4 questions to find-and cultivate-the perfect "10" veterinary team member


Attract the right candidates for your veterinary team, then hire and train them properly to guarantee success for them and your practice.

The "Management Matters" blog features the writing of veterinary practice management consultants Monica Dixon Perry, Mark Opperman and Sheila Grosdidier. Come back every month for their unique take on current and future trends in veterinary practice as well as tried-and-true tips for improving patient care, team member morale and practice revenue.

If you were to rate your veterinary team members on a scale of 1 to 10, then your "10"s would be the employees who are exceptional in every way. They do everything you ask—and more. They’re always looking for ways to improve themselves and the hospital, and they bring positive energy to the practice. The job doesn’t feel like work to them, because they enjoy working for you.

I like to find and christen employees as 10s because their job histories often show that they were once 8s or 9s and blossomed into 10s. Unfortunately, in my experience, a 7 or lower-rated employee will never become a 10. Many managers fail to recognize this fact. In doing so, they try to fit their adequate but unimpressive square pegs into round holes.

But before you cast the blame on your veterinary team for their failings, remember the fault may lie with you. Have you given your 7s the opportunity to be 10s? Many employees are poorly hired and, once hired, poorly trained. Instead, many employees are “thrown to the wolves” and left to succeed or fail on their own. This isn’t fair to employees and may be the reason why your practice team is failing.

What are you hiring for?

In order to give employees the opportunity to become 10s, the first thing you need to do is to hire correctly. Before you post that first job ad or encourage your team members to ask around for a new hire, make sure your job descriptions are current. If you don’t have an effective job description, how do you know what to advertise for? If you don’t have an effective job description, how do you train or evaluate your team members? A job description is a foundational tool that allows you to develop 10s.

Once you have an effective job description, you’ll need to write an effective ad. Go online and read employment ads for similar positions. You’ll find some you’d never respond to, but others sound so good you might consider giving up your current job. There’s an art to writing an effective job advertisement. Mimic the ads that would entice you to apply.

Where will you search for candidates?

Once you’ve written a great ad, where do you place it? If you place the ad on Craigslist, you may not get the quality of applicant you desire. A simple way to see what job sites are most popular in your area is to head to your favorite browser and search for "veterinary jobs" in your city and state. Explore those sites that show up first. Also, consider using such major employment sites as careerbuilder.com and monster.com.

When you place your ad, you’ll likely include your own website in the ad, so you need to evaluate your website as well. Does it showcase the quality and excellence of your practice? One of the first things anyone will do if they are interested in a job at your hospital is look at your website, so make sure it represents the quality of your practice.

How will you interview?

I’ve used and recommended a three-step interview process for years. Here’s how it works: The initial interview is a short, 15-to-20-minute conversation consisting of general background questions and is used to determine whether the candidate meets the basic job criteria. The second interview runs 30 minutes to an hour. At this point, we reference the job description to see how the candidate matches up with the more specific criteria. If the candidate is successful in the first two interviews, we offer a working interview. The working interview is one day (maximum of 8 hours) in which the candidate comes to the office and observes the position. Even if the position is vacant, the candidate can still get an impression of the practice and the practice gets an impression of him or her.

Prior to the working interview, I suggest you conduct a background check and a pre-employment drug test. (Note: Some states require an offer of employment before conducting a pre-employment drug test.) It amazes me how many practices don’t require these. With the availability of drugs in a veterinary practice and the relatively easy access to money, it’s crazy to me that anyone would skip pre-employment drug testing. One practice owner told me recently about an employee who broke into the practice and stole the cash box along with two days’ worth of deposits (the person knew where they were hidden). As it turns out, the employee had been convicted of burglary in the past.

How will you train?

Once a new employee is hired, the next and most important part is to train them. This is where many practices fail their new employees. Effective training should consist of a three- to four-week phase training program. These training programs start with very basic information the new employees needs to know, such as where to park their car, and continue on to cover every task and aspect of the employee’s new job. Where do these tasks come from, you may ask? Well, from the job description, of course! You can download an example of phased training for a receptionist. Although it’s specific to that particular veterinary position, it can be adapted for other positions in your clinic.

Using a phase training program as a guide, the new employee should be trained by another "10" employee in the practice. Then, the manager will review the new employee’s progress in the training program. If training was not successful, then you re-evaluate the training as well as the employee. If the employee is deemed not to be an 8, 9, or 10, his or her employment is concluded (never start with a less-than-stellar candidate) and we start the hiring and training process over again with another candidate.

If you don’t have "10" employees today, is it because of you or them? There are a lot of managers who would like to blame their personnel problems on the employment pool of applicants in their area, but I disagree. I think there are "10" employees everywhere. You just need to know how to find them and cultivate them for your practice.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo.

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