Managers' Monday: Don't downplay job descriptions

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Managers' Monday: Don't downplay job descriptions

Use them to hire, to evaluate employees, and to keep your practice procedures up to date.
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Sep 15, 2008
Editors' note: This article continues our weekly series of tips for veterinary practice managers. See the Related Links below to read the first in the series.

Nothing irritates a manager more than a team member who says, "That's not my job." Other employees don't want to hear it either. So whose job is whose? It would be nice if managers could simply define all the jobs in the hospital as "do what we tell you" or "do what you know needs to be done," but it's not that simple. You need a written record of duties and expectations for team members and a way of holding them accountable. In other words, you need job descriptions.

Start early
Write and revise descriptions for jobs even before you hire someone. The moment you realize you need to interview again, dust off that old job description and start reviewing its accuracy. Does it still reflect what employees in that position do? Are there tasks that you need to add or take away? It's important to ask for input from those who are doing the job. Circulate a copy of the job description among those in the position and ask for suggestions. They'll need to follow the new job description when you're done with it, so getting their input is critical in obtaining their buy-in later when the document is finalized.

When you sit down for an interview, walk in armed with the new, improved job description. From a legal standpoint, the job description is the single most useful way to protect your practice from charges of discrimination during the hiring process. For example, you can't ask whether an applicant is disabled, but you can present the job description that outlines the physical requirements of the job and simply ask, "Can you perform this job?"

Train properly
If all goes well and you hire a qualified new team member, the job description is now a signed and filed document that holds that person accountable. For instance, if you need to counsel an employee for not doing his or her work, you can retrieve the signed job description from the personnel file and use it as evidence. Refer to the job description when documenting disciplinary actions, such as oral and written warnings.

We all want a new hire to succeed, so the job description should also prompt you to develop or enhance training programs in your hospital. You can hold employees accountable for doing their jobs only if you provided training on how to do them.

Job description tasks are also the basis for performance evaluations. They're the specific criteria you'll use to measure a team member's knowledge, performance, and behavior. One important point: Any time you revise a job description, be sure to meet with current employees in that position and review the changes. They should've been involved in creating those revisions, so follow up, let them know the outcome, and get their signatures on the revised descriptions. File these forms away as documentation of their commitment to fulfill their job in its entirety.

Catch all in the job description
It can be hard to sit down at your desk and write out a detailed job description by yourself. Take a look at an example from the Department of Labor Web site to see what I mean. For a good example of how to include everything needed, click here for their veterinary technician job description. It's easy to remember tasks, but we often neglect work style when we write out job descriptions on our own. The DOL example includes knowledge, skills, abilities, work activities, work context, and work styles. Work styles include the "soft skills," such as honesty, dependability, and cooperation. Including them in a job description gives you a perfect opportunity to lay out those personality traits that you desire—and need—to make a cohesive, cooperative team.

A section on work context lets you describe the job's physical requirements and ensure that the candidate understands them: For example, you might say the position involves time on the phone or direct contact with clients, a lot of standing or sitting, or exposure to disease or hazardous materials. This helps you both avoid surprises when the employee is asked to perform certain duties, and can provide legal protection if you get the team member's signature at the beginning.

Start now
Writing and revising job descriptions can wind up low on your list of priorities. You know it needs to be done, but it keeps getting pushed down by other urgent matters. It's easy to get started, though. Send out a basic questionnaire asking team members about the Department of Labor's job categories. What would your team members suggest for tasks, knowledge, work styles, etc., in their job descriptions? It?s easier to compile information that comes back rather than create the document on your own. The final touch should be to add a statement in the tasks section such as "perform tasks that support the mission of the practice and goals of the team" so that everyone will realize that everything is indeed their job.

Good job descriptions that team members follow can help you hire, fire, evaluate team members, and smooth out the day-to-day work at your practice. "That's not my job" won't stand a chance against your well-written, new job descriptions.

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, is president of InterFACE Veterinary HR Systems and founder of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Practice Association (VESPA).

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