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July 10, 2018
September 10, 2018

Become a Veterinary Employer of Choice

Mark Opperman
CVPM

Have you ever wondered why some veterinary practices never seem to have a problem attracting doctors and staff, while others can’t seem to attract even the most marginal applicant, no matter what they try? I know of one veterinarian who has a “waiting list” of technicians who want to work in his practice. In the same city there are many other veterinary practices that have been trying to hire a licensed technician for months and can’t seem to find one. What makes one practice so different from the other?

It’s that one is an “employer of choice” and the other is not. An employer of choice is the veterinary hospital everyone wants to work at, they have the reputation of being the best – not only in their patient care but in how they treat their employees. An employer of choice is not limited to the veterinary world. This concept is universal. If you are a service employee in Orlando, Florida, you would most probably want to work at Disney; if you worked in the computer industry you would be thrilled if you got a job at Dell; and if you worked in the hotel industry, your ideal job would most definitely be at the Ritz Carlton. What makes these companies employers of choice? The answer to this question is the key to solving your hiring problems and a significant component to your practice’s present and future success.

The common trait that each of these employers share is that they all, in their respective industries, are the most desirable places to work from the employee’s standpoint.

Let’s look at some of these common traits and see how your practice stacks up.

Work Environment

A critical aspect of being an employer of choice is developing a positive and nurturing work environment for your health care team. There are multiple components to this: First, and foremost, a practice must have an excellent management structure in place. The practice must know how to hire, train and, when necessary, discharge its employees. There need to be job descriptions, phased training programs, and performance reviews in place—and utilized—by the practice. Employers of choice normally have a practice manager or hospital administrator dedicated to these aspects of management.

The work environment must also be supportive; the practice works as a team and employees enjoy their work and what they do. An employer of choice experiences employees who are very loyal to the practice and treat the business as if it were their own.

Compensation

Many people think they can become an employer of choice simply by paying their employees better than any other practice in the area. This is not the case, though employers of choice do tend to pay their employees better than average. They can pay more competitive wages because the employees, who are better trained and more highly motivated, perform more effectively within the practice – and the practice generates more income. Employers of choice look outside their own profession; they look at related professions to see how their compensation stacks up. In the veterinary profession we might look at the dental field and other related medical professions to see how those employees are compensated and what benefits are offered.

Of course, compensation also encompasses benefits. Again, an employer of choice will be very aware of their benefits package and how it stacks up to competitors in their area. Important among these benefits are health insurance, personal leave and vacations days. An employer of choice holds a high regard for the employees’ personal well-being, so some type of retirement plan might be in effect. And perhaps an employee incentive program based on the increase of profitability that the practice achieves and the performance of the employees themselves.

Investment in Continuing Education

An important component of developing yourself as a practice of choice is understanding the importance of continuing education. Employees in this field want to feel challenged and desire to be the best that they can be. They want the opportunity to expand their base of knowledge and fully utilize it in the practice. Employers of choice understand how important this is to their health care team and offer both in-house and out-of-house continuing education programs—and pay for them.

Communication

Any successful business or relationship depends on excellent communication. An employer of choice is aware of this and places a high value and emphasis on it. To accomplish this goal, practices need an established hierarchy of authority, so that employees know who to go to if they have a problem or concern. The practice must also have consistent meetings between the owner and manager, the health care team and management, and between all the doctors. These regularly scheduled meetings are productive and considered by everyone to be important. They become a priority for the practice.

Communication is a two-way street. Part of this communication is the practice keeping the employees informed regarding what level of performance they are achieving. Employee performance reviews are a hallmark of a practice of choice. Employees desire this feedback and want to know what they can do to improve.

The practice will also keep the employees informed as to how well the practice is doing, sharing information such as gross income compared to the same period last year, number of transactions, average per client transaction and the number of new clients. Score boarding is necessary so that the health care team can see the progress of the practice.

Walking the Talk and Setting the Example

Look at a successful business and you will almost always find a successful business owner. Michael Dell or Roy Disney both set the stage for their business success. A practice owner must be willing to do everything they ask their employees to do. It might be something simple like picking up after yourself and not leaving a mess when you walk out of an exam room, or it may be attending the CE and health care team meetings that you require your team to attend—a successful leader always sets the example and does not have two sets of standards.

The owner of a practice of choice conveys a positive attitude about his or her business, they are proud of what the practice does and the services it provides. He or she will come in each day in a positive frame of mind and set the tone for the day. Problems will be handled as challenges, failures will become learning experiences.

Vision

Shearson Lehman Brothers defined vision as “having an acute sense of the possible, seeing what other don’t see.” An employer of choice certainly has vision and knows what his or her practice is all about and where they wish it to go in the future.

If they are more visionary than task orientated, these leaders realize that they cannot personally execute their plan, so they surround themselves with people who can. An employer of choice will always share their vision with their team, providing them with the necessary direction and then giving them the freedom to use their own talents and abilities. It is important for this business owner to always keep their team on track and moving in the right direction. Many employers of choice have a mission statement and philosophy statement that they use as a litmus test in decision making, to insure the business is on the right track. These mission statements are not just words written on paper; they are a common viewpoint shared by all team members.

Fun

As simplistic as it may sound, employers of choice work at developing a fun and enjoyable work environment for their health care team. I know of one practice that purchased water pistols for all their health care team members. When tensions would rise, someone would take out a water pistol and start shooting other employees. Before you knew it everyone was laughing. Another practice took all their health care team members to a paintball arcade so that they could take out their frustrations on each other. These are extreme examples but these practices know how to have fun and release stress in the work environment. We spend too much time at work not to enjoy it, employers of choice recognize this and see to it that the work environment is an enjoyable one. Once again, this must come from the top. The owner of the practice sets the stage and helps to create the work environment. Fun is an essential component of becoming a practice of choice.

The Whole Package

Perhaps one of the most important things to understand about an employer of choice is that they do not have just one or two of the attributes we just discussed—they embody all of them and probably many more. An employer of choice is the complete package—a well-run, well-organized machine that embodies all these components. The rewards of creating and maintaining this machine are great. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be an employer of choice.

Will you and others know if you are an employer of choice? You bet you will! It is a very small profession and word gets around quickly. If you do not respect your employees, if you treat them as disposable commodities—your practice will earn this reputation and will only attract fearful followers or those who really don’t care about you or your practice.    

On the other hand, if you cultivate a culture that makes you an employer of choice, you will be rewarded with a plethora of applicants who wish to become a part of it and a team who will share in helping you to achieve your dream.

VMC's H.R. Boot Camp arms students with the knowledge and mindset to make their practices employers of choice. Together, Mark Opperman, CVPM and Sheila Grosdidier, SCP teach the lessons to help you to be more successful in creating an awesome team.

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