Starting Off On The Right Foot--Does Your New Team Member Embrace Your Practice Philosophy?
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2007
Susan Halloran, BVSc, Grad Cert Management
Lilyfield, NSW, Australia

Think about all the times you have needed to employ a new staff member over the years. How many times did you employ the one with the skills to step straight in and do the job? And, how many times did you select the one who seemed to have the perfect attitude even though he or she needed a lot of training?

Putting aside the fact that sometimes we're blessed with a 'miracle'--someone with both the skills and attitude we need--Which one did you chose? Which one should you have chosen?

When seeking a new staff member we often fall into the trap of thinking that the most important thing is to employ someone who is technically proficient. Over the years in practice I employed a number of, highly qualified, technically proficient staff who left after a short period of time or worse still, stayed way too long! Finally, the penny dropped, and I realised that for a new employee to become a valued, long standing, member of our practice team the most important thing was that he or she must embrace our practice philosophy. Skills can be taught but the beliefs, values, and opinions that shape the way an individual thinks, acts, and understands the world are not easily changed.

So how do we ensure our new team member embraces our practice philosophy?

Acknowledge Your Practice Philosophy

As a leader or manager, before you can hope to ensure a new team member embraces your practice philosophy, you must, not only, understand what it is, but you must communicate it and "live it". Something that exists only as a vague idea in your head is unlikely to motivate you let alone your entire staff!

Collins & Porras, in an article in the Harvard Business Review, (Sept-Oct, 1996), entitled "Building Your Company's Vision", define core values as "a small set of timeless guiding principles" and core purpose as "the organization's most fundamental reason for existence". Together these comprise core ideology or "the enduring character of an organization". The vision of an organization emerges when this core ideology is combined with a B-HAG--"Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal" and "a vivid description of what it will be like to achieve the goal".

I like this approach but perhaps the more common way to characterise your practice philosophy is by agreeing on your vision--"the picture of the future you seek to create" and then stating your mission--"what you will do in order to attain your vision of the practice". This then leads to the setting of the goals for, or by, the practice team. Consideration for the culture of the practice--"the way we do things here" and the beliefs underlying the culture "what we value" are also integral to this alternative approach.

Regardless of how you define your practice philosophy you and your practice staff must have value congruence and commitment to mutual goal attainment, otherwise things just will not work!

Hire for Attitude

Tom Catanzaro in his HR Pocket Guide, reminds us "Hire for attitude--interview for values, not skills."

To increase the chances of having the right people apply for your position it is necessary to project your practice philosophy. Make sure the wording and style of your advertisement reflects your practice ethos. Include you practice logo and your mission statement or slogan and use your practice colours in the advertisement.

When responding to applicants, prior to interview, give them a little of your practice's history and include a copy of your vision, mission statement, values and goals.

Make sure interviewees get a tour of the practice before the interview so they can see first hand, what your practice philosophy means in terms of work environment, customer service, patient care and staff participation.

Involve appropriate members of the practice team in the interview process. When conducting the interview ensure that applicants are able to articulate, in their own words, an understanding of your vision and mission and assess their commitment to both these things. Focus on personal and practice value congruence and value divergence and assess if the potential employee's personal goals reflect those of the practice. Don't ignore "gut" feeling. Chose the person who "fits".

In your letter of offer, contract of employment or Australian Workplace Agreement, as well as detailing terms of employment, restate the practice's vision, mission, values and goals and request that the new recruit sign that they agree to uphold these. Make demonstration of congruent values and team "fit" a condition of continuing employment; something that will be monitored throughout the probationary period and at further performance reviews. Remember, a probationary period should not simply be implied but should be an agreed employment condition.

Communicate Your Practice Philosophy

Induction programmes often address the how, when and where but not the why? The Australian Veterinary Practice Management Association has a "customisable" Induction Manual that addresses not only the tangible aspects of the induction process but also the intangibles. This is critically important because many employees are selected for positions without any reference being made to the philosophy of the practice. And, even when practice philosophy is addressed an applicant with a less than satisfactory "fit" may have been appointed due to a seeming lack of suitable applicants or a perceived need on our part that we must have a replacement employee "NOW".

When a new person joins your practice it is important to ensure that they truly understand your practice philosophy otherwise you will never be able to assess if they embrace it. Some of this will indeed happen by osmosis, if everyone in the practice "walks the talk", but much of it will not.

