It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and as a business owner or practice manager, you have to work hard to keep your best and brightest employees from being gobbled up by other opportunities. Here are five ways to keep your quality employees around for the long haul.

1. Hire Effectively

The first step in retaining employees is effective hiring. Interviewing and hiring employees are not easy tasks. Mike Best, president and CEO of MJDesign, once commented about his company’s holiday hiring program, “If the person came in and filled out the application, we basically hired them unless they were followed by a policeman.” While practice owners and managers often feel this same level of desperation when looking for employees, Best’s strategy isn’t the best way to get the people who will truly be assets to your practice.

The way we recruit, hire, and onboard new employees sets a tone. When done incorrectly, new employees will get the wrong impression about their jobs, your practice, and whether they will take it all seriously and professionally. Without the right employees, you won’t be able to offer the high levels of medical and surgical care that you wish to, nor will you be able to provide the kind of client service that keeps clients returning to your practice and allows your business to prosper financially.

If you want a self-reliant team, it starts with getting the right people on board. Do you have a standardized way to recruit, screen, interview, hire, and onboard new employees? If not, this is critical to your ability to attract your “A” team. Your team is the backbone of your veterinary practice. Without the right people—people who are positive, passionate, empowered, confident, self-reliant, and invested—you’ll never experience true success and freedom.

2. Develop Outstanding Training Programs

In most veterinary practices, new employees are thrown into their positions with virtually no formal orientation or training. An employee’s perception of the job and their role in the practice is determined by the first impression. Keeping in mind that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, your practice should ensure that new hires feel welcomed, valued, and prepared for what lies ahead during their employee orientation. If the manager of the practice is not prepared for the employee on the first day of employment, it communicates to the employee that their position is not important and that “it’s just a job, not a career.” When done correctly, however, the orientation will solidify the the new employee’s relationship with the practice.

Every team member in the practice, whether new or old, should have ongoing training and access to the following essentials:

  • Job description
  • Organizational chart
  • A phase training guide with timelines and a checklist
  • Employee policies
  • Written standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Weekly communications from their manager

3. Provide Excellent Leadership and Management

In my experience, employees rarely leave for money or better opportunities. Instead, they leave because they don’t like feeling inept, and it’s easier to leave than to stay.

Why do employees feel inept on the job?

  • Poor hiring
  • Poor training
  • Poor leadership
  • Poor management

So, what are good leaders and managers supposed to do? Certainly, you’ve run into managers or bosses who feel that their job is to tell others what to do—to stand above the employees and issue orders, administer punishment, and so on. Unfortunately, this attitude can have massive repercussions in terms of employee morale, cooperation, and productivity. What these managers have yet to understand is that supervision is not the process of directing people; rather, supervision is the process of getting people to become self-directed.

This is a much more exciting way to lead and manage, because it means you have to challenge your employees. You have to help them accept and welcome responsibility. You have to understand them and find a way to gain their commitment and support. If you’re going to be a strong leader and manager, you should look for ways to give power and control to your employees instead of exerting power and control over them. Think of your job as “running interference” for your employees. This means that your time and effort should be spent removing barriers—organizational, political, and psychological roadblocks—to their success. This allows your employees to succeed and, by extension, makes you a success, too.

4. Offer Competitive Salaries and Benefits

Employers tend to think that the main thing on the minds of their employees is a paycheck, accompanied by regular and (hopefully) generous raises. However, the employee-employer relationship is not an equal one, and employers must offer more than money to keep the kind of staff they need to effectively run the practice.

Employee compensation is a two-part program: salaries/wages and benefits. The objectives of the program are to:

  • Attract, retain, and motivate high performers
  • Maintain internal consistency and external competitiveness
  • Recognize and reward performance

Salary/wages and benefits work together and must be planned together. In one practice, team members may opt for higher benefits and a lower pay scale. In another practice, benefits may take a backseat to higher pay. To ensure employee satisfaction, it is important to know the employee’s needs and wants when planning the compensation program.

5. Understand What Employees Want 

Gone are the days when all that mattered to employees was having a job—any job—and getting a regular paycheck. And even though those days are gone, many employers still don’t know what is important to their employees. If you want to keep good people on your team, you must know what they want and what they value.

Kenneth Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager, surveyed 10,000 employees about job satisfaction. He also asked managers and supervisors what they thought made employees feel satisfied with their jobs. Interestingly, the answers were very different.

Employees said the top five components of job satisfaction were:

  1. Appreciation of work done
  2. Feeling of being “in on things”
  3. Help with personal problems
  4. Job security
  5. High salary/wages

Employers, by contrast, thought the things that made employees feel satisfied were:

  1. High salary/wages
  2. Job security
  3. Promotion in the company
  4. Good working conditions
  5. Interesting work

The truly remarkable finding from this study is that the top item on the employers’ list was the bottom item on the employees’ list.

This is not to say that great working conditions will make up for poor salary—salary does matter. But, the point is that some other things matter as well. In recent years, finding and keeping good employees has become one of the most difficult tasks the veterinary profession faces. Without good employees, veterinarians cannot offer high levels of medical and surgical care, nor can they provide the kind of service that keeps clients returning to a practice. Without good employees, a veterinary practice cannot prosper financially.

A veterinary practice is an ideal environment for attracting people who are highly motivated by personal goals of service to others. By empowering employees, a culture is created that fosters employee growth, satisfaction, appreciation, and motivation. Creating a relationship-centered vision motivates them to focus on achieving attainable goals and creates a culture of intense employee satisfaction. The hospital team members grow because the veterinarians share their knowledge and train them to more actively participate in the practice.

What you want is not what everyone else wants.
Don’t assume you or your managers know what your employees want.
Employees have a wide variety of motivators.
The best way to find out what your employees want is to ask them.

Learn more about how to build and retain a self-reliant team.