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Are You Tired of Problem Employees?!

What’s the greatest challenge at your practice? When I ask veterinarians and practice managers this question the number one answer is “human resource management.”   I hear about HR headaches related to lack of accountability, employee conflict, drama, lack of motivation, low morale, poor job performance and resistance to change just to name a few. What’s interesting is that employee problems have often been going on for months if not years. No wonder practice leaders are experiencing stress. Why don’t practice managers and owners take action to reduce this stress and eliminate their “people” problems?  Here are 2 major reasons:

Being conflict averse.  The path of least resistance is often inaction. Or just having a quick meeting to tell the team member what they did wrong and requesting improvement only to realize in no time that the meeting wasn’t effective at improving job performance.  Another reason practice leaders avoid confronting problem employees is because it’s hard to find new employees.  Perhaps the problem employee has a desirable set of skills or has worked at the practice for a long time.  Replacing this person seems like a daunting task.   And for busy practices, it’s hard to find time to have those conversations anyway, right?  Unfortunately leaders who are conflict averse end up settling for a mediocre team.

Not knowing what to say to improve team performance.  It’s not easy to have difficult conversations about job performance with an employee.  This is especially true if the team member is a friend or co-worker a manager used to work side by side with.  Practice leaders may be afraid the employee will become emotional or the team will perceive them negatively if they “crack down” on bad behavior.  Moreover, if the problem is long-standing leaders may be at a loss about what to say that will make a difference.

If this sounds familiar then take the following action steps:

  1. Schedule a meeting with the team member(s) to discuss their job performance.
  2. At the meeting, be prepared with written notes to communicate the following:
    • Specific unacceptable behavior.  Stick to the facts.
    • Explain the why; how behavior is not aligned with the practice’s core values
    • Specific examples of what the employee must do differently.
    • Timeline to show improvement.
  3. Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss progress. This meeting should be in 1-4 weeks depending on the problem and how long you need to give the employee to show improvement.  This step is crucial.  If you always have a “next” meeting you can avoid being conflict averse and accepting of not-ok job performance.
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About the Author: Amanda Donnelly
Dr. Amanda Donnelly is a sought-after speaker, author, business consultant, and second-generation veterinarian who combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. Well known as a dynamic speaker, Dr. Donnelly was the 2023 Practice Management Educator of the Year for WVC and has twice been named Practice Management Speaker of the Year for the VMX Conference. Dr. Donnelly is the author of the book Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management and a contributing author for Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Practice Management Consult and Pet-Specific Care for Veterinary Teams. She also writes the Talk the Talk communication column for Today’s Veterinary Business journal.