Hire Slow and Fire Fast

Bad hires in a veterinary environment can cause a toxic workplace for everyone.
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Take your time hiring people to make sure who you hire is right for your business, and when you have someone that is a poor fit, or performing poorly without hope of changing, you fire them quickly before their poor behavior infiltrates the organization.

One of the few absolute truths of business management is to hire slow and fire fast. In other words, take your time hiring people to make sure who you hire is right for your business, and when you have someone that is a poor fit, or performing poorly without hope of changing, you fire them quickly before their poor behavior infiltrates the organization. 

Unfortunately, we see veterinary businesses too often make desperation hires in order to fill a position. Their reasoning is that they need a receptionist, or a vet assistant, or even a vet, and they don’t have time to wait because they need someone yesterday. Yet, when they hire the wrong person, management take months and months to get rid of the poor hire because nobody wants to have that difficult conversation or risk being short-staffed. 

The typical veterinary business reverses the hiring/firing rule by hiring quick and firing slow. What does that do a business?

A bad hire that hangs around is costly because that person can lead to decreased morale among staff, which then leads to increased expenses related to lost productivity and replacing dissatisfied employees who quit because of the resulting toxic work environment. 

Here is a common example:

A veterinary practice is looking to hire a new receptionist to replace one that recently quit. The busy season is fast approaching, so they need to hire someone quickly. They place adds on Facebook or Indeed.com, and they soon have a handful of candidates with a wide range of experience, and those without horse or receptionist experience are ignored. These prospective candidates are brought in for an interview and a decision on who to hire is based on the following criteria: who wants the lowest starting wage, who has horse experience and who has previous receptionist experience. A couple of references are checked and one of the candidates is hired.

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? It seems reasonable until we apply the second rule of hiring, and that is hire the attitude and train the skill. 

What any business wants are employees that are a good culture fit, which means that they are someone the rest of the team wants to work with. 

Other things like horse experience and receptionist skills are nice, but not a necessity. A person with the right attitude will be coachable and trainable and will learn the skills they need to excel in the position. 

Wouldn’t you rather have someone with a great personality, who doesn’t gossip, works as part of the team, and doesn’t bring their personal drama to work—but doesn’t have all of the skills required for the job—than someone who is negative, gossipy, plays office politics and leaves a toxic trail of drama behind them? 

Even if the latter person has all of the skills for the job, imagine what they will do to the morale within the business. Is their negative and poisonous attitude worth it? 

Instead of a business with a cohesive team of high-performing individuals, the current team members sink to the level of the lowest performing individual because why should they care if management doesn’t? Why should they stick around if this new toxic behavior is tolerated?

If you accept that hiring quickly to fill a role is needed in your business, are you prepared for the costs involved in lower productivity, or the very expensive process of replacing valuable staff members who quit because the work environment has been poisoned with no hope that it will change? 

Many surveys done by human resource professionals estimate that the cost of replacing a junior or support staff employee is 50-75% of their annual salary, and that cost goes up to 150% of their annual salary for senior or professional staff. 

 If a tech is making $30,000 per year, it will cost from $15,000-$22,500 to replace him or her, and a veterinarian could cost up to $100,000 for someone making $70,000 annually. 

Nobody wants to pay this amount of money, especially if this problem can be avoided or minimized by hiring right in the first place.

Know Your Culture

Hiring slow means your business has an identified culture based upon shared values and purpose. Your interview questions should reflect the values or culture that you want to foster. 

If accountability is a key value, ask candidates about times they have failed at a task and what they did to learn from it, or create potential scenarios based upon real examples of how accountability is demonstrated in your practice. Follow up the interview with a lengthy working interview of at least a half-day for techs and receptionists and up to two days for vet candidates. 

The goal of the working interview is to see how well this candidate will gel with the team. 

I tell all new potential hires that our team will decide on who we will finally hire, because they will be able to determine if they have what it takes to fit into the team. 

Finally, don’t worry so much if they don’t have equine experience as long as they are trainable. What we do is different, but it isn’t so unique that nobody can learn it. Better to hire an outstanding person and spend the time training them.

Take-Home Message

In the end, it will take you less time to hire the right person than to hire a body to fill a role quickly. 

If you hire the wrong person, you might hire them quickly, but you will waste much time trying to get him/her to do the job and work well with the team. The end result is that: 

  • you have to fire that person and start all over
  • you might lose good current staff workers who don’t want to work with this person
  • overall production goes down because they bring the team down to their level
  • they are so poor in the job that everyone else has to work harder to make up for his/her poor performance. 

Contrast those scenarios with spending the extra time to hire and train the right person who will be with your business for a long time. That person will enhance the team and help them perform better because he/she is a trusted colleague and his/her work performance is at a high level.

Hiring slow might seem like a luxury because of the hectic pace of a veterinary clinic, but in the end, not hiring the right person will cost you far more time and money than making the effort to hire the right person for the job and your practice. 

About the author: Mike Pownall, DVM, MBA, and his wife, Dr. Melissa McKee, started McKee-Pownall Equine Services in 2002. They now have two equine clinics in the Toronto, Ontario, area. Pownall always had a strong interest in the business side of veterinary practice. He says that, "Good business leads to good medicine, it’s as simple as that." In 2015 he became a principal of Oculus Insights, a business education company that offers various business education opportunities to veterinarians of all species. Click here to more information about Oculus Insights.

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