Rethinking Reviews

The path to a great practice begins with engaged employees.
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Your employees are the means to achieve your practice goals. But they can’t help you unless they know where the practice is headed and what their role is in taking it there. If you want great employees, plan to invest time and energy toward helping them achieve greatness.

Credit: Photos.com Provide a clear line of sight between each individual goal and the overall goals for your practice. Select goals with specific, measurable actions.

Credit: Photos.com Provide a clear line of sight between each individual goal and the overall goals for your practice. Select goals with specific, measurable actions.

Standard performance reviews are typically approached with anxiety by both the managers conducting them and the employees receiving them. Many veterinarians consider job reviews to be one of their least favorite management chores, second only to terminating someone’s employment. And who wouldn’t hate it? You probably have no training on how to give reviews, and you don’t do it often enough to be comfortable with it. Reviews are often postponed for more pressing obligations, and then postponed again, until they become long overdue and even more burdensome. When the day finally arrives, managers perform them reluctantly and employees approach them with fear.

Traditional annual reviews are too infrequent to provide useful feedback to your employees or to you. But there are alternatives to the dreaded annual review. Yes, one of the alternatives might be to stop doing reviews altogether. Although that idea may be tempting, I hope you agree that it isn’t practical or fair to employees in the long run.

Clear and Measurable

Performance can’t be managed on an annual basis, so take a more active role in managing staff performance by implementing quarterly reviews. Replace an hour-long yearly review with four 15-to-20-minute quarterly reviews. Yes, it will take more time and effort on your part, but the payback can be tremendous.

Every quarter, assign each employee one or two goals that are aligned with the goals of your practice. Choose goals that are suitable for each individual. For a remedial employee, a reasonable goal may be to show up to work on time or to shave before each shift. Goals for more adept crew members could include learning the inventory management section of your software, or developing a monthly client newsletter.

Provide a clear line of sight between each individual goal and the overall goals for your practice. Select goals with specific, measurable actions. Here are some examples:

• All calls are answered within three rings.

• Ninety percent of charges are collected at the time of service.

• Load or unload horses within 15 minutes of arrival.

• Enter body condition score on 100% of patient records.

Be sure success can be measured with objective criteria. If the goal is merely to ask the employee to do something better than in the past, you’ve left yourself open to challenges about what “better” meant when next quarter rolls around. Discuss any training needed and how and when that will occur. Give each individual the responsibility for putting that training in place, and set a budget if outside training is needed.

Finally, commit the goals to paper to review next quarter. Then when the next quarter rolls around, both you and the employee should independently review progress toward the goals. If goals were met, assign new ones that lead the employee farther down the path you want him to take. If less progress was made than expected, ask why. If you can’t adequately measure whether the objectives were reached, then work on clarifying goals and expectations for the next quarter.

Informal and Frequent

Feedback needn’t be formal to be effective. In fact, most staff members are intimidated by the formality of annual reviews. Quarterly reviews encourage frequent, ongoing conversations about performance to keep your staff motivated and on track. It’s harder to get off course when they know they will be held accountable for their actions in just a few weeks. Conduct these conversations anywhere with a little privacy--in the truck, in the barn or over lunch. Establish a relaxed environment and encourage two-way communication. Be sure the individual has the chance to voice concerns about barriers they face regularly and how to overcome those barriers. Encourage employees’ suggestions aimed toward improving patient care and client service. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you need to succeed?” Above all, keep the discussions brief and to the point. Fifteen to 20 minutes is plenty of time to review previous goals, discuss results, set new objectives and address problems, barriers or misunderstandings in a timely fashion.

Hold each employee accountable for not meeting expectations. What factors prevented their completion? What must happen to remove those barriers and ensure the goals are met in the next three months? Help your staff find their own solutions. They may discover something you would not have considered.

Reframe the way you think about performance reviews. Instead of viewing them as necessary evils, think of reviews as tools to help your employees—and your practice—grow and succeed. Take the time to influence the choices your staff makes during the next three months. Provide regular feedback to each person in a timely manner. Try to catch people doing something right and give them instant positive feedback. Address any issues quickly and they won’t become major problems later. Overall, keep in mind that management surveys consistently report that your staff wants more of your time, and they want to know the direction the practice is headed. Share your thoughts and enlist their aid while you build the practice together.