jobs & recruiting

How to Make Your Vet Staff's First Day Memorable

4 min read
FYI: This article is part of the veterinary culture manifesto — a set of guiding principles to create better culture in vet med.
Read & sign the veterinary culture manifesto here.
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Walking into a new job can often be anxiety-inducing. Are you going to get along with your coworkers? Will you like your boss? Are you going to feel comfortable asking for help?

And, sure you can get a decent feel for the practice before you join (more on our thoughts about that here), but as employers and management, it’s our job to ease that transition into a new space and make their first day memorable. 

To learn more about the ways we can give better first days to our team members, we turned to Kelly Erb, Director of Operations at Firehouse & Goodheart Animal Health Centers. 2022 is their 10th year in business and they've been crushing new employee onboarding for most of that time.

Before The First Day: Get to know them! 

A memorable first day takes some prep work. Giving the same swag and experience to everyone may be scalable and easy, but it certainly won’t feel as special as actually taking the time to know them.

Personalize the experience to them

For Kelly’s team, they learn their favorites before they walk in the door, and tailor the experience to them. “We learn their favorite color, candy, and snacks, and make sure those are at the ready when they join.” 

This can be as easy as sending a quick onboarding survey to them when they accept the position. Some examples of questions to ask are:

  • Favorites: color, snacks, candy, restaurant, animal, dog/cat breed
  • Sizes: scrubs, t-shirts, hoodies
  • Interests: hobbies, sports, games, teams, books

Then, get to personalizing!

  • Buy them a new stethoscope in their favorite color
  • Make a care package with their favorite snacks and treats
  • Get them a gift card to their favorite restaurant for a good first-night dinner
  • Pick out swag and have it ready for them in their size

Educate & excite the rest of the team

“But we go one step further,” Kelly says, “and prep the existing team members about what to expect from this new person (their experience level, interests, etc.). That way, they walk into a warm, inclusive environment.”

Including other team members makes this a memorable day for everyone. It builds camaraderie and comfortability with each other from the jump and gives an easy “in” to conversation for teammates who may be more introverted.

Sending out an all-team email or message that introduces the new team member, explains who they are, and what they like is a sure-fire way to get them feeling acclimated to their new peers. You can also set out a welcome card a few days prior to them starting and make sure everyone signs it. 

First Day: Understand their working style.

Now you’ve already done the prep work and you’re ready to greet them! One of the most important things to flush out early is their working style. 

Tailoring your management style to how they work will drastically improve what they get out of onboarding and their overall experience in your practice.

Typically, Kelly’s team focuses on 3 main areas:

Communication

“We ask the team member how they like to be communicated with. This is important with new tasks and feedback.” 

This is key to a quality working relationship. Do they prefer quick, in-the-moment feedback or do they like more formal, scheduled meetings?

Motivation

This is where you dig into your motivator factors. These factors increase team satisfaction and are a big factor in why people stay or leave jobs. So, it’s crucial to focus and tailor your approach depending on their motivations. 

Here’s an example of a question that Kelly’s team uses for identifying motivations:

1.  What opportunities are the most motivating to you (i.e. what would motivate you most to stay with the organization long-term)? Please rank these in order of importance with 1 being most important to you.

____ Opportunities to earn higher salary or wages over time
____ Opportunities for leadership roles or advancement
____ Opportunities for professional development to learn new skills that will help me in this and other jobs
____ Opportunities for personal development to help me achieve personal goals
____ Opportunities to earn recognition for my contributions
____ Other:

Reward

“We ask what's the most meaningful reward you can get from your supervisor.”

Do they like public recognition for a job well done? Small gifts? Understanding and respecting these preferences will make all the difference to your team.

First 2 Months: Onboard, train, & support.

For Kelly’s team, onboarding doesn’t end the first day or week — it extends to 60 days. 

“We call this our ‘onboarding’ period,” Kelly says, “when we're working together to orient this new team member into Firehouse/Goodheart's practices and procedures: the way we do things. There's lots of communication and 365 feedback all year long, and it's especially energetic during the first 2 months when we're learning about each other.”

The first few months of working somewhere are crucial to the longevity of the job. Making that special and helpful for team members makes them feel supported — and supported people help others more readily. 

Make their moment of arrival awesome. ❤️

When you first prioritize this, it won’t be perfect. You’ll have to iterate and adapt to your team’s specific culture and try things that may not work! 

Learning and getting team feedback is the name of the game.

Looking for more tips on creating an excellent moment of arrival? Check out our section on this in the Ultimate Guide for Awesome Culture.