Welcome Home Team: I Can Do It!
So Far in Welcome Home, Team!…
Are your staff members engaged and effective at work? A deep level of commitment and sense of purpose will set prosperous practices apart from those rooted in hierarchical, “command and control” systems. Learn how to energize, motivate, and build competence in your team now.
“I think any company…has got to find a way to engage the mind of every single employee. If you’re not thinking all the time about making every person more valuable, you don’t have a chance.”1
Competence: A New Look at a Pillar of Practice
What does it mean to motivate through competence? Consider the following scenarios:
• Your boss decides to send you to a major 5-day veterinary conference with dollars carefully set aside as part of the practice’s annual continuing education budget. All your expenses will be paid! She wants you to attend lectures and workshops that interest you, but also wants you to register for the dental techniques lab so you can learn to operate equipment recently purchased for your practice. Upon your return, you will be expected to share your new knowledge and skills with your team members, enabling the practice to offer advanced dental care for your patients. She is excited for you, knowing that this will be a large step forward along your career path, and also looks forward to your contribution to the practice’s future.
• You are the newly hired part-time veterinary assistant, joining your team to fill the busy afternoon shifts. Two veterinarians are not only seeing appointments, but also need help as they discharge patients admitted earlier in the day. How can you possibly learn these skills fast enough? And then an amazing thing happens. Your boss assigns one of the certified animal health technicians as your mentor. Among other things, she is going to teach you how to perform a canine jugular venipuncture. First she demonstrates and describes the technique. Then she demonstrates it again, this time as you tell her what to do. At last, it’s your turn. You describe what you are doing, as you do it! With a bit more practice you will become the “go to” team member for blood sampling between lunch and closing.
• As practice manager, you were asked to mediate a conflict between 2 coworkers. You recently attended a communication workshop that helped you understand how personality types and past experiences shape behavior. You were able to restore the relationship between your coworkers by sitting them down, explaining their different working styles, and allowing them to come up with solutions. Two valued staff members were retained, and the practice’s high standards of care were upheld…thanks to you!
Competence Keeps Us Here
Decreases in practice revenues as a result of the economy have left veterinary team members with no guarantee of long-term employment. This “free agency” has created a perceived need to develop skills that are marketable in any practice setting. In offering employees opportunities to learn and expand technical and nontechnical (professional) skill sets, practice owners provide the motivation to stay, through the development of competency. Retention of valued staff members creates stability and saves thousands of dollars in recruitment costs, training, and loss of income when inexperienced employees are unable to function up to service standards.
In order to promote competence and the intrinsic motivation it generates, we may need to change our approach to “continuing education.” In Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges emphasizes the need in any change effort to provide for an initial stage of “letting go of the old.”3 If we skip this crucial step, efforts to change will fail. Let’s build competency into our practices by first examining its building blocks, and then the barriers to forming them. Then we can start the work of letting go of ineffective policies, passing through a neutral zone where we consider possibilities, and ultimately enjoy the rewards that come with a new beginning.4
“We stand a little taller as we feel that we are doing it right.”2
—Kenneth W. Thomas
Look for the signs of competence in your own practice:
Do you see it in your teammates? Do you see it in the mirror?
A Culture of Competence
Use these tips to develop your team’s culture of competence:
• Provide opportunities for growth and learning—share techniques, best practices, and guidelines for task performance through lunch lectures, webinars, books, or journal subscriptions in your areas of interest. Allocate time during meetings for staff members to teach coworkers about a new product or to perform a task. Don’t worry about needing to cover complex topics in great detail—1 or 2 ideas taken from a continuing education experience is a huge return on your investment.
• Pair more experienced staff members with those who are still learning as they tackle unfamiliar tasks. You can build in accountability with short quizzes or low-stress skill demonstrations. No pop quizzes! This is not the time to destroy trust, but rather to build it into your practice culture.
• Have your staff members prepare a short list of skills and topics that they feel they could help others master and a separate list they would like to learn more about. Match them up!
• Keep an updated list of references and resources (websites, contacts, university and community experts, journals, veterinary organizations, pharmaceutical companies, etc) to provide easy access to sources of needed information.
• Identify experts and potential mentors within your own team. Arrange lunch dates to facilitate a knowledge exchange. Mutual recognition and acknowledgment of expertise in front of your peers will amplify competence for everyone involved.
• As part of the self-management needed to build your competency, provide clues in interactions with clients and coworkers that indicate a job well done:
– “I really liked the way you kept us on schedule.”
– “Thanks for taking that call for me. I was caught on the phone with
Feedback helps team members improve their own task mastery. The frequency and type of feedback will vary depending on the skill and the employee.
• Focus on the positives by providing appreciative feedback. Don’t ignore deficiencies in performance but don’t “go there” first. Our goal is to build feelings of competency, which will in turn drive the desire to improve.
• Use “I” in your comments, not “you.” This takes the pressure off the learner, and prevents a judgmental tone. You can say, “I noticed how closely you evaluated the position of your needle prior to sample collection. Great job! I wonder how much smoother the procedure might be for you if you were to direct your restrainer to hold the patient’s head a little higher.”
• Recognize improvement. Encourage out loud when a coworker sets their own standards higher each time they try. “I like the way you’ve raised the bar for yourself. Pretty soon you’ll be coaching others!”
• Ask for feedback following a team meeting, a client interaction, or a patient procedure. “I know you’ve done this a thousand times. Did you see anything I could’ve done differently?”
• Listen to feedback. Really listen.
• Catch yourself doing things well, and privately acknowledge your competency. Do this repeatedly, and it will soon become a habit.
The return on your investment of time, energy, and dollars to develop competency in your practice is a culture that exudes enthusiasm for learning, and authenticity in setting high standards for both team and individual performance. You might need a change in your approach. Don’t be afraid. You can do it! | EVT
Download action plans on Smart Investments in Continuing Education and Breaking Down Barriers to Competence.
I CAN DO IT! - Deborah D. Barton, DVM, MA
1. Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will. Tichy NM, Sherman S—New York, HarperBusiness, 2001.
2. Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment. Thomas KW, Berret-Koehler, 2002.
3. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Bridges WB, DaCapo Press, 2003.
4. Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results. Bellman G, Ryan K, Jossey-Bass, 2009.