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Put new hires on the right path
Don't let high turnover send your team off track. Here's how you can contribute to new team members' success and create a culture that encourages them to stay.
Can you imagine meeting an average day's challenges without your clinic comrades to help you? It's much easier to handle emergencies, late appointments, and disgruntled clients when you work with a solid, well-trained team equipped to handle any crisis.
Of course, a strong team doesn't develop overnight. It takes time and effort for individual members to combine their energy to support each other and grow together. And when they do, even busy days and difficult clients can't weaken your in-sync ensemble.
Unfortunately, high turnover can crush productivity and cause even the most solid teams to buckle under the strain. Competitive wages and benefits can help reduce high turnover. But the key to turning new hires into successful team members with true staying power is you—the established team member.
Sure, it can be draining to watch a never-ending ebb and flow of new team members cycling through the doors of your practice. But together, your team has the power to halt the revolving door. Consider these questions from Firstline Editorial Advisory Board members Kathy Coffman, Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, and Paige Phillips, RVT, to make sure you're helping acclimate new team members and encouraging them to stick around.
Are you eager or irritated?
You've just heard the bad news. A team member gave her two-week notice—the latest in a string of losses. Soon, you'll train yet another new employee.
Logically, you know you should approach a new hire enthusiastically, but you're stressed out, frustrated, and tired. Can secret thoughts, like "I wonder how long this one will last," really affect employee retention?
Yes, says Gair, president of Bridging the Gap, a business geared to helping people work together more effectively, in Sparta, Mich. "Team dynamics are part attitude and part environment," Gair says. "And when you enter a new working relationship with a negative outlook, you lose any energy to support the new employee before his or her training even begins."
When you're irritated at the prospect of training someone new, Gair recommends telling yourself, "I'm eager to train new employees to be strong, productive team members. When teaching new people about our culture, we're often reminded of how much we appreciate working in this unique field." Thoughts like these won't guarantee retention, but they may increase the odds.
Do you offer orientation or initiation?
It's the big day and you're eager to immerse the new employee in your practice culture. But you're short on time and unsure whether the new team member will fit in and work hard to fulfill the practice's mission.
Be careful, or you'll treat this team member like a sorority pledge instead of a respected business partner. Why the distinction? Because your managers approve new team members when they hire. And acting as though new hires can't fully participate unless they pass a test is counterproductive. If you want new hires to stick around, you need to welcome them as equals and help them adapt to their new environment.
For example, consider this tip from Phillips, the assistant hospital administrator at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas in Cary, N.C. Orient new employees by taking them to lunch, serving as a mentor, and providing them opportunities to develop relationships with other team members, such as scheduling hospital rotations in different areas. "People stay in the veterinary field because they enjoy the environment, so help create a pleasant practice culture," she says.
Do you include or separate?
The orientation is going well, but you're still worried. You've finally proved your worth and earned additional responsibilities. Could this new upstart ruin everything?
If you remember starting a new job at a new practice, you know it's crucial to feel included and accepted. But teams are comprised of people who can be competitive, insecure, and territorial. And those behaviors may push new hires out.
So to slow turnover in your practice, avoid and discourage behavior that separates and excludes new team members. "Stay positive. And encourage, support, and educate new team members," Gair says. For new team members, nothing says "Get me outta here" faster than discovering your new colleagues are unwilling to accept you as part of the team, she says.
If you're concerned about job security, relax. Most new team members are just trying to prove themselves and learn their jobs, not take over yours. Just keep on doing the best you can.
Do you instruct or desert?
You've worked hard to create a warm environment for the new team member, showing enthusiasm, support, and acceptance. But what about training? No one seems to have a plan. You don't even know which tasks management will assign the new team member.
When there's no training plan, practices often default to the sink-or-swim approach. Immersion might work well when you're learning a foreign language, but in a veterinary practice new team members feel deserted when you skimp on training. "Many practices fall short in this crucial area," Gair says. "We must provide new team members a path for success with clearly defined expectations they can meet or exceed. "
Practice managers, take note. If you're helping to create a training plan, consider phase training. You'll establish a series of three to seven phases that address all the information new team members should learn. For example, phase one might cover handling phone calls, checking in clients, and stocking the exam room. Phase two will include three more topics, and so on. The key: Never move on to the next phase until the trainee masters the current one.
Once you've established a training program, empower your team to help by divvying the training responsibilities among established team members according to their strengths, Gair says. For example, the phone-savvy receptionist teaches front desk protocol, and the team member who works with grieving clients covers euthanasia-related issues.
Who benefits from reversing the turnover trend and building a strong team? You, your co-workers, and your clients and patients. Before long, those new hires will be established team members who help you run the practice. So welcome new team members and help them help you.
Julie Gurnon is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan. Please send questions or comments to email@example.com