Imagine this: You decide you want a plant for your home. It must be the perfect plant, because it will sit in your front window where everyone who passes by and visits will see it. It will represent your home and family, so it must convey the right message. You talk to your friends and family, read reviews about plants, and visit the nursery. You think long and hard, and after several months, you choose the plant you think will be the perfect fit for your home. Once you bring your plant home, do you place it in the window and forget about it? No, you water and fertilize it regularly, and ensure it’s getting enough sunlight. Heck, you may name it.
Hiring a new staff member is like searching for the perfect plant. You put a lot of time and effort into posting a job ad, fielding applications, interviewing candidates, and finally choosing the person you think will be the best fit for your practice. So, why do many owners and managers add a new staff member to their practice, and then expect them to grow and flourish without being nurtured?
Practices tend to put more energy into finding and hiring new employees than retaining their staff. Let me share a secret. If you treat your staff like a living organism—say, a plant—nurturing them and helping them grow, you will spend considerably less time looking for new employees. Your journey with a new staff member does not end when you hire them—it is only the beginning.
Consider these four ways to nurture your staff, creating a work environment they won’t want to leave, and which their colleagues will line up to join.
Water your staff
Every practice owner wants a unicorn team—one that knows exactly what to do, and works together like a well-oiled machine—but this does not happen on its own, or with the perfect group of people. Great teams happen because their leaders constantly encourage them and help them grow. You water a plant daily, and you must likewise pour into your staff. How do you do this? Provide them ample opportunities for learning and growth, such as CE, wet labs, and guest speakers, to help them develop new skills and realize their potential. Get to know each employee—as a manager, not a friend—and support them in their work and personal life. Show them you believe in their abilities—although it may sometimes be a stretch—so they can grow to make you, and themselves, proud.
Fertilize your staff
As much as your staff loves food, I am not talking about another staff lunch, or money—although you should compensate your team well, because you will only attract the best employees if you offer a competitive compensation package. No, I am referring to your workplace culture. Everyone wants to work in a practice with an amazing culture that emanates good vibes you can feel as soon as you walk through the door. These teams do face stress, but you can watch their teamwork and sense a “We’re all in this together” attitude amid the chaos.
If you want a happy staff, you must be intentional about fostering a supportive, team-driven culture. Set clear expectations for your staff, including:
- Treating every team member with respect, regardless of whether team members “like” one another, or are friends outside of work
- Showing appreciation to one another
- Communicating openly
- Fulfilling responsibilities, and not expecting others to pick up their slack
- Addressing inappropriate behaviors immediately, in a supportive manner
Check in with each team member regularly to see how they are doing, and whether you are unaware of undercurrents of discontent or conflict.
Trim your staff
Yes, I am referring to terminating team members who don’t adhere to your workplace policies. You cannot maintain a happy, supportive culture with toxic employees. You know who they are—they cause office drama, disrespect leadership, and thrive on conflict. These behaviors are fireable offenses, and you must have a strictly enforced zero-tolerance policy. Now, I’m not talking about operating a military-like practice. I fully support addressing the matter privately with the instigator, attempting to address the root problem, and giving them a chance to shape up. But, if they do not make valid efforts to improve, or continue to poison your team, they must go. If you successfully create a great culture, you will have other people beating down your door to replace this bad egg.
Shine on your staff
Most importantly, model the good behaviors you expect from your team. Complement their work, and thank each team member for their contributions to your success. Show your appreciation with small, thoughtful gifts, thank-you cards, or a simple “thank you.” Be genuinely happy, open, and warm. You may be surprised how quickly your good cheer spreads through your team, and they show appreciation for one another, as well.
Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not—but it requires continual effort and intentional planning. By caring for your staff as a living organism, you can create a nurturing, growth-centered workplace your team members won’t want to leave.
Brad’s love for animals and exposure to working with them has come in many forms, and spanned decades. From volunteer work, that includes 5 years with the Denver Dumb Friends League, to countless hours being a victim for Search and Rescue dogs, or a chew toy for police dogs, he has a passion for working with animals. In college, Brad worked for a small, three-doctor practice cleaning kennels. Before starting VSS, he spent almost 10 years as an inventory manager for one of the state’s largest animal hospitals. He has seen this industry from many angles.