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Veterinarian Technician November 2006 (Vol 27, No 11) Focus: Equine Medicine

Management Matters: "The Management Merry-Go-Round"

by Marie Rosenthal, Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Author's Note

    If you're a manager, this may sound familiar: You spend your time chasing employees, trying to get results, but you seem to go round and round without getting any closer to your goal. This is not a "merry" cycle. Managers understand how to produce results on projects within their personal control; that's how you get promoted to management. But the essence of being a manager is the ability to get results from other people. According to one definition, management is working with and through individuals and groups to accomplish organizational goals.1 When management is successful, the process is still a circular one, and it still has ups and downs, but it is a much more satisfying ride.

    It's a real eye-opener when you realize that you are responsible for someone else's work, and that even when something is not your fault, it's still your problem. So how do you make your employees do their jobs right? The simple answer is, you don't. Michael Gerber, author and founder of E-Myth, says, "I have come to the verifiable conclusion that we can't manage people. That's why I propose that you can only manage the system, the process through which people produce results."2 Although you should always coach and mentor, counsel and inform, in the beginning you should ensure that solid processes exist and that employees are accountable for their own actions. You may be Super Manager, but you cannot make everyone become a superstar. Instead, you must lay a foundation within your practice that puts the responsibility for satisfactory performance back where it belongs — on the employee. The cornerstone is communication. You must make the practice's expectations clear to all of your employees and then hold them accountable for meeting those expectations.

    None of the following management tools is new. In fact, these documents and processes should form the core of employee management for every organization. Yet there are still practices that do not use them. Worse than that, many practices have policies for the individual steps but do not know how to connect them to produce the overall desired outcome. By approaching these basic tools from a different perspective — by following one essential issue through the entire process — this column will demonstrate the cycle of management from beginning to end. Every task you expect the members of your staff to be responsible for can be addressed in this fashion.

    For example, employee dependability is a seemingly simple, fundamental issue, yet it continues to be the number-one problem facing almost any manager in almost any type of business. In fact, absenteeism and tardiness are the leading reasons for employee discipline.3 Ensuring that all employees are aware of the practice's expectations of dependability and ­regularly reviewing and providing feedback on this aspect of their per­formance can help keep problems caused by tardiness or absenteeism from spinning out of control.

    Job Description

    Can You Do It?

    The job description should describe the tasks required of someone in the position and the subsequent work environment. It should also outline the expectations of the practice with regard to performance and behavior. According to Mark Opperman, CVPM, clearly outlined duties and responsibilities hold employees accountable for their performance.4 Employee dependability is just one requirement that should be spelled out clearly. If the practice sets a standard that employees must show up for work on time 90% of the time, this standard should be included in the job description. The job description should be presented to each candidate during the interview process and the candidate asked, "Can you perform this job as described?" An affirmative answer indicates that the new employee understands what is expected of him or her from the very beginning.

    Employee Handbook

    Will You Do It?

    The employee handbook or policies manual should define each of the standards employees are expected to meet. In basic terms, the employee policies and guidelines manual provides employees with information pertinent to their employment with the hospital.5 For example, on time might be defined as 5 minutes before or after the scheduled arrival time for each day. The dependability policy in the handbook might further explain that punctuality is calculated for a rolling 3-month period to obtain the percentage against which the employee is being measured (i.e., 90%). Make sure that the new employee reads the handbook thoroughly, and personally review the goals and expectations during an orientation meeting. Then have the new employee sign a statement declaring that he or she will do the job as specified in the employee handbook.

    Employee Development Meeting

    Did You Do It?

    Employee development meeting is one of many terms that can be used for routine, periodic meetings with each employee to review performance and current issues. This type of meeting should take place between performance evaluations so that issues can be addressed and performance problems corrected before they become part of an employee's performance evaluation. In the case of punctuality, the manager may wish to review employee attendance records each month (or whatever time period is appropriate for the practice) and report the results to employees during a monthly development meeting. If an employee has not met the standard, or if his or her numbers are slipping in a downward trend, the manager can discuss the problem with the employee and set a clear goal according to the practice's current policy. Even this type of informal discussion should be documented with signatures from the manager and the employee. The manager should then continue to monitor the employee's progress toward meeting the discussed goal and provide the employee with feedback on a routine basis.

    Performance Evaluation

    Did You Do It Enough?

