duties. As a Practice grows and evolves, management needs to analyze and improve the Practice’s organizational structure. Job descriptions will help reveal whether all Practice responsibilities are adequately covered and where responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.

As a result, a job description should be reviewed annually to ensure it includes and clarifies information regarding the general and strategic nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties and the employee characteristics or competencies needed by the person who will be required to fulfill the job requirements. Knowing these needed attributes will help ensure a Practice has the best possible chance of finding the right individual. In addition, an accurate job description will ensure interested candidates are provided a clear and concise picture of what the job entails and enables the potential employee to assess the relative importance of everything he/she is accountable for, providing a sense of where the job fits in to the Practice as a whole and how the position supports the Practice’s overall goals. If a job description does not exist for the position you are looking to fill, this is the ideal time to create it.

Determining Where to Look
Once your job description is completed, you are ready to craft a job posting that dazzles an ideal candidate by highlighting your Practice’s strengths and the position’s attractiveness. Describe your Practice’s culture, reputation, growth, benefits package, advancement opportunities and even location. Think of your job descriptions and job postings as advertising copy that you have created as an opportunity to highlight what is great about your Practice and to pull in your next high achiever.

Once you have clearly identified what position you are looking to fill, the next step is determining the best places to look. There are various resources that can help you “cast a wider net” about your job opening. The decision of where and how to recruit should be based on an assessment of how difficult you think it will be to find a sufficient number of qualified candidates and how much time, effort and money you are willing to commit to the recruiting process. While some sources are free or relatively inexpensive, others are very costly and may require signing an agreement with outside consultants to pay a percentage of the first year annual salary of the individual you ultimately hire. Be creative in your sourcing because you never know where your next ideal candidate will be present.

Conducting the Interview
The interview provides the hiring manager a perfect opportunity to identify the applicant(s) best qualified and best suited for the Practice. If conducted properly, it offers a valuable opportunity to assess how an applicant will perform the essential functions of the job and whether s/he will fit into the culture of the Practice. However, if handled incorrectly or unprofessionally, you risk alienating a candidate to whom you may want to issue a job offer. To ensure the interview process runs smoothly and without misstep, it is advisable to assign responsibility to one person to act as “gatekeeper” of the recruitment process.

In preparing for the interview, an applicant checklist should be developed to ensure all necessary information and documents have been obtained and distributed to persons involved in the interview and selection process (e.g. job description, application, resume, etc…). Prior to the interview, train the employees involved in the process regarding what questions are and are not permissible (all questions should be job related), interviewing techniques (ask broad, open-ended questions that require an applicant to process what is being asked and develop an appropriate response), behavioral interviewing (questions eliciting responses regarding goals, motivation, and responses to specific situations are valuable in determining if your Practice’s culture and organization structure offer opportunities that match those of the applicant) and ensure all team members know what skills, knowledge and competencies they will be looking for in the applicants. Asking the wrong questions, or asking the right questions in the wrong manner, can result in serious legal problems for a Practice. Only ask questions that will provide information about the person’s ability to do the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Effective interviewers listen more than they talk. Remember, your goal in the interview is to learn as much as you can about the applicant. Be sure to control the pace and flow of the conversation. Once the interview is completed, be sure to thank the applicant for coming to the interview, explain that you are still in the interviewing phase, and inform the applicant that you hope to be making a decision within the next few days/weeks.

Making the Offer
Now that you have completed the interview process and determined whom you want to select, it is time to decide how to extend the job offer. Here, too, there are guidelines you should follow to ensure the entire recruitment process does not fail because you did not act swiftly or decisively enough in the eyes of your chosen candidate. To avoid losing the “right person”, make the offer as soon as possible after the final job interview.

Admittedly, you don’t want to rush the interview process and risk hiring the wrong person. However, the individual you ultimately select may also be actively interviewing with other practices and might receive another offer while you deliberate. By making the offer as soon as possible, you increase your chances of hiring the person you want. Considering you may only have one opportunity to offer the job to that individual, be sure to reemphasize all the benefits of working for your Practice. This is the ideal time to review salary and benefits, paid time off, paid (or unpaid) CE, personal pet care benefits, and any other terms and conditions of employment.

If your Practice includes pre-employment drug screening and background screening as a routine part of the employment process, this testing will need to be done AFTER a contingent job offer of employment has been made. Depending on the level of the job being offered, you may wish to have a formal employment agreement developed by an employment attorney who is knowledgeable about the veterinary industry.

The final step in the interview process entails notifying rejected applicants that they were not selected. This notification is normally accomplished by email or written letter. While there is no requirement for this notification, taking this action sends the message that your Practice respects all applicants and is committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. Furthermore, you may wish to reconsider a previously rejected applicant at some future date.

On-Boarding the New Hire
On-Boarding is the process by which a Practice acclimatizes its new employees. It is one of the keys for improving productivity, building loyalty and engagement, fostering a stronger team, and helping employees become successful early in their careers with the new Practice. Employee on-boarding includes the processes that allow new employees to learn about the structure, vision, mission, and values of the Practice as well as to complete new-employee paperwork relative to benefits and legal documents such as non-competes, at-will statements and employee handbooks. For some Practices, the employee on-boarding process consists of one or two days of activities; for others, this process may involve a series of activities spanning one or many months.

