Looking for spit-polish pride

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Apr 01, 2005


Jeff Werber, DVM
The hardest job we have as practice owners is to empower our employees to value the practice and take ownership of it. Two years ago, I built a beautiful new hospital. Soon after, I noticed a large dent in the side of one of the Formica workstations in the lab. One of my technicians was lazy and decided to move a chair by shoving it with his foot.

To fix the dent, I'll need to replace an entire sheet of Formica. But my annoyance wasn't just at the physical mar on my building. It pained me to see one of my employees showing such a lack of care for the practice. In my book, carelessness in this area shows a general disrespect for the job being performed.

I spoke with this technician at length about the effect such an attitude has on the practice. And in a staff meeting, I discussed the importance of taking pride in the facility in a more general way that all team members could learn from.

Another example: Every drawer and shelf in my practice has a label listing the contents. I want to know that every time I reach for the toenail clipper it will be there. If someone takes it and uses it, I expect him or her to put it back. Not doing so shows disrespect for the owner, the practice, and, most important, fellow employees who must search out the missing object.

Lazy or sloppy employees aren't taking enough pride in their work. And clients notice. I just won't tolerate losing a client due to an employee's action or inaction. I've always felt that a practice owner is the only one who has the right to choose to lose a client.

Another show of disrespect is inactivity. There's no such thing as downtime at my practice. A staff member should never be sitting around with nothing to do. Team members can check on patients, wash walls, and clean out and organize drawers. I don't care if the employee's a licensed technician or a kennel attendant, there's always work to be done.

The employees to keep are the ones who never need to be told to act. They're the self-starters, the ones always busy doing. I have a technician who, on a slow surgery day, recruited a few co-workers to clean the surgery suite and equipment, unasked. That's a great employee.

Of course, I work to pick people with the can-do attitude I like from the start. For example, potential hires for all positions spend one day working in the practice for pay. I want to see how willing they are to jump in and help out.

When I'm faced with a disrespectful employee, the question I ask myself isn't about whether I can teach respect, but about whether I should need to. If this isn't a skill the person already possesses, that worries me. I don't hesitate to let go of employees who continually show they don't take pride in their work and in the care of the hospital. It's a sign that they don't share my practice philosophy and aren't a good fit here.

This may sound harsh. And I'll admit I'm a perfectionist and expect a lot. I expect even more from myself. But the respect I expect of my team, I give back.