Today’s VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog is by guest criticalist, Dr. Amy Kaplan, DACVECC. This is from her own personal experience of dealing with performance reviews in veterinary medicine! How should we handle them?

Performance reviews are not an easy ordeal- for the reviewer or for the reviewee. Too often, the performance review becomes a venue for expressing only the shortcomings of the employee, rather than the intended purpose of discussing BOTH the good and the bad. So what can be done to improve this experience for the reviewee, and if you’re at the brunt end of a bad performance review, how do you handle bad news with grace and professionalism?

Tips for Delivering an effective performance review:
For any of us who have been in the role of the reviewer, how do you discuss your employee’s shortcomings in a productive way? While there are many resources available out there on how to deliver effective performance reviews, here are a few tips I have found personally helpful for the process.

1. Limit the “You” statements
It sounds so simple and maybe even a bit trite, but try practicing this out loud with a friend sometime. By limiting the use of the word “you”, your employee will feel less targeted. Even though the review is about the individual, and it would be next to impossible to completely avoid use the word “you”, finding a less pointed way of describing the feedback will help the employee to accept the information and rationalize it better with less of an emotional attachment to what is being said. It would be great if we all had thick skins and could process feedback without emotion, but let’s be honest, we are the types of people that stay late for our clients, give up our own lunch to help a pup’s finicky appetite, take our breaks in our patient’s kennels so they won’t feel so alone- WE CARE. For some of us it can be very hard to turn that switch off when facing bad news.

Ex. “Your technicians feel that you yell medical orders at them and that you think they are not capable of performing their tasks to your high standards.”

Modified to: “A few of the technicians interpret the medical orders they receive as being said curtly which is making them feel both judged and saddened that they are not performing up to the expectations of a respected veterinarian.”

*Of course you won’t be able to get away from using the word “you” altogether in an individual performance review, but when delivering news that will hurt for the reviewee to hear, this technique can soften the blow, which can result in improved self-reflection.

2. Positivity Sandwich
Bad news will be easier received when the reviewee is in a positive state of mind. This is multimodal. First, don’t corner your employee on the floor when he is stressed out trying to get through his appointments just because the timing is convenient for you. It’s better to schedule the review at a time that is slow or sometimes even a lunch review can be effective- limiting the hanger can result in a better received review.

It’s helpful to start a review on a positive note. What accomplishments has the employee received recently? Acknowledge her hard earned accomplishments first to set the tone for the review and show that you truly do appreciate her as your employee. Then you can move into areas that you see need improvement. And always try to end the review on a positive note. Reflect back on her progress since starting employment with you, and be sure to acknowledge that you see her working hard (specific examples are always best!). Try ending the review with letting her know that your door is open should she want to discuss how she is progressing since your latest review, or for her to ask about specific problems she is having on the floor.

3. Surprises on either end are your fault
This was an interesting topic that I came across online from a leadership coach that I hadn’t ever though of before when giving a review. If you bring up a concern that has surprised your employee (often this is in the form of a colleague finding fault with the reviewee’s performance or behavior), the shock he is experiencing is your fault for not having addressed the issue appropriately in a timely fashion, or for being unaware of the problem until it escalated to an unacceptable level. If a colleague has a complaint against your reviewee, this should always be addressed in a timely fashion with both sides being heard – the performance review is not an acceptable time for this information to be first brought to light for the reviewee.

4. Be a LEADER not a dictator
To be a leader means to LEAD by example. If you are asking your employee to change the way he approaches a task, or the way he interacts with a technician or colleague, give him an example to follow. If you can show that you are a fallable human being, they will be more likely to act upon your recommendation rather than to react in anger and resentment.

Ex. Reviewer wants to say: “Your colleague feels you are demeaning and condascending in rounds and you always change his medical approach just to put him down infront of the technicians and other staff.”

Reviewer instead says: “I want your medical knowledge to be well-received by the team and I have a suggestion on how to help in this arena. There was once a colleague of mine that felt I was being condascending because all she ever heard was me pointing out the faults in her medical plan. I’m a straight shooter and only ever talked about improvements that could be made with her medicine because time was short and that was the quickest way to get through rounds. Once I learned that her anger and resentment towards me were due to her feeling that I was highlighting her biggest insecurity (feeling like she was an incompetent doctor) I learned that if I could make it a point to take a little extra time in rounds to praise the good parts of her medical approach and then offer the reasoning behind why I would like to try a different medical approach, she came around a lot better. It’s difficult to learn to adapt to other people’s behaviors, but taking this extra step can improve upon our medicine and our team comradory. It was difficult for me to change the way I talked and the way I processed morning rounds, but the outcome was definitely worth the extra work.”

In next week’s VETgirl blog, Dr. Amy Kaplan, DACVECC will review how to handle a negative performance review! Because yes, we all get them…

  1. Nice job Amy!! This would be very useful for some of the people we are no longer working under. Im so proud to know you and call you my friend.

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