What is performance management? - Veterinary Practice
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What is performance management?

Amy Rook Zoetis business consultant, discusses performance management, which has been identified as an essential driver for good employee engagement in veterinary practices.bus

Some people see performance management, and in particular the dreaded annual appraisal, as a pointless, bureaucratic and uncomfortable process.

Yet frequently I am called into a practice to address an issue, such as patient compliance or below average financial performance, and very quickly identify that the underlying problem is actually poor performance management.

Those tiresome annual appraisals, potentially involving demotivated nurses and obstructive vets may seem simple annoyances, but dismiss them at your peril; poor performance management can dramatically undermine any positive work taking place in the practice.

Performance management isn’t just about appraisals and disgruntled employees, its focus is to link the long-term goals of the business with that of employees to establish a shared understanding of what is to be achieved. When business and employee are on the same page with a shared line-of-sight, the opportunities for a mutually rewarding experience are heightened. Just imagine: a more efficient business with everyone clear on what they need to achieve and why!

In 2012, when Vet Support+ undertook the most comprehensive study of employee engagement ever carried out amongst veterinary practices, three key drivers to an engaged team were identified: leadership; performance management; and team effectiveness. While performance management was recognised as the absolute “must have” driver for good employee engagement, it was also identified as an area of weakness in many practices.

Often there is a disconnect between management and staff regarding both formal appraisals and informal feedback taking place; in both cases, management tended to believe this was happening while staff disagreed. Of further frustration for staff was the impact of poor performers with 52% of staff stating that poor performers were not managed effectively.

There are very clear consequences for not dealing with poor performers which can all undermine your business. Poor performers “getting away with it” may cause even your star performers to question their efforts, leading to a culture of lower performance across the board.

It’s the one rotten apple syndrome where that one poor performer can impact the entire team potentially affecting service levels, your brand and the reputation of your business if not managed appropriately and in a timely manner.

So, what should a practice do to address it or indeed prevent performance management ever becoming a problem? If we wish to look on the bright side, and please do, performance management is a no-brainer. It doesn’t take investment in the latest technical equipment or endless days of training, it’s relatively straightforward to address and, if done properly, will improve the attitude and atmosphere within the workplace, making a positive difference to the bottom line.

What it does rely on is a positive attitude from the top down and a commitment to maintain a performance management plan both now and in the future. Consistent and effective performance management sends a critical message to individuals about what is expected of them and helps build team engagement.

Avoiding cringe moments

If you were in any doubt about the benefits, remember that by actively managing individuals with positive and constructive feedback throughout the year, you can avoid the cringe moments and surprises when the annual appraisal comes around.

When embarking on a performance management consultation process with a veterinary practice I have three very clear objectives which deliver clear benefits. These are to:

  • embed performance management in the practice to create an engaged team and deliver greater results;
  • create career and development opportunities within the team to motivate and retain talent;
  • develop consistency of management across the practice team to facilitate the management of performance.

It sounds wonderful doesn’t it, but how when you are working “in” the practice is it possible to also work “on” the practice? It’s a common challenge and sadly I do not have the magic
answer, but by formalising performance management so it’s not delivered on the hoof and approaching it in the same way that you might create your weekly appointment schedule, it needn’t become the dreaded process. The Vet Support+ model, which directly links performance management to employee engagement, suggests three stages.

  1. Job families – there are four job families in veterinary practice: vets, nurses, clinical support and business support. Within each family there are different levels of seniority, from junior to senior, which reflect ability and accountability. Most practices will require all the job families, but not necessarily all the levels of seniority within these. Decide what your practice needs and always think roles not individuals.
  2. Behavioural competencies – these define the visible behaviours and attitudes needed to actually do the role, rather than the technical expertise required, so the how, not what. Each role will require a set of competencies.
  3. Appraisal and development – this stage looks at the individual’s contribution. It involves setting individual objectives linked to those of the practice and understanding what development is required to meet those objectives. Maintain a regular dialogue on performance and acknowledgement of achievements through the year and then underpin these with an annual appraisal which looks at performance over the whole year.

By breaking the process down in this way, performance management doesn’t need to become a performance. As a business you can see which job families are relevant, the levels your practice requires within those families and the behavioural competencies to actually fulfil those roles.

It’s essential that you share the content of stages one and two with all members of staff so they can see where they fit within the job families and expected behavioural competencies, and where they should be aiming for their own career development within the practice.

Sometimes, if the team is in a position of dysfunction, it will be necessary to explore change management training beforehand to ensure a more accepting environment for the new model. It is only at the appraisal and development stage that it is necessary to drill down to look at the individual employees’ input.

So where does this leave your demotivated nurse and obstructive vet? Hopefully, through an actively created performance management strategy it leaves them more engaged with the practice and able to see that there is a positive role for them in the business.

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