Managers: Is your communication flow dammed/damned?

Managers: Is your communication flow dammed/damned?

If you’ve ever been blindsided by an employee’s departure from your veterinary hospital, it might be because you’ve clogged communication with logs of blissful ignorance and denial. Here’s some advice to get things flowing again.
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Apr 04, 2017

"Gnaw way!! ANOTHER employee is leaving?!" (kviktor/Shutterstock.com)It’s a painful fact of life that you can’t keep all of your employees forever. So how should you handle knowing your hires have career goals beyond your clinic? You can’t ignore it, but I bet you’ve tried and ended up with a scenario that went something like this:

You walk purposefully into work with high energy and a running to-do list. Next thing you know, there’s a knock on the door followed by a small, cautious voice asking if you have a minute to talk. Before you can answer, your employee launches into the two weeks’ notice speech they’ve been practicing for months. But you—you were blindsided. You saw no warning signs. You didn’t even hear any clinic gossip. The unburdened employee sighs with relief and leaves you to sit and worry about finding a replacement.

If this hits close to home, I can tell you how you were caught off guard: Communication between you and your employees is dammed up with giant logs of denial and blissful ignorance. In other words, you’ve created a damned mess.

I know this isn’t groundbreaking news, but you set the precedent for how your team communicates with you. If your team thinks telling you about new opportunities on the horizon will result in negative repercussions, they’ll just wait to tell you as late as they can and let those left behind wade through the chaotic aftermath. As someone with firsthand experience, I can tell you that it’s a recipe for anger and resentment and rarely leaves a salvageable relationship, personal or professional.

Do your employees know you give a dam about their aspirations? (kviktor/Shutterstock.com)Destroy the dam

Telling your team you have an open-door policy isn’t enough to break open the dam. All that does is put the onus on employees, who will likely keep their thoughts to themselves. It’s your responsibility to initiate discussions about their goals—and not just the ones that directly benefit your hospital.

If possible, begin these discussions at orientation and revisit them at regular intervals. Routinely give employees an opportunity to talk to you about concerns, as well as accomplishments and ambitions. It’s important to set up these discussions as two-way communication chains. Your team needs to know that whatever is discussed with you will be shared in appropriate measure with the entire management-owner team, and that in return, you will direct upstream knowledge (in the form of expectations, plans, timelines, and so on) downstream. Instead of a dam, you’ll create a canal with carefully managed locks.

I won’t pretend this kind of communication is always easy or that awkward moments won’t still happen. You might learn details you’ll wish you hadn’t, but you also might get to genuinely share in an employee’s excitement over a new opportunity.

If you break open the communication dam, you might also learn that:

  • A student worker has slowed, stopped, changed or advanced his or her educational endeavors

  • A seemingly happy employee is actually incredibly unhappy

  • A team member has unused gifts and talents

  • An employee's home life is interfering with his or her work

  • A team member has plans to interview, move or quit

If you fear that opening the floodgates of communication could be counterproductive, it’s my experience that sincere conversations like these actually build loyalty. And most people will continue to give their best efforts and provide updates as they grow closer to achieving their goals—even those that are focused outside of your hospital. Plus, employees who have their aspirations heard and respected will likely be happier and more productive, which is a win for the whole team.

Do yourself a favor and do away with communication processes that are built on ignorance and denial, because as you know, it’s not a matter of if change will happen but when.

 

Amanda Inman, CVPM, is practice manager at Pet Care Clinic of Kokomo in Kokomo, Indiana.