Performance management at your veterinary clinic

1 August 2022 5 min read


When it comes to your employees, performance management isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a need to have. Common sense prevails if you already know humans are driven by rewards and healthy challenges to promote growth and sense of achievement. Rewards or performance reviews at your veterinary clinic are a great way of expressing appreciation and acknowledging the efforts of your staff. In turn, it can continue to cultivate a motivated workplace.

You might be in a position where you’ve just opened a veterinary clinic and performance management is something you want to institute from the get-go, or you’re fully established and want to strengthen how you conduct these appraisals.

Having spoken to a few leaders, experts and influencers on our Paws, Rewind and Play podcast, we’ve pulled together some top tips so you can pull off an exceptional review! Not just the standard ones that feel obligatory and to “check the tick box” to say that you’ve done it. Your employees need to feel the authenticity and genuine appreciation as well as have the guidance for next steps and their career trajectory.

Quite simply, it isn’t just about appraisals or shifting unhappy/unmotivated employees, it’s about alignment, discovering long-term goals, ensuring there’s a shared understanding of what is to be achieved, getting on the same page and creating a safe space for them to be open, heard, listened to and guided.

The top five tips for successful performance management in your veterinary practice

1. Make a regular cadence

Once-a-year performance reviews are simply not enough to align needs. The outside environment is continually shifting every day, week and month! This undoubtedly impacts your employees from the number of hours they work to the priorities they work on each day, which in turn can affect their performance and satisfaction levels. Why not do monthly check-ins? It doesn’t need to be a full brief, but at least a good hour with each employee to show that you’re giving them the space and discover their needs. And to work in your favour too – you can gently nudge or guide them if they seem to be going off path, have issues or just simply need the support personally or professionally.

Sue Crampton, Business Consultant at Covetrus’ Crampton Consulting Group adds:

“Employee respect for the performance management process will be greater if you take an active interest between reviews.  If necessary, provide coaching, additional training, or some other support.  The process must not be just an annual event.”

2. Consider behavioural competencies

Sometimes performance management appraisals are overly focused on technical skills and competencies. Whilst extremely important, the thing that makes someone qualified to do a medical job, soft skills and attitudes absolutely need to be considered. Feedback from our podcast guests suggests how much veterinary surgeons, nurses and clinical staff alike, really appreciate training courses based on things like communication and mental health. When Chris the Vet did a mental health first-aid course, he said: 

“I felt like I’d just been in therapy for two days, I found it SO useful on a personal level in terms of identifying stress and learning about what you can bring to a team. It might be a communications course or something interpersonal and you really can gain a lot from these environments.”

Here, you can also identify or suggest training for employees who perhaps lack confidence, require support in training or where you see potential in their role e.g. if it’s a front-of-house receptionist role, you could consider putting them on a “marketing” course where they’d be responsible for all the client communication and promotion of the veterinary practice. We are all students and having a “never stop learning” attitude certainly keeps people challenged, rewarded and motivated. Courses are very easily accessible too, where you can log on to platforms like The Webinar Vet. And there are practice management systems that cultivate the reward system, for example in Ascend, you have a feature called “To Dos” that allows you to communicate with other staff and praise them. It could be congratulating someone on a major surgery or job well done, or even exceeding client targets. You can also pose questions to your staff, survey them about what training they’d like to receive and so on.  Be creative with it!

3. SMART goals

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) goals are the cornerstone of any performance management review in any business and any industry. They can apply to the team or department strategies right down to individual appraisals. In your employee performance management review, it’s important you have a grid, whether that’s a spreadsheet or tool, to sense-check the validity of the goals you and your employee set. There’s an abundance of guidance on how to set SMART goals if you Google it. This will help keep your performance review structured and in good order.

Just remember to find the balance between being aspirational yet grounded. Some people and teams may have big dreams and goals and this is great! You want a motivated team with high values, but it needs to be within the context of business realities, budgets and consideration for each other. Work with what’s possible in a limitless way – be honest, open and don’t commit to something you know you can’t give to your employees, nor overpromise and underdeliver.

4. Encourage specificity

Many performance reviews will focus on skills and training, yet lacks the vision of where employees or teams want to be next.  Once again, Kay Ritchie advises employees to:

“Go in there with your eyes open. There’s no point in covering up the fact that the industry has issues. But equally, we need people to come in with an open mind and always be open with what they want e.g. what are your plans? Do you want to stick with GP work, or do you want to specialise? Move into management? You may not know what you want when you graduate but having an idea helps. If you’re open with what you’re looking for, your staying ability within a practice is stronger and aligned with a clinic that can give you that. Also, don’t pay too much attention to the stories. Everyone’s experience is different. It’s easy to focus on the negative, but there are actually a lot of positive stories too.”

Staying ability within a practice is stronger and aligned if you know what you want. How powerful is that?! It is true though, that if you plant your seeds with intention, you know the direction you want to go in and will therefore work to achieve that. So when you’re doing the performance reviews, ask your staff:

  • What do you enjoy in your role?
  • What is it that you struggle with?
  • Where do you want to be in the next six months to a year?
  • Do you have any specific goals or promotions that you desire?

In one of our first interviews with Elle Payne, a key vet influencer and nurse, she encourages:

“Get inspired and make your own decision based on how motivated and how passionate you feel about those aspects. For example I love neurology and I did a bit of that in my referral practice at the time, the client and pet care aspect is also something I love. Talking to people and it’s nice when you see a client really appreciate what you’re telling them. It adds to that job satisfaction.”

By doing that, you can determine if there’s alignment and work to fulfil their wishes or compromise where it may not be possible to fully support it. Again openness and honesty are important. Additionally, there may be bonuses in doing so, for example, in our interview with Rory the Vet, another key influencer, his team and practice assigned “Green champions” and those individuals who enjoy sustainability in their personal lives were able to carry it through to their professional lives, making a true difference to the practice values and environment!

Sue Crampton advises:

“Make the review a positive experience by using encouragement, praise, recognition, and congratulations, to acknowledge the person’s effort, commitment and progress. Give realistic ratings based on performance not personality. Be honest by recognising strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are usually opportunities for development, not reasons for criticism.”

5. Have the uncomfortable, awkward conversations

As much as we’d love for the cuteness of our fluffy friends, their energy and light to trump all, of course it’s not rainbows and roses 24/7! With performance reviews, weaknesses or lack of performance must also be addressed. Whilst it’s not pleasant and can create some tension, vulnerability and honesty are often appreciated. If your employee is underperforming, whether it be on-the-job in procedures or just their general attitude towards team members or clients, they need to know in order to improve it or it is a realisation they aren’t a good fit for the practice. Or they simply feel unsupported and are disgruntled for a good reason! Most of the time, you discover that it could be they’re suffering in their personal life, or they’re just overworked and burned out, so you need to address it in your practice’s work/life balance policies and so on. Even simply just creating the space for employees to challenge your practice policies and ways of working can be enlightening and a catalyst for positive change.

Whilst Ascend isn’t a people management tool, you can find out more about how it supports daily communication and internal collaboration between teams and employees. Its Announcements and To Do’s function is one of its biggest strengths to create a strong teamwork ethic with a sense of connectedness and purpose. Since a practice management system is something you use every day, it’s important these features are embedded within your daily workflows and it supports the performance management review system subtly, where you have regular communication tools to facilitate openness, honesty and transparency, as well as being able to praise employees. Find out more about Ascend.