Great expectations


Let your personality emerge after you understand the practice and have made some contribution.

Starting out can be tricky: You are on board, but the jury is still out on you. It is a time of trial. You often are being watched to see if you will work out. Here are some things you need to do to start out on the right foot and keep moving in the right direction:

Before you start

  • Say thank you. Contact all the people who helped you get the new position. Often people don't make this effort because they feel they'll be in the new job for a long time. But today, when the average American changes jobs every four years, the odds say you're going to change jobs again soon. You need to keep up those contacts.

From the beginning

  • When you start a new position, don't fix things or do anything big for the first three months. That is the biggest mistake people make. Take time to learn the system, the people and the culture.

During the first few months, you cannot possibly understand the implications of certain decisions you might make. You might be criticizing a protocol or idea that was done by someone really important. Or you could be changing something that will affect someone on the staff in ways you aren't aware.

  • Make yourself productive immediately. This does not contradict the previous point. Do things that are safe. For example, install a new system where there has been none. This is safe because you aren't getting rid of some other system.

  • Introduce yourself to everybody. Be visible; walk around and meet people as soon as possible, including those who work for you. Meet everybody. Too many new associates meet only the important people, such as other veterinarians in the practice, while ignoring those who actually will do the work.

  • Don't make friends too fast. Someone who befriends you right away could be on the way out. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be friendly. Socialize with several people rather than becoming known as someone who associates only with so-and-so. Get to know everybody, and then decide with whom to get closer.

  • Recognize the efforts of your subordinates immediately. Don't hesitate to show you appreciate those who work alongside of you every day. Recognize them for their dedication and a job well done. Inform the practice owner or practice manager when a member of the veterinary team has gone the extra mile in doing his or her job. Adding a note to his or her personnel file recognizing his or her efforts also will go a long way.

If you are responsible for managing any employees immediately, then look at the review and pay-raise dates, and make sure no one is overlooked. You can't afford to wait three months to get settled while one of your people is stewing about an overdue salary review.

The first three months

  • Learn the practice culture. People new to jobs lose those jobs because of personality conflicts more often than a lack of competence.

Keep your head low until you learn how the practice operates. Most veterinary hospitals follow specific protocols for dealing with patients, clients and practicing medicine. All those things are part of the culture, and they are unwritten. To learn them, you have to pay attention.

I had a client, for example, who lost his job because his management style rubbed everyone the wrong way. He is a touchy-feely manager who, when he wants his employees to do things, schmoozes with them, saying things such as, "You know, I was kind of thinking about this and ..." But the practice culture was such that the employees liked and expected to be asked straight out. His style made them feel patronized and manipulated, and his own staff did him in.

Pay your dues before doing things at a variance with the practice culture. After you build up some credits, you'll have more leeway. Let your personality emerge when you understand the practice and after you have made some contribution.

  • Learn the organizational structure—the real structure, not the one that is drawn on the charts. Ask your practice manager or head technician to tell you, who knows what, who thought of this specific idea, who is important and how people relate to each other. You could be surprised.

As far as subordinates are concerned, find out other people's opinions and then form your own. Consider that you might have a different perception because you have different values.

  • Find out what is important in your job. For example, when I counsel people at a corporation, counseling is not the only important thing in my job. Personnel send the people who come to me, so I must manage my relationship with the personnel people. It doesn't matter how good a job of counseling I do if I don't maintain a good relationship with personnel.

  • Pay attention to your peers. Your peers can prove as valuable to you as your boss and subordinates. Do not try to impress them with your brilliance. That would be the kiss of death because you'd have a very large reputation to live up to. Instead, encourage them to talk to you. They know more than you do. They also know your boss. Look to them to teach you and in some cases, protect you.

I know one executive who found out that her last three predecessors were fired. She knew from talking to people that her boss was the type whose ego was bruised when someone had ideas. He had a talent of getting rid of these people.

To protect herself, she built relationships with her peers, the heads of offices around the country. After a year and a half, her boss's brother took her to breakfast and told her that, unlike her predecessors, she could not be fired: it would have been such an unpopular decision that it would have backfired on her boss.

  • Set precedents you want to keep. If you start out working 12-hour days, people come to expect it of you—even if no one else is doing it. When you stop, people wonder what's wrong.

Set modest goals for your own personal achievement and high goals for your department. Make your people look good and you will too.

Three months and beyond

  • Continue to develop contacts outside the practice. If you need information for your job, sometimes the worst people to ask are the practice owner and people around you. A network is also a tremendous resource to fall back on when the practice owner is busy, and you will seem resourceful, smart and connected.

Keep a hero file for yourself, a hanging file where you place written descriptions of all your successes. If you must job hunt in a hurry, then you'll be able to recall what you've done.

  • You will also use it if you stay. If you want anything, whether it is a raise, promotion or the responsibility for a particular project, then you can use the file to build a case for yourself.

  • Keep managing your career. Don't think, "I'll just take this job and do what they tell me," because you might get off on some tangent. Remember where you were heading and make sure your career keeps going that way.

Take proactive action to move toward your goal. Take on a lot of assignments. If a medical case comes up that fits into your long-term plan, then do it. If one doesn't fit into your plan, then you can do it or you can say, "Oh, I'd love to do that, but I'm really busy." Make those kinds of choices all the time, and you successfully will balance perception, productivity and career advancement.

Kate Wendleton is president of the Five O'Clock Club, (, a nationally recognized career counseling organization. The club provides affordable, state-of-the-art career counseling services directly to individuals, and outplacement via the corporate market. Services include small group as well as individual career coaching through a nationwide network of certified career counselors. The club's methods are based on 14 years of research. For more information, call (800) 538-6645 ext.600.

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