Changing your mind-set can change your results
When I talk with fellow practice owners these days, their biggest issue is usually employee retention. There’s no question that today’s veterinary labor market is difficult, but at the same time, the frustration stems from an outdated mind-set. With the right mind-set, it’s possible to rapidly staff a practice and still deliver exceptional care and service. I know because I’ve done it myself, and I believe any practice owner can do the same.
The traditional approach has been to look for “qualified candidates”—individuals who possess all the relevant skills for the job. This is no longer realistic. We need to adapt. At The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, we’ve adopted a philosophy of hiring for culture fit and training for skill. We prioritize potential and alignment with our culture over qualifications. We look for people who are good human beings, good communicators, and are authentically interested in both veterinary medicine and in working with us. Candidates like these are easy to train and can go on to become great team members.
But this approach is more than simply hiring untrained individuals and training them. We’ve also had to reimagine our team. Specialists like DVMs and RVTs are the hardest to find, so our entry-level staff supports them so that they can focus on the tasks that truly require expertise.
Training is one of the biggest challenges for any small business, but putting your head in the sand won’t help. You must confront the challenge. Get your leadership team on the same page and involve the whole practice in the training process. We ask DVMs and team leads to provide specifics about next steps in training for each new employee.
For example, someone might say, “Sally needs some support in lab work and client communications.” If so, we have a senior team member meet one-on-one with Sally to help her improve. We’re very transparent with the team and communicate openly about where new employees are and where they’re headed in terms of skills.
Make sure that your culture is one of kindness and respect. You’ll get more from your team if new and established members feel safe enough to show vulnerability and be honest when they don’t know something or need help.
All these steps foster continuous learning and help us handle the inevitable misunderstandings that occur when less experienced people join the team.
You might be reading this and thinking that you would never have time for all that. And you’re absolutely right! This works only if you develop leadership beyond just the practice owner.
To cultivate departmental and team leadership, we identify individuals who not only have a strong understanding of our mission, values, and culture, but also demonstrate high emotional intelligence and a commitment to quality and service.
Then we invest in their growth through leadership training that goes beyond technical skills to encompass strategic planning, decision-making, conflict resolution, and team building. In our monthly leadership and all-team meetings, we provide updates on new hires and training plans.
Our journey hasn’t been without challenges. When we were a 3-employee practice, I decided to let go of our RVT because she was mean to the rest of the staff. This wasn’t easy, and we had to operate without her skill set until she could be replaced. However, our team was transformed. When they realized that I prioritized their well-being, trust and cohesiveness increased a 100-fold. I tell this story to new team members to show that we value each and every one of them. Creating this environment has been key to our success in navigating staffing challenges.
Our approach can help your practice too. If you’re ready to give it a try, here are a few things you can do right away.
Embracing the right mind-set and creating a nurturing, development-oriented environment can transform your staffing woes into opportunities for growth. Happy hiring!
Michele Drake, DVM, CVA, is a leading progressive voice in the veterinary industry and the owner of a top-performing veterinary practice. The Drake Center for Veterinary Care in Encinitas, California, employs 7 doctors and is known for embracing change and implementing new technologies, from the latest digital marketing strategies and social media platforms to automated scheduling systems. She has served on committees and advisory boards for the University of California, American Animal Hospital Association, Novartis, and others.