While needing to hire a new veterinarian, technician or receptionist seems like wishful thinking during this challenging time, it is always a good idea to have a good employee selection process. Hiring the wrong person for your business is like a preventable disease; if we take the right preventative measures, we can reduce the chance of getting infected with the wrong person for the job. When we prepare for surgery, we follow the same tried and true steps to ensure we are as sterile as possible for the procedure. Just like asepsis prep, there are some business truisms when it comes to hiring the best person for the job. There are two rules of hiring that any business of any size should follow, or suffer the consequences. The first is to hire slow and fire fast, while the second is to hire the smile and train the skill. Though the two rules seem separate from each other they are actually intertwined. To make sure we are following these rules we need to develop a strict set of procedures that we follow each time to make sure we hire the best person possible for the job.
Many vet practices make desperation hires. Someone quits during the busy season and everyone screams we need somebody, we need anyone who can answer the phone, or assist in surgery, or has a veterinary degree. In the rush to hire all criteria for the job goes out of the window because we need someone yesterday!! What often ends up happening is that a person is hired and then over time everyone comes to the realization that this person is not right for the business. They are gossipy, lazy, always late, or short with clients. Someone who everyone eventually dreads working with. The practice attitude then becomes either, we have to let them go and start all over, or lets grin and bear it because we need someone to fill a role. Rather what we should be doing is to try and coach that person to perform better, but if they have the wrong attitude for your business because they have a bad attitude, or poor work ethic better to let them go before they can spread their disease and bring everyone down to their level. It is far wiser to treat the infection instead of hoping it will go away.
Now, let us look at the second rule of hiring. Each of us has our own unique values and attitudes about life. We are who we are, and we can’t switch it off and on depending on the circumstances. Some people are the life of the party, while others would rather go home and read a good book. When we hire someone for our practice we are looking for someone who is a cultural fit. They share our values, our sense of humour, our work ethic, our philosophy of customer and patient care. They “get” us. These are the characteristics we should be looking for. The same applies for hiring veterinarians. Yes, there is a shortage of vets, and with the economy humming along many of us are looking to hire new vets to deal with our busy caseloads. Better to have someone who fits with your team than one who is a bear to work with, or your clients dislike. You may have gained a vet, but you risk losing well trained, long term staff, or clients because of one poor hiring decision.
Rather than hire for the skill you need to hire for the attitude you want for your business and spend the time to train them for the skills you need. Skills are much easier to develop, whereas an attitude is permanent and persistent.
The time it takes to hire the right person is the same whether you hire the first skilled body with a pulse, or you take the time to find the right person. If we resort to hiring a functional body the time for the initial hire time may be short, but consider the toll the person takes on the practice if they aren’t the right fit. If you value your employees and clients you will have to let them go and then start all over. Compare that with taking your time while you evaluate multiple candidates, asking the right interview questions that help you understand if they share your values and other important traits, having them do working interviews and getting the feedback from your staff to help you understand if this person is right for you.
The question I’m often asked when I discuss hiring and firing with practice owners and managers is what about the strain and stress on team members when you are short-handed. This is a real concern and I have found the best solution is to make this a team decision by involving others. I ask my staff if they want the added stress of potentially hiring the wrong person and all the extra time and energy that takes, or should we wait to get the right person. Most of the time they would rather wait. They often give a similar answer when I ask if we should let someone go in the busy season because they are a bad fit, a disruptive force, or can’t do their job to our expectations. Better to let them go, than have them have to worry about the underperforming person, deal with the stress of their drama, or have to do their job because they just don’t do it well enough.
Hiring well is a tough job but if we take our time and hire for practice culture and not just because of existing skills or qualifications we will have a better chance of making a great hire. It takes a long time to hire the right person as it does one that is ill-suited for the job so better to take a deep breath and follow your hiring process to increase your odds of hiring a long term team member that will make your practice better.
Originally published in Canadian Vet Magazine.