Taming a talented, but contentious super-tech
Almost all practices have one. She’s your right hand, your go-to gal for all things clinical, the one technician you can truly rely on to pull through and provide top-notch medical care in any situation. But a serious problem creeps up at some practices: Nobody likes her. She writes her own schedule, she won’t work weekends or late nights, and in general, she’s just not a good team player.
We asked Debbie Gair, CVPM, of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich., for some input. As a practice manager and veterinary management consultant, she’s faced this problem before.
“The strong personality of a super-tech is intimidating and therefore, it works—from the super-tech's point of view,” Gair says. “But it doesn't work for the entire team and ultimately it doesn't work when the goal is to offer excellent medical and customer service to our clients.”
So how do you keep your technical talent while maintaining a peaceful practice environment? Gair says that the practice manager—not the veterinarian—needs to have progressive performance reviews for all team members at the practice, including the super-tech.
“When reviewing the super-tech, the practice manager needs to address the practice’s expectations. Touch on her customer service skills and her teamwork, attitude, punctuality, and willingness to learn, grow and self initiate, along with her technical skills,” Gair says. “I often see that someone is kept on the team because of technical superiority, but allowed to severely lack in other work expectation categories.”
Gair is quick to point out that keeping a toxic team member solely because of technical skills is an ultimate disservice to the practice—and the other members of the team. “Many practices are afraid of what will happen if they hold this person accountable—what if she gets mad or quits?” she says. But in the long run, this might not be so bad. Often when the super-tech leaves the practice, other team members are finally allowed to shine and show their true talent.
Ready to have that "tough talk" with your super-tech? Here’s a sample script to use:
“John, your skills are outstanding, but the attitude (avoid saying you or your) is causing trouble for the team. We need to find ways to (fill in the blank—improve punctuality, create a happy and supportive attitude towards others, work positively with difficult clients or staff, rotate the weekend schedule amongst all the techs, and so on) in order to meet our practice’s goal of having a peaceful and cohesive work environment. Are you willing to discuss this and improve in this area?"
If the super-tech’s answer is yes, that’s great and you can say, “Thank you for the hard work you do and thank you for your willingness to improve. Let’s check back in two weeks and see how things are going."
If the answer is no, be firm and say, "That’s a disappointing choice. However, it is the practice’s expectation that we all work well together. If you want to join us, we'd welcome and appreciate that. If you choose not to join us, we won’t be able to continue this work relationship."