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Issue: 64 - Apr 15, 2014
How a 4H Showmanship Class Changed My Performance Review Program
By: Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting

The story following is a 3-part series about Claire*, a hospital manager driven to the brink of insanity because of complaints about new hires.  *The names have been changed to protect the innocent (ala the TV show “Dragnet” style).

 A Day at 4H 

“Mom, you have to take me to this class next Saturday!”  Claire’s daughter, Morgan, was blocking the doorway, hands on her hips and an intense stare in her eyes.  Claire kicked off her barn boots with a sigh.  After all, she was the mother around here and if anyone was going to demand what someone “has to do” it was going to be her; and just what new class was Morgan demanding to take – ballet, karate, ceramics…heaven knows that girl has gone to them all. 

The Look on Claire’s face spoke volumes.  “Mom, this is for 4H and it will teach me how to show my steer.  I didn’t do that great last year and this class will help me.”  A few minutes later, Claire was marking her schedule for an afternoon of 4H showmanship lessons.

Sitting on the bleachers at the show barn, Claire prepared to settle in to doing some work on employee evaluations for her veterinary team.  The new hires were showing miserable performance reviews, and her long-term people were getting their annual reviews too.  Performance evaluations were such a problem.  Everyone hated to do them – even now, Claire found herself ignoring all the evaluations and watching the showmanship lesson instead.

The 4H leader seemed well prepared to Claire.  She explained the goals of showmanship, the skills needed to safely lead the steer in the show ring, the little tips to help one’s performance and how those actions affected the judging of the showman as well as the judging of the steer.  Claire was intrigued by the demonstration.  After working on skills, the leader arranged the kids into groups and called upon a few other 4H leaders to assist the groups by coaching them through playing judge of each other.

The 4H Lesson

Claire noticed that the other leaders seemed equally versed in the agenda for the day.  She overheard some of them reminding the kids what was covered in the opening – what the goal was, what the cause and effect was for a particular technique and how the judge would be interpreting their actions.  Claire shook her head, her own managers often acted lost and frustrated when she asked them to fill out the forms on their team members.  They voiced concern, told stories about the good and the bad, complained about the evaluation forms, rolled their eyes when the owners made comments about certain people and basically asked to avoid the whole process.  But these 4H leaders were on the same page and engaged with the process.

Claire felt the proverbial light bulb click on when the 4H leader told the kids to judge each other and tell the showman 3 things:  what the showman should stop doing, start doing and continue doing (McCord).  Claire thought about those three pieces of advice and looked at her pile of evaluation forms.  How much easier would it be to get participation of the practice owners and managers if she streamlined the evaluation form?  Would clients and other team members be willing to participate in the process if they just had to offer three pieces of advice? 

When the kids gathered to discuss what they learned about their showmanship techniques, Claire knew she needed to take some of the lessons from the day and revamp her performance evaluation process.  But first, she was being called down to the ring.  The leaders were putting the parents into the ring and letting the kids judge the parents.  As Claire showed the steer she tried to recall what she had overheard being told to the different kids – hold the lead this way, step to this side to let the judge see the steer, place the legs this way to show off the steer, watch the judge, smile….  In the end, Claire landed in the bottom half of her group.  The “judges” let Claire know what she did well, what she should stop doing and what she needed to start doing. Driving home, Claire listened to Morgan and a friend recounting their evaluations.  She was surprised to see how engaged Morgan was in the judging process and the fact that she was anxious to go to the next club meeting and pass along the tips to the other kids.  The day proved beneficial to both mother and daughter.

Applying the 4H Lesson

Back at work, Claire went over the showmanship lesson – not so much the actual lesson, but rather, the preparation of the leaders, the way they educated the kids, and how they coached, praised and corrected the kids.

First, Claire was going to do a little prep work with the owners and managers to create an evaluation process that was more aligned with their unique practice and not just a copy of an online form.

  • Discuss the vision of the practice and goals to support that vision.
  • Review job descriptions for accuracy of duties, functions, behaviors and objectives (and do those items support the goals and vision of the practice).
  • Review how the owners and managers will model the vision and culture of the practice – understanding what drives practice success and how employees view certain actions.
  • Establish performance SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) and metrics.
  • Train the managers how to recognize performance gaps, how to perform reviews and set up PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans).
  • Set up forms for documenting performance and a system to track performance reviews, PIPs and attainment of goals.

Next, Claire wanted to educate the team.  She recalled how the 4H kids were not just told to stand this way, move that way.  Instead, they were told WHY they should stand and move in certain ways.  She realized that many of the team members never looked at their performance review forms until they were handed a 3-page listing of duties and told to evaluate themselves. 

  • Provide concrete plans for learning goals and performance goals, learning goals being about skills and knowledge to learn, performance goals being about performance outcomes (Latham).  Using some techniques of Open Book Management to help provide the link between performance and client service, patient care and business success.
  • Explain how they will be evaluated and measured.
  • Solicit input from the employees regarding job descriptions, and behavior important to the vision and goals of the practice.
  • Educate the team on how to complete a self-evaluation AND how to give a review on their co-workers for the new 360-review.

Finally, Claire wanted to achieve a feedback process that encouraged and engaged the employee much like how the 4H kids experienced during their showmanship training session.  Claire hated the way everyone despised the review process and the fact that people did not seem to make any changes in their behavior after the review meeting.

  • Focus on behaviors and the desired behavior
  • Utilize a simplified 360-review with clients and co-workers (what to keep doing, stop doing and start doing).
  • Measure what is aligned with the practice vision and goals
  • Encourage managers to coach team members to better performance behaviors
  • Link pay to performance (and not be afraid to lower someone’s pay as well as raise it)

Claire’s Evaluation Results

With the new process in place, Claire watched for certain results.  She saw managers tracking their team members better and giving feedback on a more regular basis because they had a handle on what each person was working on.  She noticed better response rates with the revised 360-review plan and even enjoyed input from some of their clients, as well as their associate doctors!  When it was decided to terminate a work relationship, Claire noticed that it did not come as a surprise to anyone any more – the employee actually knew they weren’t improving their performance.  She also saw a change in new hires since the performance review process was better organized the managers were able to catch performance gaps with the new hire and initiate corrections.

All in all, Claire felt more confident with their performance review system.  Now if Claire could just figure out how to score in the top half of the parent showmanship competition the 4H kids were planning for the county fair!

Louise S. Dunn

Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting

1955 Indian Wells Trails

Pfafftown, NC  27404



Latham, G.  (2011).  Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager:  Making the Science of Management Work for You.  Boston:  Davis-Black.

McCord, P. (2014, January-February )  “How Netflix Reinvented HR.”  Harvard Business Review, 71-77.