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Compendium October 2010 (Vol 32, No 10)

In Practice — Practice Owners’ HR 101: Aligning Vision, Team Members, and Human Resources Policy

by Patricia Rutherford, RVT, CVPM

    One of the most important functions of a human resources (HR) manager is aligning organizational practices with a practice owner’s beliefs and implementing these beliefs through legally compliant employment practices and policy. This sounds simple enough…so why is there often a disconnect between what you as an owner want and how team members carry it out? The answer is simple. New team members coming into your veterinary practice have their own ideas, values, and perception of what “should be.” Unless something else is communicated through training and policy, each team member will continue on the path of his or her own perceptions.

    Here lies the challenge. Whether you are a sole proprietor or part of a corporate entity, as the owner, you need to define your core values, ethics, ideas, and beliefs clearly through the mission, vision, goals, and standards of your practice. Demonstrate through leadership practices: walk the walk, talk the talk, and mirror your beliefs and practices through the people you hire and train. But unless you are doing all the hiring and training yourself, you will need to delegate some of those tasks to another person who is responsible for HR. You cannot clone yourself, so how exactly do you communicate the core values of your business to potential and existing staff members? Here is where HR functions can give your beliefs and business practices structure.

    HR management is about being fair and protecting the people on your team—including yourself—through policy. Often, policy is considered a negative term; however, when policy is presented as an employee advocate, individuals are receptive to learning more. When policy is viewed as a positive tool, employers are more apt to be thorough about aligning their business practices and beliefs with employment practices. When organizational HR hiring and training practices are implemented through efficient policies, individuals will not have to guess what the organization is about, what their role is, and how policy is implemented because the practice owner has clearly defined HR functions for everyone, including him- or herself.

    Begin With Hiring the Right Fit

    As an employer, you hire people for their knowledge, skills, attitude, habits, and behaviors, including ethical practices. Interviewing candidates for each of these qualities requires different HR tools and areas of accepted HR practice. Defining and picturing the attributes you want candidates to bring to your practice before you start the hiring process is helpful. You should become familiar with behavioral-style interviews, in which candidates are asked to describe their past accomplishments and approaches to problems they have encountered. You should also ensure that the interview questions and candidate selection forms you use are fair, uniform, and legally compliant.

    You may also choose to use personality and/or team assessment tools as part of your selection process. These tools may show the attributes of a candidate and profile the potential interactions between candidates and existing team members in areas of leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

    All assessments, preemployment screenings, and background checks must have signed prior consent from candidates and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state employment laws. When hiring new team members, it is important to remember that personality assessments are tools to be used as part of the hiring process, not as sole selection criteria. See the “Employment Testing Basics” box for important considerations when choosing to use personality assessments or other preemployment tests.

    Once you have determined the types of employees you are looking for, you need to decide how to attract such individuals. Ask yourself questions such as the following:

    • For each position in your practice, do you have a well-developed job description that includes all of the job functions?
    • What does your practice have to offer a candidate?
    • How will you recruit?
    • Do you carefully read individual cover letters and resumes to find out what the candidate is seeking?
    • Do you have well-developed, legally compliant interview questions?
    • How and who will interview and select your candidate?
    • If more than one person will conduct the interview, will everyone use the same questions, and do you have a system for rating individual candidates fairly?
    • What level of background check will you use for each position? For example, do you only need to confirm a candidate’s education, degrees, and certificates, or does the job description involve working with the practice’s finances, which would require a more extensive background check?

    When you are ready to begin the interview process, keep in mind that candidates’ priorities in a new job may include mentoring, business opportunities, schedule flexibility, work–life balance, security, continuing education, progressive thinking, leadership, technology, benefits, and fair pay, in any order. You are looking for potential employees who have done their homework in identifying their core values (ethics and beliefs) and prioritizing their personal and professional needs. The interview process in your practice should be designed to identify these candidates and explore whether their needs and attitudes complement those of the practice.

    The Employee Policy Manual

    An employee policy manual is the “go to” book for all practice employment policies and procedures and should be introduced to employees as existing for them. Employees much prefer clearly defined policies and procedures to vague, unclear, and inconsistent practices. However, employers often do not want to mention anything rather than take the time to implement specific policies. In recent years, this has proven to be a very expensive risk to employers. The number of lawsuits against employers has risen, as have amounts awarded to disgruntled employees. Once an employee files a complaint, it is the duty of the employer to demonstrate clear, consistent, and fair employment practices. Most cases are awarded and settled because the employer failed to show consistent, fair, documented practices. Fairness in practice is key to implementing policy (see the “Some Helpful Tips for Preventing Lawsuits” box).

    Many employers use the number of employees in their practice as a measure of whether to implement local, state, and federal policies. Although there is very specific mandated regulatory language to be used in your policy manual regarding benefits and policy, numbers do not always guide what is fair and right to your team. If you feel like you are taking advantage of your staff, you probably are. On the other hand, a generous impulse can also get you into trouble. The following is an example of how a simple act of kindness regarding time off is an inconsistent employment practice that could become a downfall:

    An employee who you respect as one of your top workers asks for the day off due to special circumstances. The practice is not too busy on that particular day, so you make an individual decision to give them the day off. All is well. A couple of months go by, and another employee asks you for the day off, also due to special circumstances. This time, the practice is really busy, so your hasty response is a clear no, but the employee remembers you gave a day to someone else under similar circumstances. This is perceived by the individual as unfair.

    If you had a clear policy regarding time off in your employee policy manual, you could have instructed both employees to refer to it. This would have been clear and fair to your team members and would not have put you at risk for unfair practices.

    By implementing a policy manual or “practice bible,” you demonstrate to your team your ability to be clear on your business practices as well as fair in your employment practices. See the “Information to Know When Developing, Implementing, and Maintaining Employee Policy Manuals” box for tips on how to accomplish these goals.

    *  *  *

    Aligning your vision as an owner with the reality in your practice by creating and implementing clear practice policies sets the stage for a calm workplace. It allows you and your team members to concentrate on your professional goals of caring for patients and serving clients.

    About the Author

    Patricia Rutherford is an independent human resources consultant and practice management consultant. In addition to her other certifications, she is BOP (Bent on Personnel)-certified with Bent Ericksen and Associates. She can be contacted at Rutherford.cvpm@usa.net.

    NEXT: Meniscal Injury in Dogs With Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture [CE]

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