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Issue: 56 - Aug 15, 2013
3 Actions That Increase Accountability
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

One of the biggest management frustrations for veterinary practice owners and managers is inconsistent job performance.  Why is it that some employees excel while others lack initiative in the workplace and demonstrate poor attention to detail?  Employers and managers often think these employees lack motivation or have a poor attitude which isn’t always true.  The real issue in many practices is one of lack of accountability.  All too often, employees aren’t held accountable for their inadequate job performance.


There are various degrees of lack of accountability.  Employees that consistently demonstrate an inferior job performance in multiple areas lack accountability and need to be terminated.  Other employees may have lapses in accountability but have an average or above-average job performance most of the time.  This is often the situation in veterinary practices. The following examples are evidence of lack of accountability: tasks not completed consistently, lapses in client service, employees fail to complete assignments on time or make excuses for their inconsistent job performance, and chronic tardiness.  When lack of accountability exists, employees may verbalize phrases such as “it’s good enough” “it’s not my job”, “I didn’t have time”, “I didn’t know”, or “I just work here”.   


It is easier to ignore minor job inconsistencies than to confront employees.  But inaction and frustration won’t improve team performance. Instead, take the following steps to improve accountability in your practice and provide a foundation for improving employee motivation and job performance.


Anchoring team members to a vision and core values gives them focus and direction. 

Employees benefit from understanding how their individual job roles and assignments fit into the “big picture” or vision of the practice and how their actions help to achieve business goals. Think of your employees as a rowing team and the practice vision is their destination.

Core values represent how veterinary teams will conduct business and as such they serve as a foundation for talking to staff about accountability.  The core values determine the direction the team will take to reach their destination.  Remind employees that all their actions need to be consistent with your core values. Be sure to reference the vision and core values in everyday communications and during staff meetings. 

For example, when discussing tardiness, managers can reference that “respect” is a core value of the practice and when employees are tardy they demonstrate a lack of respect for their co-workers.  Likewise, tardiness negatively affects “exceptional client service” which is both a goal and a core value of the business.  Employees are much more receptive to dialogue that is focused on core values.  A discussion of inconsistent job performance no longer sounds like nagging but instead is focused on the importance of adherence to the core values and attainment of the practice goals. 


For employees with an inconsistent job performance, it is important to determine if lack of training is the reason the employee is unaccountable.  For example, if a receptionist doesn’t consistently collect deposits or offer clients third-party payment plans, it may be because they haven’t been adequately trained to talk to clients about fees.  In addition, the employee may not fully understand the value of the services and may not be comfortable reacting to clients that express anger about treatment plan fees.     

Practices must provide sufficient training for new-hires and invest in on-going training for all employees to ensure employees’ proficiency at work.  Veterinary management teams often report a lack of resources when it comes to training-namely that they don’t have the time, money or people to do sufficient training.  These are excuses and will hinder practice success.  There are a number of low cost options for training including, industry lunch n learns, free webinars, local seminars, books, DVDs, CDs and in-house training.  If time is an issue, start small by allocating 30 minute sessions each week.     

Get organized by implementing employee developmental plans. Use a written form to keep a record of the development plan and training needs for each employee.  Form should outline the employee’s current strengths and weaknesses of job performance, current skill set and proficiencies, the employee’s interests and desired skills, training necessary to achieve new skills or proficiency levels and quarterly or monthly goals.  Be sure forms specify a timetable and deadlines for training and achievement of goals. 


One of the best ways to improve job performance and accountability is to set up an effective feedback system with employees when delegating job tasks.  Communicate and clarify expectations to employees in a direct, straightforward manner.  Be sure to assess for understanding from employees.  Ask them if they have any questions about their assigned job tasks.  Don’t forget to give employees deadlines when delegating job tasks.  Rather than asking an employee “Can you please file these records and enter these invoices?” instead say “I need these records filed and the invoices entered by the end of your shift.  Can you complete this job task by 5pm?”

Once job tasks are delegated, give employees constructive feedback on their job performance.  One of the most important aspects of giving effective feedback is to be specific.  Specific information about how job duties are performed is more meaningful than comments such as “Thanks for doing a good job” or “We need for you to do a better job”.  Specific feedback tells a team member what behavior you want them to continue and/or what behavior is unacceptable.  While at times it may seem nit-picky, not everyone has the same definition of what is an “exceptional, good or poor” job performance, what is “on-time” or what is “clean”

Feedback must be timely and consistent to ensure accountability. This is where many managers falter.  Offering consistent, regular feedback is part of an on-going coaching process to ensure employees understand job assignments and to reinforce the desired behavior from team members.  Some team members need daily feedback-especially new hires and those employees who aren’t meeting job expectations.  Remember that feedback needs to be done face-to-face with employee meetings.  Memos, emails and group announcements at a staff meeting aren’t effective ways to positively affect individual job performance.

Part of the feedback process includes soliciting feedback from employees, not just giving them feedback.  Ask staff members on a regular basis how they are doing, if they have the tools and resources to do their job, if they have challenges they need help with, and what ideas they have to make improvements in the practice. 


The last step in establishing accountability for your practice is to be willing to terminate employees who demonstrate a lack of accountability despite all your efforts.  Otherwise, accountability efforts will slip because employees realize that there is no consequence for failing to be accountable.


Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA

ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC