Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is co-owner of Waltz Animal Clinic in Madison, Indiana, and a former Charleston, South Carolina, practice manager. She has spent nearly her entire life in the industry, earning her keep in her parents’ clinic before advancing into the world of veterinary management. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and is a certified veterinary practice manager.Read Articles Written by Abby Suiter
My attitude and energy toward managing employees can ebb and flow as quickly as the tides, depending on the degree of heat I might be feeling from the perpetual daily fires. At my worst, I am angered by apathy or pettiness and wonder why people can’t just show up, do their jobs and get along. However, experiencing seasons or even brief moments of synergistic harmony within the team reminds me how fruitful it can be to fully invest in our human resources.
Fully investing, however, requires time, patience, awareness and a boldness to face the problems that are stirring and then pour into our employees the encouragement and direction they need to perform at their best. For so many of us, we are the sole employee of our hospital’s human resources department, and that role is only one of the many we play.
So, the question becomes: How do we consistently cultivate top-performing employees without having to drown in paperwork and follow-up meetings?
Many management books have been written on employee engagement and empowerment. I believe that the framework proposed by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson in their best-seller, “The One Minute Manager,” proves useful in the traditional supervisory setups often established in a veterinary practice. I find that using their tactics of one-minute goals — praisings and reprimands (or redirections, as now defined in their recent work, “The New One Minute Manager) — can provide needed guidance and foster an open dialog between management and the support team.
Formal Review: Goal Setting
A great place to start the one-minute manager process is during a formal annual review. Instead of a traditional top-down approach during which the employee suffers through a list of all the things he failed at throughout the past year as he waits to hear if he got a pay raise, consider letting the employee lead. Create a culture that combats complacency by inviting the employee to come to the meeting prepared with generalizations of what he does well and what he needs to improve upon, and ask him to list specific goals he would like to work on. Find out what resources he needs to accomplish the goals, discuss the possible roadblocks and agree on a goal timeline.
Let the employee start the discussion, and limit management input to filling in any gaps or providing needed direction. A great resource is the reference “Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals,” which provides a language to better illustrate what you are looking for when you want an employee to work on, for example, his “communication” or “initiative.”
I feel strongly that a scheduled performance review is not the time to give raises, as they tend to become an expectation and diminish the performance content discussed. I believe raises should be calculated based on the budget and distributed as merited, not because an anniversary date has been met. With goal setting in mind, rewarding an agreed-upon and completed achievement with a promised raise or bonus creates accountability and motivation to take performance to the next level.
The output from a formal performance review should include a one-page synopsis of the clear and concise objectives discussed that can be revisited (in one minute’s time) to ensure that employees and management remain on the same page. Consider having the employee write the summary to both lessen the administrative work for management and to create additional buy-in from the employee.
Performance Chats: Praise and Redirect
The next two “one-minute” steps are crucial in shaping the habits and behaviors we hope for employees to exhibit.
Make an effort to routinely catch your employees doing something right: be specific and timely, verbalize how it makes you feel, and encourage more of the same. Noticing and praising exemplary efforts helps to raise the bar for expectations. Likewise, recognizing an employee’s attempt at success in the process of achieving a goal or learning a new skill can motivate continued improvement.
When reprimands or redirections are needed, the feedback should be given immediately and address one issue at a time for maximum impact. Similar to praise, the critique should include exactly what was done incorrectly, how it made you feel — follow with an awkward pause to allow the information to sink in — reinforce that the employee is capable, liked and valued, and outline steps for corrective action. It is important to phrase the criticism toward the work that was done and not personally on the doer.
At first read, this sensitive approach to negative feedback feels like something the management workforce would respond to with, “Ugh! Millennials!” It is interesting to note, however, that “The One Minute Manager” was first published in 1980, before millennials were even born. For me, this reinforces the fact that choosing to sharpen our emotional intelligence to most effectively understand and communicate with employees goes beyond the boundaries of generational stereotypes; it’s the human condition.
Controlling the Workload
The process of goal setting, praising and redirecting is fairly straightforward. As I said before, the challenge is finding the time and energy to get it done consistently. I find that the majority of the performance reviews and chats I accomplish throughout the year are with the top and bottom employees. However, empowering and motivating the middle group can create a larger pool of top performers who will drive your practice to the next level.
Leveraging your team and technology to accomplish regular performance chats and reviews can help reduce the workload on management. To keep eyes and ears on everyday happenings, I find it useful to utilize supervisors for the various teams in our office. Reasonably, I can expect each supervisor to effectively monitor and coach from five to 10 employees, depending on how much training and oversight is required.
To maintain communication with supervisors and avoid endless meetings, I like to keep a Google Doc on each employee and share it with the supervisor. We use these real-time documents to keep employee notes, both positive and negative, as fly-by discussions happen. These informal notes are particularly helpful when a formal review is due or when a timeline or frequency of occurrence needs to be established. They can quickly be reformatted and stored as an official part of a personnel file.
Recognize the Positives
Do you have trouble remembering to get up from your desk and catch employees doing something right? Outsource some positive reinforcement with a kudos box. Our hospital’s box sits in the break room and is available for all employees to jot down thank-you’s to their co-workers as they witness someone going above and beyond for each other, a client, a patient, the business or something personal. At the end of each monthly team meeting, we read each kudo aloud and draw one name out of the box for a prize. This is an opportunity to consistently end the meeting on a positive, team-bonding note.
Whatever the method, finding a way to commit to cultivating your team will always prove to be a valuable investment. Take a moment to put down your fire extinguisher and prioritize the work that needs to be done to promote a team of synergistic top performers.