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7 tips to transform bad behavior


Use these targeted tactics to chisel away at team members' bad behavior and heigh-ho poor performance right out of your practice.

Minor offenses can become major problems when the bad behavior of these seven snarky personalities dwarf your ability to offer high-quality care and service to patients and clients. Use this advice from Christine Merle, DVM, MBA, CVPM, and Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, to minimize their influence on your team:

1) Lazy

Files litter the reception counter. Callbacks never happen, and the message light on the phone's always blinking. Whether it's inventory that goes unordered or lab work that's never processed on her shift, Lazy can really wreck your day.

Lazy may be slothful in the absence of management or she may just lack initiative. Either way, keep a list of uncompleted tasks in mind. When you find her lingering by the cute Boxer puppy in the kennel, ask her nicely to help accomplish a specific task on your list. If Lazy jumps on the phone and starts making callbacks the second her boss comes into view, she'll probably respond well to your requests. But if she generally lacks initiative, Lazy's less likely to follow through.

If Lazy's your peer, encourage her to share the workload by saying something like, "Let's inventory and organize this delivery of medical supplies together." But if Lazy consistently dodges your hints, approach your manager with the issue.

2) Bossy

Bossy thinks she's a leader, but she's really a task-oriented tyrant. While she makes things happen, she generates resentment and ill will with every edict she issues.

When Bossy busts in on your business, a simple statement is your best tool: "I appreciate your suggestion, but I'm pursuing it differently." Bossy feels heard, and you assert your preference and minimize the opportunity for debate. You can also say, "I think we should decide as a group," which opens a discussion and helps you avoid answering Bossy's call to action. When implementing a new task or protocol, request her expertise before she offers it. "I know you always help us out. Do you mind assigning responsibilities to the rest of the team?" This gives her need to lead boundaries and direction.

If you're Bossy's manager, you can also use a more direct approach: Tell Bossy a good leader is also a good follower, and your goal for her is growing in both roles. You'll place her in follower positions, and she should let others take the lead. Point out she'll assist other team members' skill development and growth as leaders.

3) Chatty

Discussing patients is protocol. Conversing about co-workers and clients can breach confidentiality and is grounds for firing. So when Chatty starts to dis doctors or divulge Miss Daisy's finances, say, "That's inappropriate and I don't think we should go there." When Chatty doesn't have your open ear, she's more likely to keep her muzzle shut.

If you're Chatty's manager, dissuade her from passing along others' personal details by creating and enforcing policies that outline acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Then use these policies as grounds for dismissal. This way, you'll foster a culture that requires respectful and ethical conduct. Be sure to share your new policies and culture at the next team meeting and lead by example.

4) Whiny

"Constantly complaining," "eternal pessimist," and "a real drag" are phrases team members use to describe Whiny. You may occasionally share her opinion, but her general disposition is lousy.

As Whiny's peer, your best coping strategy is to refocus her whining. Make it clear you're not joining her down Complain Lane with responses like, "Did you see that cute Maine coon kitten in exam room one?" Or, "I just read the latest issue of Firstline, and you should check out the article about ... "

As the saying goes, you can visit Pity City, but you can't live there. So if you're Whiny's manager, give her permission to complain on occasion, but tell her constant negativity is unwelcome in your practice. Curb her comments by saying, "I know you don't want to, but life isn't fair."

5) Needy

Needy's always seeking your help, opinion, or approval and can't function without constant supervision or reinforcement.

If you can't remember Needy accomplishing a task alone, she may be incapable of tackling her responsibilities. So first, find out if Needy just doesn't get it. If she better understands instructions from Suzy instead of Sally, mix up her training a bit. But if Suzy explains the pharmacy protocol three times to Needy and she's still confused, tell her you're concerned. "I'm afraid this is a training issue and worth telling management. I'll address our manager—do you want to come with me?"

What about Doc?

If you're the manager and feel you're providing a level of support that suffices the rest of your team, maybe Needy's not a good fit. So help her find another position—or practice—where she can grow.

6) Grumpy

She's crabby, rude, and annoyed by human error. Grumpy doesn't address her beefs directly—she just grumbles all afternoon.

After she's cooled down from your latest prickly encounter, see if Grumpy realizes how she came across. Say, "You were a little harsh. Why were you so short with me?" She may take two steps back, apologize, and explain she's focused on her son's problems at school or a fight she had that morning with her spouse.

Changing Grumpy's role in your practice may encourage better behavior. "Maybe her current environment or responsibilities aren't the right fit," says Dr. Merle, a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. Consider her strengths and reexamine how she can best contribute to your practice. For example, if Grumpy has strong financial skills, consider reassigning her to accounts receivable. Of course, this and any other reassignment requires that "grumpy" means "straightforward" and not "rude."

7) Sneaky

Sneaky's catlike reflexes help her switch behaviors based on her audience. And her devious demeanor may pose the most risk to your culture, morale, and business in general.

When management's not around, Sneaky's likely to take shortcuts, potentially compromising client service, patient care, legal compliance, and profits. Intercepting Sneaky's double agent behavior is important—but difficult. So try a management-by-observation strategy to uncover the true Sneaky. Briefly stand outside the exam and break rooms before entering to witness her interactions with co-workers and behavior when she's alone. "You're not hiding," Dr. Merle says. "Just observing how Sneaky acts when doctors and practice managers aren't around."

If you're Sneaky's peer and you catch her in the act, document the details for each offense so you can describe the situation later. Once you've noted enough examples to establish a pattern in Sneaky's behavior, take your concerns to management. If you feel comfortable, you can also approach Sneaky directly with your documented examples.

It all boils down

In most cases, you can manage each of these characters by documenting the bad behavior and how it affects client service, animal care, and your work environment. Then present your list to management. Practice managers: Use these documented examples to address the team member and her behavior in a one-on-one meeting. Then collaborate to establish an action plan to help her improve.

McVey, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and CEO of Innovative Veterinary Management in Phoenix, says when employees acknowledge their poor behavior, they should move up or out within 90 days, and they must show improvement along the way. "It's common for all of us to be coached at least once in our professional lives, but it's still serious," he says. "By the time someone mentions our behavior to us, we're already a problem."

These behaviors frequently result from the team dynamic—often the team member is retaliating against a co-worker for real or perceived slights. "These team members have stopped focusing on patients and clients—and that's who really suffers," Dr. Merle says. They often get away with bad behavior because they're not held accountable. But as a member of the veterinary team, you're obligated to resolve personal issues with co-workers.

Ultimately, though, practice owners and managers are responsible for managing behavior. "The behavior you tolerate is the behavior you'll get," McVey says.

Dr. Merle agrees. "Foster the culture you want by enforcing your practice's values from the top down and rewarding team members when their behavior contributes to that culture," she says. Public recognition, gift cards, movie tickets, and thank-you notes may not be new ideas, but they're tried-and-true methods for rewarding and encouraging good behavior.

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