Reviews: The building blocks of a successful veterinary career

Reviews: The building blocks of a successful veterinary career

Whether you're a veterinary manager or a veterinary team member, it's time to work together to create the foundation for lasting career in veterinary practice.
Dec 31, 2013

How do you know if you're on the right track at work? Can you rely on working for a manager who provides regular feedback (somewhat rare), or would you rather count on a more formal employee evaluation?

Don't get me wrong. Casual verbal feedback is important, and it's the only way to quickly respond to something—positive or negative—that may be forgotten later, or at least diluted by the tincture of time. But a planned, written, comprehensive evaluation should be the foundation to build on each team member's performance.

Evaluations and reviews aren't dirty words. Whatever term you use, it's critical to overcome the innate fear that comes with having an employer rate your performance—or the fear, for managers, of performing that evaluation. A good evaluation is something you should embrace if you have one—or request if you don't. Annual reviews should be designed to help each employee individually, to strengthen the team as a whole and to open the channels of communication.

Start with a blueprint

It's no surprise that having a clearly written, well-defined evaluation form offers the most benefit to managers and team members. Of course, if you're the manager, you also need to record each corrective conversation, reprimand event or general discussion about an employee's performance and place it in the employee's file. If you don't do this, it's the same as deciding the event never happened in the first place. With respect to employee evaluations, it's even more important to record, as the tool—used properly—will reveal trends over several years. And these reviews will be at the center of promotions and terminations.

A good evaluation form should be no more than one o two pages in length and include a specific grading scale and an explanation of what that grading scale means. It's virtually impossible to conduct an evaluation that's not somewhat—if not completely—subjective. Understanding this fact is the key to ensuring that its subjectivity doesn't come back to bite you someday. In this day and age of legal remedies to almost anything, it may seem counterproductive to put so much time into a process that's no more than someone's opinion. But it also seems fine to do so when all parties have agreed in advance.

An obvious obstacle to creating a good form is the fact that so many different job duties exist within a practice. Should every employee be judged on their ability to monitor anesthesia if it's not part of their everyday job? Of course not, but there's nothing wrong with having it all on one form. That way you can see the criteria for duties you may take on. Your manager will apply only the applicable portions to each employee, but use the other areas as incentives if you aspire to take on more responsibility in the future.

I'm a fan of a 1 to 5 grading scale, with 5 being exceptional. Using 3 as a starting point, a grade of 4 is for employees who are doing well and are on the right track in an area. A grade of 5 is for absolute superstars. It's a score that should be given with restraint, and only when earned. On the flip side, a 2 lets you know something just isn't quite right. It shouldn't ruin your day but should serve as part of the plan for your future. We'll explore this more later. A score of 1 tells an employee a particular area concerns their supervisor. I discourage using zero in scoring, and I'd hesitate to use scores of 1 or 2 to convey that an employee is doing fine but just hasn't had enough experience. I prefer to skip any area you can't fully score.

As a point of caution, as a manager it's absolutely critical to explain the 1 to 5 scoring system before the evaluation, during the evaluation and as often as you can. Thanks to the grading scale used in the public school system, many employees will think of a 3 as the same as a C, which has taken on the life of an unacceptable score. Remember that all grades start at 3 and move up or down accordingly. If you receive a score of all 3s, you've turned in a satisfactory performance.