Brian Conrad, the practice manager of Meadow Hills Veterinary Center, makes a claim that sounds a lot like statements you often hear in management and HR cir- cles: “The staff is my number one asset in this hospi- tal.” Sometimes statements like that are puffery, but in Conrad’s case, he puts the claim into action in the way he handles performance management at his two Wash- ington State facilities.
Because the organization is small, appraisal inter- views are handled at the highest level: each employee being evaluated meets with Conrad and the owners of the practice. Conrad wants them to be full participants in the process, not nervous subjects under a microscope, so he tries to put them at ease by giving employees a few months to look over evaluation forms ahead of time so they can see what measures will be evaluated. He also keeps the meetings regular and predictable by schedul- ing a meeting with each employee twice a year.
Conrad also tries to dial down the tension by separat- ing compensation discussions from performance evalu- ations. In his experience, employees don’t listen well to feedback if they’re busy calculating whether the review will qualify them for a raise. Instead, Conrad meets twice a year with the owners to go over the budget and all the employees’ contributions. Raises and bonuses are deter- mined in those meetings and awarded to employees in meetings separate from the appraisal interviews. This keeps the appraisals focused on what is getting in the way of top performance and how employees can improve.
Conrad also tries to keep appraisal interviews posi- tive by not waiting for appraisal time to address perfor- mance problems. His understanding of his position is that he is responsible for addressing performance prob- lems as they arise. When a situation can’t be resolved by a few words from a supervisor, Conrad invites the employee and his or her supervisor to join him for lunch away from the workplace. There they discuss the issue and look for a solution.
Conrad doesn’t limit communication and feedback to problems. He tries to know employees and their work situations better by looking for informal oppor- unities for two-way communication. If he needs to run an errand or attend a community event, he invites one of the employees to accompany him and uses that time to ask about their career goals and how they feel about their work. Often, he uncovers opportunities for employees to develop and use untapped skills. In one
case, a part-time administrative employee indicated she was interested in full-time work. Over lunch, Conrad and the employee mapped out possible career paths, and she decided to get involved in treatment of the ani- mals. She continued to apply her administrative skills by coordinating surgeries and dentistry, and she enrolled in continuing-education classes so she could assist in the treatment area.
This approach to performance management is part of a larger objective at Meadow Hills. Conrad says he promised employees, “No team member will leave the practice feeling unchallenged, concede to a lack of direction, or have professional growth hindered.” Keeping that promise requires a combination of care- ful hiring, ongoing training, and honest review of any mistakes that are made. When employees don’t per- form up to expectations, managers evaluate whether changes are needed in training or hiring. Conrad expects that employees will keep their part of the bar- gain by showing a willingness to try new opportuni- ties and participate in problem solving. If employees aren’t willing to buy into this culture, Conrad won’t keep them on board. But apparently not many want to leave. While the rate of employee turnover for the veterinary industry is about 30%, turnover of Meadow Hills has fallen from 25% several years ago to just 10% soon after Conrad made his promise to employees.
SOURCES: “Four Ways to Add Value to Employee Evaluations,”
Veterinary Economics, January 2010, Business & Company Resource Center, http:// galenet.galegroup.com; “Help Me to Help You,” Veterinary Economics, August 2008, Business & Company Resource Center, http://galenet.galegroup .com; and Brian Conrad, “Make the Promise: Keep Your Team,” Veterinary Economics, May 2008, Business & Company Resource Center, http://galenet .galegroup.com.
1. Based on the information given, discuss how well the performance management at Meadow Hills Veteri- nary Center meets its strategic, administrative, and developmental purposes.
2. What methods for measuring employee performance do you think would be most beneficial for Meadow Hills? Why?
3. Evaluate Brian Conrad’s approach to appraisal inter- views. Write a paragraph or two summarizing what Conrad is doing well and how he might further improve the effort.