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Issue: 70 - Oct 15, 2014
3 Leadership Actions that Improve Job Performance
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC

Since practice leaders have so much to do, it’s easy to lose focus and spend time on the wrong activities. 

Managers and practice owners alike tend to fall into the trap of spending all their time “managing” and neglect to focus an appropriate amount of time on leadership activities. If you spend most of your time putting out fires, responding to employee interruptions and operational tasks then you may be a reactive leader rather than a proactive leader. Proactive leaders know the importance of spending time working “on” their practices rather than “in” their practices. 

You’ve probably heard that line before since the concept has been discussed by multiple authors and consultants. To work “on” your business means you spend time on activities that will drive the success of the business rather than just focusing on the task at hand.

In his #1 national best-seller book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presented his time management matrix with 4 quadrants of how people spend their time:

  • Quadrant I is on important/urgent activities
  • Quadrant II is on not urgent/important activities
  • Quadrant III is on not important/urgent activities
  • Quadrant IV is on not-important/not urgent activities.

The premise of his model was to show that people tend to spend too much time in Quadrants I, III and IV and not enough time in Quadrant II.

Here are three non-urgent yet important actions that will improve employee job performance and enhance practice productivity.

  1. Take Action To Address Inferior Job Performance

There’s no question that it’s a challenge to recruit, hire and retain excellent employees in veterinary medicine. Having said this, at times practice leaders are complacent and tolerate substandard job performance…for years in some instances. Don’t make this mistake. Take action quickly to address inferior job performance, problem employees and conflict. Consider whether you are ignoring or failing to respond to these employee job performance concerns:

  • Consistent errors by an employee
  • Lack of competency or proficiency in required core competencies
  • A team member who shirks job duties so the rest of the team doesn’t want to work with them
  • Failure to complete assigned job tasks on time
  • Employees who are chronically late or absent
  • Conflict between co-workers
  • Negativity and rude or abrupt comments
  • Insubordination or lack of respect shown to co-workers

When poor job performance is not addressed, it can have damaging effects on your culture, undermine your leadership and negatively impact your business. If there is someone on your team that you need to meet with, make a commitment to schedule that meeting today!

  1. Implement Employee Development Plans

Savvy practice leaders know they need to strive to develop their team members and create a culture defined by a high level of performance. Wikipedia defines employee development as “the strategic” investment, by an organization, in the training of its members.” The University of Minnesota’s Office of Human Resources states “Employee development is a joint, on-going effort on the part of an employee and the organization for which he or she works to upgrade the employee's knowledge, skills, and abilities.” I define employee development as “efforts to assist in the professional growth and learning for team members.” All these definitions are similar and focus on key aspects of employee development - training and learning for the employee and the commitment by the organization to these goals. 

To ascertain whether your practice has employee developmental plans in place answer the following questions:

  • Does the practice have a formal training program for new hires?
  • Is there a plan in place to provide on-going training to all employees?
  • Does the practice utilize multiple resources to provide training for employees?
  • Do employees meet with managers to discuss their training needs on a regular basis?
  • Are employees encouraged to develop new skills?
  • Does the practice have a training budget?
  • Are employees empowered to utilize their skills?
  • Does every employee have a written developmental plan that is reviewed with managers quarterly or bi-annually?

Remember employee development is not the same as an employee review process. Employee reviews assess current and past job performance. Discussion of developmental plans may or may not be part of this process. Managers use employee reviews to talk to employees about their strengths and weaknesses, outline what areas of job performance may need improvement and may or may not give raises during this time. While there is nothing wrong with this protocol, management teams often miss the opportunity to put an effective plan in place to assist employees with training and professional development. As a result, employee motivation and job satisfaction may suffer which can lead to reduced employee retention. Additionally, the practice misses out on opportunities to improve employee competency and productivity.

Great teams don’t just happen. Leaders have to spend time individually and collectively with team members to develop their talents, skills and knowledge. Understandably, practice leaders tend to focus on striving to overcome or at least improve the weaknesses of team members. However, the practice would be better served by focusing time on the more productive staff members who want to learn and who will then contribute more to the success of the practice. This doesn't mean you won't afford all your employees an opportunity to grow or that you won't try to motivate everyone. It simply means that it is OK to accept that some team members will be more motivated and enthusiastic about attaining a higher level of job performance than others.

Developmental plans should be tailored to the individual employee. Not all employees have the same interests, skills and proficiency. For example, one technician might be interested in nutrition and patient care, while another may be more interested in behavior and developing their laboratory skills. Employee development forms should be utilized to keep a written record of plans for each employee. This 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 that is necessary to achieve new skills or proficiency levels and quarterly or monthly goals. The forms should specify a timetable and deadlines for training and achievement of goals. 

  1. Focus On Positive Feedback

Proactive leaders give positive feedback to employees on a regular basis. Research has shown that the ideal ratio of praise to criticism is 5:1. Positive feedback can come in many forms. It could be encouraging comments, acknowledgement of work efforts, praise for a job well done or positive feedback on any aspect of an employee’s job performance. While positive feedback can come in the form of cards, gifts, bonuses, or time off the most effective form of feedback is verbal communication.

There are two secrets to effective feedback. First, is to be sure to give feedback to everyone on the team on a regular basis. It’s easy to neglect employees with a superior job performance. Likewise, it is easy to focus only on negative feedback with problem employees and neglect to give them encouragement and praise that is warranted. Second, to be most effective feedback needs to be consistent and specific. This means it needs to be a weekly if not daily activity for practice leaders. Focus on giving praise as soon as possible after the observed behavior. Try to provide feedback that is specific. Rather than saying, “good job” or “thanks for your hard work,” comment on the specific actions of the employee. For example, you could say “Thank you for patiently listening to Mrs. Jones and completing all the progress calls. I really appreciate how hard you worked today.”

Giving consistent positive feedback to your team helps elevate team morale and it encourages a higher level of job performance. 

ALD Veterinary Consulting, LLC