Make sure that the practice's mission statement is printed out and placed not only in the reception area where clients and front of practice staff can see it but also in the treatment area of the hospital for those staff members who spend the majority of their working day there. The staff room or lunch area is another good display area. Remember also that something that is in front of us day in and day out quickly becomes invisible. Help to overcome this by changing the way the mission statement is presented--hang it in a different place, have multiple differently styled or framed copies or better still in this day and age use a digital photo frame with ever changing design.

Include details of the practice philosophy in the policies and procedures manual that the new employee receives. Put the practice logo and slogan on everything that anyone in the practice looks at or wears!

A presentation detailing those things your practice sees as important is a good way to give new employees a feeling for the practice philosophy. Rather than just "this is what we do" aim to convey "this is why we do it". Long before anyone in the veterinary sphere in Australia started seriously talking about vision and mission our practice had developed what we called our 10 Commandments which started life as a two page printed document and over the years became our 10 C's of the Covenant--a 100+ slide power point presentation. This gave new employees an understanding of the practice ethos and helped engender the attitude we were seeking to foster (Table 1).

Table 1. 10 C's of the Covenant--with some examples reflecting "why" rather than just "what".

1. Care & Commitment--champion the cause of the patient

"We must never offer a level of care for the pet based on our perception of the value of the pet to the client."
Rick Le Couteur

"Ethically & morally, veterinary effort should be directed towards preventing disease & suffering and promoting health--stating what is best for the pet."
Tom Catanzaro & Caroline Jevring

"Only the client has the right to reduce the level of care that the pet is to receive."
Marty Becker

2. Customer Service--go one step beyond

External Customers =>

--Clients are the cornerstone of any business
--Vet practices are first and foremost businesses
--Treat every client as if he or she is your only client

Internal Customers =>

--Treat staff as you would have them treat clients

3. Communication

Poor communication, is the main basis for dissatisfaction with, and in, vet practices =>

--Excellent communication with clients and the public
--Supportive communication between staff members
--Empathetic communication with our patients

Always ask: Are there any other questions you would like to ask me?

Always say: Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any concerns or queries.

Always offer: Thanks and praise where these are due.

4. Consistency--prevents confusion

All staff must give the same consistent, appropriate and timely information and advice

5. Cleanliness--part of professional image




6. Children--are clients of the future

Involve them in the consultation

Encourage responsible pet ownership

7. CQI--the only constant is change

Learning is a never ending process

knowledge gleaned

For each day of CE implement one new idea

8. Co-operation, Compatibility, Complementarity, Conviviality => Cohesion

In a team there is a multiplier effect, which results in total performance greater than what would have been expected by simply adding together individual contributions.

9. Cash, Cheque, Credit Card

To be able to continue to
--Serve patients & clients and
--Achieve fair remuneration =>

--The practice must be economically viable
--We must charge and collect realistic fees
--We must not apologise for our fees

10. Career Satisfaction

Contentment =>

--"A job well done"
--Work is not the "be all and end all"

Compensation =>

--Reward or emotional wealth
--Remuneration or financial wealth

All of these approaches, however, resemble the lower levels of the "telling / selling / testing / consulting / co-creating" continuum for building a shared vision, discussed in 1996 by Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross & Smith, in "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook--Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organisation". It is obviously difficult to reach the "co-creating" level with a new employee when the practice philosophy is already firmly established but early on in the new term of employment it is wise to hold a staff meeting which focuses on this vitally important aspect of your practice. Existing staff can explain the importance of personal and practice values being congruent and can discuss the thinking behind the development of the practice's vision and mission. The new staff member can ask questions and express his or her opinions. Together everyone can re-address the short term and long term goals for the practice.

Appraise Performance

When reviewing the performance of a new employee during and towards the end of the probationary period it is important to not only consider technical performance. With reference to your previously signed agreement with the new employee, assess if the way he or she thinks and acts is apt and if there is evidence of team "fit". Demonstrated value congruence and commitment to mutual goal attainment along with the ability to relate to staff members, patients and clients are as important as technical competence. If the employee's mind-set is right and he or she is demonstrating proficiency in the more technical aspects of the position then employment can be confirmed.

But, what do we do if our new recruit does not embrace our practice philosophy?

Fire for Attitude

Under Australian industrial relations' laws the extension of probationary periods is risky and should only be contemplated if the probationary clause in the original letter of offer, contract or AWA makes provision for this. Simply put, it's best to remember, if you're not happy with an employee's attitude or performance by the end of the probationary period, chances are you won't ever be happy. Terminating employment at this stage and seeking to fill the position more appropriately will, almost without fail, be the least stressful, long-term approach for all concerned.

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Susan Halloran, BVSc, Grad Cert Management
NSW, Australia

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