Veterinary Practices have learned that employee on-boarding is not merely a process for getting new employees to sign off on their new-hire paperwork, but a process that is essential to transitioning a new employee into your Practice. Studies have proven that employee engagement is partially determined by the new employee’s treatment and orientation during the first 30–90 days of employment. A solid employee on-boarding strategy will help build on that loyalty and help with retention and engagement issues throughout an employee’s tenure. The new employee will be anointed into the Practice’s team culture by understanding the Practice’s mission, vision, values and knowing how his/her job responsibilities and performance support the Practice’s overall goals. It is important to engage with recent new hires and ask open-ended questions to determine their level of satisfaction with the Practice to ensure success, improve productivity and ultimately, enhance retention.

In conclusion, Talent Acquisition is a process that requires planning and detailed execution, but when done correctly, the outcome will yield the greatest opportunity to attract and retain the high achiever, ‘A’ player talent for any job position within your Practice.

Writing a Job Description, Not Operating Instructions (Why do I need them?)

Drafting job descriptions requires time, effort and creativity. The focus needs to be on what the job requirements are to support your Practice’s current needs and long-term objectives. Without a job description, it is not possible for an individual to properly commit to or be held accountable for the position’s role and responsibilities. The tendency when having to create a job description is to under-estimate the strategic nature of the role, ignore the necessary competencies to perform the responsibilities and be too detailed with operating instructions (which should be in either a standard operating procedures or training manual).

Job descriptions are essential for recruitment, enable you to distinguish positions, delineate tasks and determine pay levels. Without them, your best efforts to staff, develop and evaluate performance are without direction. And your ability to defend against complaints regarding pay, performance, promotion and discrimination are disadvantaged.

Be bold, empower your employees to write their own job descriptions but not without first providing them in-depth training on:

  • What is a Job Description
    o Includes information regarding the general nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties, and the employee characteristics required to perform the job.
    • A duty is what the person in the job will actually do while qualifications are the skills, attributes, or credentials a person needs to perform each duty successfully (success criteria competencies – critical for recruiting). Clarify the actual duties and responsibilities before you start thinking about what special attributes or competencies will be needed by the person who will be fulfilling those responsibilities.
    o Focuses on outcomes and accountabilities and are used to manage performance. Have reasonable expectations, the job must be doable.
  • Value of Job Descriptions
    o Clarifies who is responsible for what within your Practice by defining relationships between individuals. By accomplishing this, job descriptions can be used to settle grievances, minimize conflicts, and improve communications.
    o Enables the employee to assess the relative importance of everything he/she is accountable for, provides a sense of where the job fits in to the Practice as a whole and how the position supports the Practice’s overall goals.
    o Provides information about the knowledge, training, education, and skills needed to perform each job. They prevent misunderstandings for employees by clarifying what they need to know, accomplish and prioritize regarding their jobs.
    o Helps management analyze and improve the Practice’s organizational structure. Reveals whether all Practice responsibilities are adequately covered and where responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.
    o Limits legal exposure to issues such as equal opportunity and discrimination laws.
  •  Job Analysis
    o A data-gathering process including examination/interpretation of the data to determine what the employee actually does on the job, the required qualifications needed to perform those duties and the context in which the work is performed
    o It is an evaluation of the job function, not the person doing the job.
    o Includes a thorough understanding of the essential functions of the job, a list of all duties and responsibilities, a percentage of time spent for each group of tasks, the job’s relative importance in comparison with other jobs, the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform the job, and the conditions under which the work is completed.
  •  Job Design
    o Communicates what to consider when focusing on job design and creates teamwork in a smart way, so employees want to be on that team and be thoughtful in assembling it. Considers how individuals react to their jobs by looking at social characteristics of work (such as, interdependence, frequent feedback, autonomy, a socially supportive work environment, communicating with people outside of the Practice, etc) to reap the benefits of greater job/work/organizational satisfaction, increased performance, less exhaustion/stress and reduced turnover intentions.
  • Compiles the data concisely using clear language and a standardized format
    o Documents essential functions of the position
    o At a strategic level, documents
    • Does what work (including review of the work of others).
    • Where.
    • When (or how often).
    • Why (the purpose or impact of the work).
    • How (it is accomplished).
  • Disclaimer
    o Indicates that the job description is not designed to cover or contain a comprehensive listing of activities, duties or responsibilities that are required of the employee.
  • Signature Line
    o Signatures validate the job description.
    o Employees understand the requirements, essential functions and duties of the position.

Annually, in tandem with your performance evaluation cycle, you should be reviewing your job descriptions for accuracy and updating them especially if the Practice is dynamic, going through some business transformation and roles/procedures are changing rapidly. It is more than just a static document and reference point. Job descriptions should be used for job postings, interviews, reasonable accommodation requests, compensation reviews for determining salary levels/pay grades/titles, performance appraisals and clarifying missions, as well as for career planning, training exercises and legal requirements for compliance purposes.

Once your job description is completed, you are ready to craft a job posting that dazzles an ideal candidate by highlighting your Practice’s strengths and the position’s attractiveness. Describe your Practice’s culture, reputation, growth, benefits package, advancement opportunities and even location. Write your job posting as a performance profile, informing candidates of expectations and what kind of attitude your want in a new hire as well.

Think of your job descriptions and job postings as advertising copy that you have created as an opportunity to highlight what is great about your Practice, to raise your Practice’s profile in the industry and to pull in your next high achiever.