Practice Purpose: The Real Performance Measuring Stick
Have you ever returned home after a long day at the practice and wondered if you made a positive difference? How do you measure your own performance?
To answer these tough questions, let’s first try to identify what is most meaningful about what we do during our time at the practice. It is easy to view our jobs from the perspective of the tasks we perform: refilling the anesthetic vaporizer with isoflurane; calling clients to remind them of tomorrow’s appointments; prepping a patient’s stifle for repair of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. These are behaviors performed and witnessed every day. But when we take a closer look at these behaviors through a “purpose-centered” lens, we see that we do all these things for reasons other than simply task completion and a paycheck.
A Look Back: Progress, Choice, and Competency
We are more than halfway through 2012! By now you are well on your way toward achieving the goals you set back in January as part of your personal and practice plans. So far we have covered:
Visit the Welcome Home Team page to review these team development skills.
Rules and Regulations vs. Purpose
On a global stage and at an ever accelerating rate, veterinary practices are expected to deliver customized care to patients and clients with a high degree of efficiency. In the end, we want our clients to feel our genuine concern and to become better educated in the care of their pets. We strive to maximize our patients’ health and longevity. To achieve this goal, veterinary team members need to make decisions independently and in the moment, often without direct supervision. Clarity of practice purpose and a deep commitment to our work are essential in delivering quality service that keeps our clients coming back. Defining practice purpose not only focuses our work minute by minute, but also creates a measurable benchmark so that at the end of the day, we can evaluate whether we have made a positive difference.
The Move from Task-Centered to Purpose-Centered Practice
Let’s start by looking at the tasks described earlier, one at a time, and translate them into purpose (see Table 1).
Table 1. Translating Task into Purpose
|Check level of anesthetic in vaporizer
||• Ensure patient comfort.
• Maximize patient safety.
|Client appointment reminder notifications
||• Help clients remember and follow through with their pet’s healthcare plan.
• Put practice–client partnership into action.
• Optimize patient health.
• Drive practice profitability through efficiency.
|Precise prep of surgical site||• Promote successful patient outcome, recovery, and rehabilitation.
• Maximize quality time spent together for pets and their owners.
“…purposes such as customer service and quality are not only more meaningful for workers but are also what put organizations closer to the marketplace to begin with, and are therefore what take care of financial issues.”1—Kenneth W. Thomas
Time spent with your team to define the purpose of your practice is time well invested. (For more, see the handout, Discover Your Practice Purpose) Without a clear purpose, practices suffer when team members try to decide what’s important on their own as they go along. They lose sight of the meaning in their work, which scientists have discovered is a basic human need. As the veterinary workforce becomes more educated, our demand for meaningful and rewarding work expands. This is what we look for when we seek a position in a veterinary practice. Purposeful work creates loyalty, willingness to work in the face of uncertainty, and a desire to improve and grow with the practice. Without purpose, meaning—and therefore motivation—are left to chance.
What Is Practice Purpose?
You will know when you are referring to “purpose” when you describe something happening “outside of yourself.” Refilling a prescription and having it ready to go well before the promised time tells your client you understand the deep concern she feels for her aging cat and the respect you have for her busy schedule. These are purposeful thoughts indeed. When put into action, thoughts are transformed into behaviors, and coworkers are positively influenced. Soon, your practice purpose becomes clear in tasks that are repeated over and over by everyone on your team.
Interestingly, although profitability is necessary for survival, veterinary team members are seldom inspired by economic purposes involving profit. Kenneth W. Thomas (2002) tells us that inspiration generally comes from deeper values and higher purposes. True purpose embodies the fundamental values that underlie practice culture. Qualities that evoke pride such as compassion, innovation, quality, and service contribute to an enduring practice purpose.
All the components of practice purpose may not be revealed at the same time because they grow out of individual and team experience. In other words, we learn what’s important by doing it and by looking back to see the time-tested importance of what we have done. In fact, it is this potential of discovering something new that adds excitement and mystery to the process of defining our purpose.2 Experience also tells us about tasks and activities that oppose our purpose. Chronic tardiness, for example, leads to breakdowns in patient care, client service, and relationships with team members, which all run counter to our reasons “for being,” our purpose.
Purpose-Centered Practices Look Like This
• Managers allow workers to make decisions and handle uncertainty
• Team members are not afraid or unwilling to CHANGE their own
• Assessment of job performance is based on purpose instead of
Practice Purpose as a Measure of Performance
It’s time for your semiannual performance evaluation. You have been dreading this day, mostly because you are uncertain about how your performance over the past 6 months has measured up to your boss’s expectations. You really aren’t sure what she has been looking for. The other technicians have been employed longer than you, and they definitely seem more competent. You don’t feel that you have always been able to answer client questions adequately, and you seem to take longer than you should in the exam room. This just isn’t going to go well.
What happens next is shocking. During the meeting to evaluate your work performance, your boss doesn’t compare your work with that of your colleagues. She doesn’t even mention any timeline filled with expectations for skill development. And nothing she says tells you there is a race to accomplish tasks in a set period of time! This is like no performance evaluation you have ever experienced.
Instead, your boss talks about your work in reference to practice purpose. She tells the story of the time you stayed with a client completely through the checkout process, and helped her out to her car with a heavy case of prescription dog food. You didn’t do it because you had been told to, but rather because you knew that client service, in whatever form, is the way we do things here. And then there was the time you noticed a patient recovering from surgery, shivering as though in pain. You brought it to the attention of the surgeon, and additional pain medication was administered. Service, compassion, and quality. You “measure up” just fine!
For more, use the worksheet Doing Performance Evaluations.
In choosing to measure individual and practice performance against purpose, we get a true reading of accomplishment. We become personally accountable for the choices we make in prioritizing and selecting the next task, and moving it forward to eventual completion. Our work becomes more about personal accountability every day than it is about awaiting formal feedback at our next performance evaluation with the boss, which may be months away. If you are uncertain about whether your work is “on target,” you may need to ASK! For example, if you and your team have determined that client education is a component of your practice purpose, ask your next client after his or her exam room experience, “Have I answered all the questions you had for us today?” Or if practicing as a team rather than a group of individuals is part of your practice identity, ask a coworker, “Was there anything else I could have done to help you today?” Be ready to listen receptively to their replies, even though it feels like you have made yourself vulnerable, as they will help you better align your work tasks with purpose from now on. | EVT
Coming in September/ October
In September we will continue our exploration of great teamwork as we take a look at the importance of a “trust culture” in veterinary practice. We’ll look at ways in which, as individual team members, we can influence our coworkers in building mutual trust and forcing fear out of the workplace.
Practice Purpose: The Real Performance Measuring Stick
1. Intrinsic motivation at work: Building Energy and Commitment. Thomas KW—San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2002.
2. Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results. Bellman G, Ryan K—San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
1. Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, Block P—San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1996.