Like the leaves that change to golden hues in the fall, your team members join your veterinary practice eager to learn and change. And some gentle nurturing can help them fulfill their potential. Mentoring helps you boost employee satisfaction and keep talented team members at your hospital. It also helps create a practice culture where staff satisfaction and retention are key and people are the top priority.
Mentoring helps employees maintain high levels of job satisfaction. In the 2010 Benchmarks Study of Well-Managed Practices, 59 percent of practice owners, 42 percent of associates, and 41 percent of staff members said they were "very satisfied" with their job. When asked if there was someone within the practice who encouraged growth and development, 34 percent of associates and 40 percent of staff members strongly agreed (see "Fall into opportunity and growth" for more). So you can see there's room for improvement. And one solution is to create a mentoring program.
Fall into opportunity and growth
What mentoring means
Mentoring is a relationship that connects seasoned team members with less experienced colleagues who want to grow in their profession. In this relationship, mentors help mentees improve their job performance and grow in their careers.
In the 2010 Benchmarks Study, Well-Managed Practice owners reported the top things they could do to foster a career mindset in team members. These included encouraging continuing education and training, setting practice and personal goals, and providing opportunities for advancement. A mentoring program offers all of these benefits. It also demonstrates that you value your team members' commitment to the practice.
But effective mentoring requires more than common sense and enthusiasm. Both parties need fundamental skills such as the ability to listen actively, build trust, maintain confidentiality, encourage progress, and identify goals. In addition, mentors should be able to direct their protégés, develop their capabilities, provide corrective feedback, manage risks, open doors, and inspire. And mentees need to be able to learn quickly, accept feedback and coaching, show initiative, follow through, and manage the relationship—i.e., they're responsible for making sure they get what they need by being proactive and following up with the mentor.
"Patience and tact are critical to a successful mentoring program," says Dr. Kevin Caylor, DABVP, co-owner of All Pets Veterinary Hospital in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. "Time and again I see a wonderful mentoring moment lost between two team members when a mentor decides it's easier and faster to just do it him- or herself. You've got to take a breath, clear your thoughts, and reposition your focus. In a busy practice, that's really difficult."
But it's not all up to the mentor. Nora McKay Clark, RVT, a technician at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, Md., says mentees must be motivated to learn. "They need to seek out information and ask a lot of questions," she says. "It's also helpful if they offer feedback about how things are going for them: what they appreciate about the training process and what they need help with. They should feel comfortable, not vulnerable."