Reviews: The building blocks of a successful veterinary career


Whether you're a veterinary manager or a veterinary team member, it's time to work together to create the foundation for lasting career in veterinary practice.

How do you know if you're on the right track at work? Can you rely on working for a manager who provides regular feedback (somewhat rare), or would you rather count on a more formal employee evaluation?

Don't get me wrong. Casual verbal feedback is important, and it's the only way to quickly respond to something—positive or negative—that may be forgotten later, or at least diluted by the tincture of time. But a planned, written, comprehensive evaluation should be the foundation to build on each team member's performance.

Evaluations and reviews aren't dirty words. Whatever term you use, it's critical to overcome the innate fear that comes with having an employer rate your performance—or the fear, for managers, of performing that evaluation. A good evaluation is something you should embrace if you have one—or request if you don't. Annual reviews should be designed to help each employee individually, to strengthen the team as a whole and to open the channels of communication.

Start with a blueprint

It's no surprise that having a clearly written, well-defined evaluation form offers the most benefit to managers and team members. Of course, if you're the manager, you also need to record each corrective conversation, reprimand event or general discussion about an employee's performance and place it in the employee's file. If you don't do this, it's the same as deciding the event never happened in the first place. With respect to employee evaluations, it's even more important to record, as the tool—used properly—will reveal trends over several years. And these reviews will be at the center of promotions and terminations.

A good evaluation form should be no more than one o two pages in length and include a specific grading scale and an explanation of what that grading scale means. It's virtually impossible to conduct an evaluation that's not somewhat—if not completely—subjective. Understanding this fact is the key to ensuring that its subjectivity doesn't come back to bite you someday. In this day and age of legal remedies to almost anything, it may seem counterproductive to put so much time into a process that's no more than someone's opinion. But it also seems fine to do so when all parties have agreed in advance.

An obvious obstacle to creating a good form is the fact that so many different job duties exist within a practice. Should every employee be judged on their ability to monitor anesthesia if it's not part of their everyday job? Of course not, but there's nothing wrong with having it all on one form. That way you can see the criteria for duties you may take on. Your manager will apply only the applicable portions to each employee, but use the other areas as incentives if you aspire to take on more responsibility in the future.

I'm a fan of a 1 to 5 grading scale, with 5 being exceptional. Using 3 as a starting point, a grade of 4 is for employees who are doing well and are on the right track in an area. A grade of 5 is for absolute superstars. It's a score that should be given with restraint, and only when earned. On the flip side, a 2 lets you know something just isn't quite right. It shouldn't ruin your day but should serve as part of the plan for your future. We'll explore this more later. A score of 1 tells an employee a particular area concerns their supervisor. I discourage using zero in scoring, and I'd hesitate to use scores of 1 or 2 to convey that an employee is doing fine but just hasn't had enough experience. I prefer to skip any area you can't fully score.

As a point of caution, as a manager it's absolutely critical to explain the 1 to 5 scoring system before the evaluation, during the evaluation and as often as you can. Thanks to the grading scale used in the public school system, many employees will think of a 3 as the same as a C, which has taken on the life of an unacceptable score. Remember that all grades start at 3 and move up or down accordingly. If you receive a score of all 3s, you've turned in a satisfactory performance.

Who makes the grade?

As the process is unavoidably subjective, it's important to capture a variety of opinions. It's also likely that the perspective of doctors is different than managers, though both are valuable. Every practice has a different makeup. But generally, I recommend three evaluations on each employee. If you're the manager, ask a committee of doctors or owners to do an evaluation as well as a committee of your managers, assistant manager, head technician or any other person of responsibility. Both of these groups should complete their evaluations without any contact. While the two groups above are important, the final evaluation is the most critical: a self-evaluation. As an employee, you will likely be harder on yourself than a supervisor will be. You already know which areas you struggle in. This is your chance to show you can be self-critical, and it starts the discussion of what areas to focus on. This relieves some anxiety for your manager, who may be uncomfortable broaching areas that need improvement.

Once all three evaluations are completed, managers will average scores to provide an aggregate score in each area. You will receive the evaluation and your self-evaluation during the final review.

Financial incentive or not?

Many businesses include a financial incentive as part of the final evaluation process. I think it's a bad idea. Adding a raise, bonus or profit-sharing aspect to the evaluation will only serve to place more focus on what the score means and take away from the valuable discussion that comes during the process. I want to strive for an open process filled with communication and plans for the future. None of that will be important the minute that a financial benefit is involved.

That said, I do think it's important to ask employees how they feel about their compensation and offer them the opportunity to advocate for their value to the practice. It's a great time to open up about a topic that's terrifying to most employees, and you'll get respect from employees for asking. Just make sure they understand that compensation is reviewed constantly and will have no relationship to the score on the evaluation. Of course, if you're an employee receiving a positive review, it's OK to use this as a starting point to pitch for a raise.

A comprehensive career design

Once you have scores—and some comments in each area—it's time to schedule an appointment to go over the evaluation. Employees who view this as a potentially negative meeting will be fearful and anxious. Of course, for some employees, it won't all be positive, but the key is tapping into what every employee should want: a blueprint for their future in the practice.

As an employee, you have nothing to fear and everything to gain from a properl evaluation if you adopt this mindset:

> You can do better

> You want to grow in your job

> You have goals for your continued employment at the practice.

Most employees have no idea how their managers or owners think they're doing—and no idea how to gain more responsibility at the practice. If nothing else, an evaluation should deal with those concerns. While you may have ideas about which employees will excel in a specific area, I encourage you to ask employees directly. You'll be surprised to find many team members have already put a great deal of thought into where they want to be in one year and five years.

As an employee, it's a good idea to bring a list of goals to your evaluation. And as a manager, ask each employee what they want out of their career with the practice and find out what they're willing to do to achieve it. Nothing will ever be as motivating to them as hearing that you value their input. This is the information you need, and creating a process to draw it out is all that stands between you and a successful team.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore.

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