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Veterinary Forum December 2008 (Vol 25, No 12)

Business Skills — Keeping technicians in your practice

by Rebecca Herron, Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

    Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

    Editor’s Note: Retention of employees — especially great veterinary technicians — is an important part of offering outstanding veterinary care. Dr. Donnelly, one of our team’s great veterinary consultants, offers great guidelines for retention of your veterinary technicians.  

    — Stephen Fisher, DVM, Column Editor

    After you have recruited and hired the right technicians for your practice, how do you keep them from leaving? The answer sounds simple enough: Create a work environment that makes them want to stay.

    Technicians want to enjoy the rewards and challenges of veterinary medicine while working in a practice with a positive culture, so to help make sure your practice has the right stuff to keep technicians, take the following four steps.

    1. Establish effective communication protocols

    Communication is key to any good relationship and one of the foundations for developing a positive practice culture. The leadership team should establish a clear chain of command and maintain open lines of communication with the staff. Without effective communication protocols, employees can become frustrated because they don’t know whom to turn to with questions and concerns. Some practices may find it helpful to use e-mail, newsletters and memos to augment one-on-one communication and staff meeting interactions. The type of communication method should be appropriate for the content of the message. Memos can be an acceptable way of conveying announcements or giving information about minor issues, but face-to-face meetings are recommended for discussing important issues or when conveying information that is sensitive.

    Managers should strive to create a culture of praise and respect. Employees tend to work harder, stay later and remain on their jobs longer if they believe that management is supportive and values their contributions. Regular feedback protocols should be established, including welcoming ideas and comments from employees, as well as providing timely reports to employees regarding their job performance.

    2. Implement training programs

    The level of job satisfaction and employee motivation often correlates with the amount of training that team members receive. Technicians who do not receive proper instruction or time to develop skill sets will find it difficult to perform and, therefore, may become frustrated and disgruntled. Technicians who cannot excel because of lack of training may quit without warning.

    Newly hired technicians should go through a detailed training program that ensures adequate job performance. Even experienced technicians need time to learn hospital policies and protocols for a new job. Providing excellent training during the first few weeks of employment can create a foundation for establishing job satisfaction and employee motivation. Assign mentors to new employees while they are learning.

    Written hospital policies also can support your technician training programs. Detailed job descriptions that define roles and responsibilities for each position, as well as job expectations that outline how employees are supposed to do their job and act while at work should be part of the employee manual (see Manual for the Whole Hospital).

    Manual for the Whole Hospital

    Ongoing training programs also ensure proficiency in multiple areas. To be successful, a commitment must be made to hold regular training sessions for technicians. Continuing education can be facilitated by practice veterinarians or senior technicians in one-on-one sessions or meetings involving the entire technical team. Industry representatives are another resource that provide technical training on a variety of topics and new products.

    In-house training programs can be augmented with an up-to-date resource library that includes videos, CDs, textbooks, journals and a list of online resources and courses for technicians.

    3. Empower your technicians

    After they have been trained, technicians should be encouraged to use their skills. If doctors in the practice routinely perform tasks that can be completed by technicians, then the practice may not be adequately empowering the technical team. Empowerment increases job satisfaction as well as practice efficiency and productivity. In addition to their clinical skills, technicians should be empowered to provide client education on a variety of topics such as wellness, patient care and postoperative recovery. Technicians should be encouraged to bring new ideas to the practice and to assume responsibility for such practice programs as senior care, dental care and nutrition counseling.

    For empowerment to be successful, managers must set standards for technicians and then allow them to complete job tasks in a manner they find most effective without being micromanaged. Empowered employees are trained to solve problems and trusted to make decisions that are in the practice’s best interest.

    4. Provide opportunities for growth

    Technicians are more likely to become long-term employees at practices that focus on employee development and offer a career rather than just a job. Providing technicians with on-going opportunities to learn new skills can keep them energized and challenged. Ideally, the practice should establish different skill levels that allow technicians to be promoted when they have mastered the requisite skills for a higher position. Opportunities for growth also should include the chance to assume managerial duties or a supervisory role.

    Although compensation is important, it is not the reason most technicians enter the profession and it is often not the reason they switch jobs. Technicians leave practices because of poor job satisfaction. To keep your technicians, focus your energy on developing a practice culture that shows you appreciate their efforts and empower them to learn and grow.    vF

    Stephen Fisher, DVM

    Dr. Donnelly owns ALD Veterinary Consulting in Rockledge, Fla. She has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary profession, including clinical practice, management, industry, speaking tours and consulting work. Her areas of consulting include strategic planning, human resources, marketing, financial management, client service training and practice management for specialty and emergency hospitals. She also holds a certificate in Veterinary Practice Management from the AAHA Veterinary Management Institute cosponsored by Purdue University and serves on the board of directors for VetPartnerstm.

    Click here to download this article as a PDF.

    NEXT: Business Skills — The 3Rs of staff retention

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