    When it comes time for the em­ployee's performance evaluation, assess whether the employee has met the standard according to the documented policy. Most organizations strive to give performance evaluations on an annual basis. According to Marsha L. Heinke, DVM, EA, CPA, CVPM, it is important to keep in mind that more frequent evaluations allow for more open communication.5 One suggestion for enhancing this method of communication is to perform "major" evaluations every 6 or 12 months and "minor" evaluations in between at 3-month intervals. In the example stated above, employees must be on time according to the practice's definition at least 90% of the time as calculated over a rolling 3-month period. If an employee was below standard for 1 month but brought his or her overall percentage up to 90% over the 3-month period, then the standard has been met. The best-case scenario is that the employee met or exceeded the standard, and this satisfactory result for dependability is documented in the performance evaluation.

    Performance Correction

    When Will You Do It?

    If an employee has fallen below the standard for dependability in a 3-month period, however, some type of warning should follow. The type of warning — verbal, written, or suspension of employment — depends on the practice's current policy and whether the employee's file contains previous warnings. If you perform evaluations quarterly, this warning should be documented on the evaluation itself. If you perform evaluations less frequently, the warning should stand as a separate document. The performance correction should spell out the issue exactly, including the dates that the employee was late, the policy standard that the employee signed indicating that he or she understood it, and the behavior modification agreed upon by the em­ployee to reverse the trend. This document should also explain what will happen next if the employee continues to fail to meet the standard. Typically, the next step is another warning or, after a predetermined number of warnings, termination of em­ployment. This process of progressive discipline is necessary to provide each employee with their rights of due process, with the goal being to ensure that the em­ployee understands what the problem is, what to do to correct the problem, what the consequences of not correcting the problem will be, and how much time he or she has to demonstrate improvement.6


    What If You Do Not Do It?

    If an employee signed the handbook, thereby acknowledging that he or she understood the practice's expectations from the beginning; received and signed warnings for misbehavior; and still failed to reach agreed-upon goals to correct the problem, there is no reason a manager should hesitate to perform the next step: termination. All of the necessary steps were clearly followed to encourage the proper behavior from the employee. The practice has all of the recommended documentation to support its decision. And, most importantly, the employee has had every opportunity to understand the policy, change the undesired behavior, and ensure continued em­ployment with the practice. In Fair, Square & Legal, Donald Weiss, CEO of Self Management Communications, recommends using and following progressive disciplinary procedures whenever possible. He further states that when you do have to fire someone, make sure you have backup documentation that you have shared with higher management before making your final decision.7

    Starting Over

    This type of circular process will work for any type of performance- or behavior-related issue, even the complex issue of inappropriate attitude on the part of an employee. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that some behavior issues are too emotional and subjective to be addressed by a consistent employee management process. In the case of inappropriate attitude, focusing on observable and documented behavior can make discussions more objective and give them better legal standing. You might apply the above management tools to the problem of employee attitude by asking yourself the following questions:

    • Are "soft" skills such as honesty, in­tegrity, and professionalism included in each job description?
    • Does the employee handbook state clear policies that outline what is expected from the behavior of each employee on the team?
    • Do you review these types of issues in each routine employee meeting as time progresses?
    • Do employees receive appropriate gui­dance and necessary performance corrections when there are problems?
    • Are inappropriate behaviors documented in performance evaluations and supported by previous documentation if needed?

    If your answer to all these questions is "yes," and an employee continues to have an attitude that does not fit your organization, you have the supporting documentation to terminate that employee to protect the culture and team spirit of your practice.

    The cycle of management may be constant, but it does not have to be a chore. If you outline each task and behavior from the beginning, you will lay the foundation to create the environment you are trying to achieve with your team. Then choose your painted horse, grab the reins, and enjoy the ride on this crazy carousel we call veterinary practice management!

    1. Hersey P, Blanchard K: Management of Organizational Behavior, ed 4. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1982, p 3.

    2. Gerber ME: The E-Myth Manager. New York, HarperCollins Publisher, 1998, p 194.

    3. DuBrin AJ: Human Relations — Career and Personal Success, ed 7. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Pearson Education, 2005, p 144.

    4. Opperman M: The Art of Veterinary Practice Management. Lenexa, KS, Veterinary Medicine Publishing Group, 1999, p 52.

    5. Heinke ML: Practice Made Perfect — A Guide to Veterinary Practice Management. Lakewood, CO, AAHA Press, 2001, pp 31, 58.

    6. Falcone P: 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems. New York, AMACOM, 1999, p 4.

    7. Weiss DH: Fair, Square & Legal, ed 4. New York, AMACOM, 2004, p 274.

    References »

    NEXT: On the Cover: "A Talk with Kim Corby, LVT"


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