When I speak at conferences, the biggest complaint I hear from practice owners is that it's hard to keep good team members
and train the ones they have. "The youth of today just aren't what they used to be," one practice owner said to me recently.
Of course, these owners never consider that it could be their own fault or that of the manager or practice culture. But it's
not just owners complaining. Team members are, too. For every time someone says, "I can't find good employees," I also hear,
"The management at my practice stinks."
Hold on: Annual staff turnover has decreased by more than 15 percent after Brian Conrad became more team-oriented. (PHOTOS
BY JACKIE JOHNSTON)
I sympathize with both the owners and the employees. As a practice manager, I've been through the agony of high employee turnover—and
come out on the other side. In a few short years, we took our turnover at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash.,
from 25 percent to less than 10 percent. We improved staff retention by taking responsibility for training, hiring, and challenging
our team. We did it with a promise.
The turning point
Several years ago, my practice owners and I were feeling the strain of employee turnover. Finally, we decided enough was enough.
I'd been setting a theme for our management team each year, so we made that year—2004—the "Year of the Staff." We'd always
said we treated our staff well, but did we really? It was time to find out. In the process, we learned that our exit interviews
weren't telling the whole story. Most people weren't leaving because they wanted more money or were tired of the veterinary
field. They were leaving because they didn't see any more opportunities or challenges at Meadow Hills.
That was the year I wrote My Promise: "No team member will leave the practice feeling unchallenged, concede to a lack of direction,
or have professional growth hindered."
No more finger-pointing
My Promise marked a turning point for our practice because it indicated a new philosophy—one in which management accepted
ultimate responsibility. The owners and I made a concerted effort to focus inward. Failure on the part of any team member
directly reflected on us, the practice leadership, not on the employee.
For example, let's say a new employee was having trouble figuring out how to create a puppy vaccination schedule. Before My
Promise, our reaction would've been, "We've already told her how to determine the vaccination schedule. She's obviously not
bright enough for the job." With My Promise, our new reaction was to look at our own management decisions. Had we spent enough
time on training, practicing, and role-playing? Did we prepare adequate reference materials? Maybe training wasn't the problem;
maybe it was our hiring techniques. Did we hire too quickly, choosing somebody who never belonged at our clinic to begin with?
Either way, management had to take responsibility. The team member didn't fail; we failed the team member. The management
team focused on being more humble, learning from mistakes, and moving on.
The other side of the fence (PHOTOS BY JACKIE JOHNSTON)
That mantle of ultimate responsibility funneled down from management to senior staff. An employee survey revealed that some
new team members were finding it hard to fit in at our practice because senior team members were quick to point the finger
when the newer employees made mistakes. That was a warning sign for us. We have since worked to create a culture in which
senior staff understand that new team members' mistakes mean those employees need further training and guidance. Instead of
casting blame and complaining, senior team members now look for solutions.