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Issue: 32 - Aug 15, 2011
Becoming a Supervisor: Relationship Management
By: Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR
interFace Veterinary HR System
Gone are the days when management says “jump!” and the employee replies, “OK, how high?” Now, when management says “jump”, the employee replies, “why should I?” Gone are the days when credentials, age, or experience automatically gained you the respect of others. Now, respect has to be earned from every employee on every level of the hierarchy. Gone are the days when a person worked for the company, and enjoyed a mutually beneficial loyalty throughout their entire professional career. Now, it’s all about relationship management, and over the span of a career there may be many of these relationships with many different bosses. More than ever, those of us in management have to pay attention to the quality of our relationship with each employee, in order to coach the best performance from them for the benefit of the practice.
So if you say “jump” to your team, you’re likely to hear not only “why?” but also comments such as, is this really necessary? What’s the purpose? What if I get hurt doing it? What’s in it for me? How will I be evaluated? Who came up with this stupid idea? And perhaps even more…perhaps “this wasn’t on my job description!” (That, by the way, is the phrase that makes any manager’s blood boil!) If you’ve created a good relationship with the employee, often he or she will perform the requested action just because it’s YOU asking them, and they respect you and trust that if you’re asking, there must be a good reason. But this level of trust doesn’t come automatically; it’s all about the relationship formed between the direct “boss” (that is usually you, the supervisor) and the employee. It’s been shown that employees work for a person, NOT a company. Are you going to be a person worth working for? Then you also need to become a good coach!
1. The First Day
Do you remember your first day in a new school, or your first day at a new job? It’s a difficult day. There are a lot of people around that you don’t know, and you’re not sure how to even start a conversation. It’s easy to feel completely alone, even in the midst of other people. Then there’s a building that you’re not familiar with, so even finding where to put your stuff is cumbersome. You may even get lost a few times wandering through the halls. As a supervisor, when we think of building a relationship we have to start at the beginning with every new hire. The first impressions on the new employee will often make or break their longevity, and if it’s not handled well you may lose a lot of new people in the first six months after hire. So make sure their first day is a planned event. Be available when they start their first shift to take them around to tour the facility again, and introduce them to everyone you pass. Show them where to clock in, but also where to store their purse, backpack, lunch, etc. This may involve introducing them to the employee refrigerator, where it will be important to hit the basic rules of the road (label your food and drinks, remove leftovers before mold grows, the refrigerator gets emptied and cleaned biweekly, etc.). Then, be sure that either you or someone you assign that is friendly and welcoming eats lunch with the new employee, and checks in with him or her at the end of their first shift to answer any last questions or concerns. First impressions absolutely do last, so make it a good start!
2. Coaching Along The Way
For some reason, it’s always easily to recognize when an employee does wrong, rather than when they do right. If the unspoken policy at your practice is, “no news is good news”, then that’s not good enough! As human beings, we all need and desire acknowledgement. We want to know we’re on the right track, not just that we’ll be bumped back onto the track if we veer off. So give encouragement freely, but make sure it’s sincere and specific. In order to increase the sincerity, don’t overdo it and compliment every little thing. Save the compliments for actual achievements, so they mean more when they are given. Somewhere in the middle of no compliments, and too many compliments, there is a fine line. Ideally, you will compliment a particular employee at least 1-2 times a week, loosely. Then make sure that the compliments are specific to what they were seen doing right. Instead of “good job with that angry cat”, you’d want to be specific and say “you really stayed in control and used some excellent restraint methods on that angry cat, good job!” Rather than, “thanks for helping that client”, you’d say “I saw how you interacted with that client who was worried about their pet; you were really empathetic and it was wonderful to see her feel better after talking to you.”
3. Coaching on the Agenda
Although coaching is a continuous practice, it also needs to be a specific meeting on the agenda. The concept of the Employee Development Meeting (EDM) has been adapted from Michael Gerber, and since then a form was developed to lead this conversation. The purpose of the form is the first item of importance: When relationships are strengthened, progress is discussed, and decisions are documented. So right away we understand that one purpose of this meeting is to improve the relationship between the manager and the employee. Then the chart provides a place to document each goal or assignment and the progress on completing each goal or assignment. Are there any obstacles in the way of completion, and is the supervisor’s help needed to overcome this obstacle? What is the agreed upon deadline, and does it need adjusted based on unforeseen obstacles. By the way, note the “agreed upon” in the description of that deadline. The boss should not simply tell the employee a date, but instead lead a conversation regarding how much time the task will take, how much time the employee can realistically devote to the task, and what else the employee has on their plate, so therefore when it should be completed. However, the employee should be responsible for keeping this deadline as their guiding light, and approach management with the need for an extension if needed based on their progress. Finally the form provides for signatures and any additional comments as needed. The great thing about the signature section is that is provides for signed documentation if needed in the event an employee fails to reach their goal or has to be spoken to about some type of transgression. For example, if punctuality is slipping, then this would be a new item on the EDM agenda. In fact, writing it down, discussing it, and then obtaining a signature is tantamount to a written warning and can be treated as such if the issue continues!
4. Personal vs. Professional Interest
On the EDM form, you will notice that you are to gather the employee’s goals from previous EDM meetings, their most recent evaluation, or perhaps a new topic such as a new goal or recent issue that needs to be discussed. In this way, you are constantly coaching them to reach these next goals. Too often, we set up goals during evaluation time that aren’t looked at again until the next year when it’s time to write the new evaluation! In the meantime, twelve months went by without any progress or monitoring. Or, we set up “goals” is such a relaxed manner that we make it impossible to judge whether the goal has been reached. Telling an employee, “you need to be better at client service”, is something difficult for you to monitor, and difficult for the employee to know just how their behavior is supposed to change. However, making it specific such as “smile at every client, shake hands with new clients, engage in active listening by making eye contact and nodding your head or making nonverbal encouraging sounds” will give them, and you, something to go on, something to actually do different and be able to observe to measure progress. But apart from setting and reaching these professional goals, remember we must strengthen the relationship between us as boss and that employee, so we also need to concern ourselves with their personal goals. Are you supposed to substitute as a counselor? Of course not! But if we want the best from our employees, we need to demonstrate that we care.
If employees do not believe they are respected and appreciated for their efforts, and if they do not feel cared about by those who have responsibility for them, it will be more difficult for them to establish and maintain a truly caring environment for patients [and clients].  Paul B. Hofmann, Healthcare Executive Sep/Oct 2009
Do we need to be the “boss”? Of course. Does that mean we shouldn’t “care”? Absolutely not. In fact, the employee will only work for us if he or she knows we care, not only about the job they perform but also about he or she as a person. Every member of the team is counting on you to be the person that will coach them to success!  

Click here for an Employee Development Meeting (EDM) form!
Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR