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Issue: 74 - Feb 16, 2015
The Performance Management Cycle
By: Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR
interFace Veterinary HR System

How are you doing with the human resources part of managing the practice?  Have you found some job descriptions, maybe in a recent textbook?  Did you get a performance evaluation form, perhaps from a colleague across town?  Are you set up with online training for your team, finally?  All of that is wonderful news, except this may not be the best way to manage your human resources.

What? say.  But I gathered these things up, just like the management consultants said to do!  The problem isn’t what you have collected, or even where you got it from, but instead possibly a failure to customize the resources for YOUR practice.  A job description is great to have, in fact essential, but it needs to accurately describe the job in YOUR practice, not just what a veterinary technician is expected to do according to the author of some book.  This may be the first time you’re actually giving performance evaluations, and that’s wonderful.  But just because this evaluation form works for the practice across town, it does not mean it will work for you and your team.  Training is essential, and hard to develop, but you must provide training for the way it is done in YOUR practice.  Success comes not from having these resources in your possession, but from designing these core human resources documents to fit your practice.  Strength comes from these documents supporting and building on each other.

We start with the job description, and ensure it is accurate for each job in the practice, your practice.  Next, the training program is designed to teach the duties that are listed on that job description you just customized.  Then, the evaluation should assess how well the team member performs each of the tasks listed on that job description, and taught in that training program, that now explains how to do the job in your practice.  If a team member is having problems, the manager can refer back to the aforementioned documents, to reiterate the job that needs to be done, how to do it correctly, and how that will be measured or assessed.

Perhaps you feel like your human resources program has a pretty good handle on this management cycle concept.  Awesome!  If true, you should be able to take a task and trace it through this cycle.  Using the veterinary technician as our guinea pig, one of the essential tasks listed in the job description for a vet tech should be administering medications, using various methods (IV, SQ, IM, for example).  The training program needs to teach how to administer medications using each of those methods, the best way (i.e., do you know how many ways there are to tape in a cephalic catheter?  Exactly!).  On the evaluation form, somewhere there should be a spot to assess how the team member is doing with these tasks.  Any counseling or discipline for that team member will reiterate this cycle, sending them right back to look at the job description where the expectation was explained, the training program where the methods were taught, and the evaluation that reflected the success (or not) of that team member for this task. 

Typically, for tasks or duties, this is the route the performance management cycle will take.  But what about the less ‘tangible’ expectations, personality traits and behaviors that are needed by each team member to ‘fit in’, but cannot be taught per se?  These expectations should still be on the job description, as in the expectation for team members to be present, on time, and respectful to their coworkers.  It is often these less tangible or “soft” skills that get a team member in trouble, and even terminated.  What do we do about those?

Whereas a job duty is spelled out in the standard operating procedures or protocols, the “soft” skills are more likely found within the employee manual or handbook.  In its pages you will lay out the expectations for attendance and punctuality.  This manual or handbook should also have some statement about core values and what is included, such as honesty, integrity, cooperation, etc.  These are not typically things you can “train” another person to do, but you can (and should) spell out the expectations, and then evaluate the team member on how well they reflect these values.  Many times these are the traits that seem like they should be “common sense”, such as saying please and thank you to coworkers.  Unfortunately, common sense is NOT that common!  It is better to spell it out and have something to fall back on, than assume that the team members share your same values or what you consider important.

We have a lot to learn about each one of these human resources tools, which will be important to know.  But you must also step back a number of feet and look at the ‘big picture’ of how these tools fit together to create a team that performs to your standard.