Star employees: Do you measure up?
We asked consultants, doctors, and award-winning team members what it means to be a top performer. Do you have what it takes?
What makes a perfect employee? The experts interviewed here agree that top staff members share five distinct qualities that make them shine. If you're not sure you demonstrate these traits, use their tips to boost your performance to the highest level:
Exceptional communication skills
Great communication can build client loyalty—and a slip-up can do major damage in an instant, says Saralyn Smith, DVM, owner of Old Capitol Pet Care in Milledgeville, Ga. She uses a simple activity to illustrate the importance of communication for her team.
"The staff stands in a circle, and a team member silently tosses a ball to another," Dr. Smith says. "When the recipient misses the ball, the link is broken. In practice, if we don't talk to one another and to clients, we'll drop the ball." She says that top team members stand apart because they continuously strive to be clear and to listen actively.
Top performers also focus on body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones as indicators of hidden concerns and emotions. "Listening to and understanding what another person says involves more than just hearing the words," says consultant Roger Cummings, CVPM, of Brakke Consulting in Dallas. "You need to understand the feelings behind the words people say."
- Maintain eye contact, and smile as you talk to make people feel welcome and respected, even when talking on the phone.
- When speaking face-to-face with a client, set down any work, clasp your hands lightly in your lap so that you won't fidget, and lean forward slightly. These gestures tell the client that she has your full attention.
- Listen actively to ensure others understand your message. Look for body language, such as frowning, and listen for vocal variations that can reveal miscommunication.
- Paraphrase to show clients and co-workers that you understand, and ask them to do the same.
- Work to anticipate clients' questions and to present medical information in simple terms.
"Appearance and professionalism go together," says Robin Jacobson, CVT, of Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital in Beaverton, Ore., and winner of Bayer Animal Health's first Star Performer award. "Our staff reflects a modern, professional image by presenting a well-groomed appearance, providing complete and accurate information, and taking the appropriate actions." (Also see "The do's and don'ts of professionalism" in the October/ November 1998 issue of
Are you a star employee?
Other sources agree that while appearance is important, acting professional is just as critical. "The perfect team member doesn't feed the rumor mill," Cummings says. Dr. Smith agrees and adds that the best employees are team players. "Top staff members set aside their personal agendas for the good of the practice," she says.
And when co-worker conflicts flare, exceptional employees approach the problem directly. Jacobson calls this "self-managing." "Our four-doctor practice doesn't have a practice manager," she says. "And we can't go running to the practice owner every time we disagree. Instead, we've learned to catch problems early and to address them immediately. If the people involved can't resolve it, then we approach the owner."
- Keep your hair neat, wear subtle makeup and jewelry, and leave stained, torn, or suggestive clothing at home. A well-groomed appearance tells clients and co-workers you take veterinary medicine—and yourself—seriously.
- Adopt a professional tone and language when speaking with clients. Don't use slang or profanity, and never raise your voice.
- Avoid gossip and client bashing, and discourage clique mentalities.
- Roll with the punches. If you tend to panic during a crisis, try emulating the team member in your practice who always maintains a steady voice and a focused attitude.
- Address staff conflicts quickly and directly. Learn to manage interpersonal disputes before involving outside parties.
- Arrive promptly, and don't abuse breaks.
Show them you care
Aptitude for learning
The experts say exceptional employees competently perform their tasks and eagerly seek new opportunities to grow in their positions. "Our profession's knowledge base increases and changes rapidly," Cummings says. "Top team members embrace continuing education and consider professional growth essential to their success—and the practice's."
Dr. Smith adds: "I look for employees who want to understand the reasons behind the actions. I want people who are enthused about learning and applying new things."
- Identify seminars or skill-building classes that will strengthen your value to the practice. Then ask the practice owner if you can attend. (For a guide to continuing-education opportunities, see "Back to school" in the April/May issue of Firstline.)
- Request continuing-education benefits as part of your compensation package, and use them regularly.
- Teach co-workers a new skill, and ask that they return the favor.
- Make the most of staff meetings and product demonstrations.
- Ask questions when you don't understand the reasoning behind a policy, procedure, or decision.
Deanne McCabe, DVM, co-owner of Chanhassen Veterinary Clinic in Chanhassen, Minn., remembers a new kennel employee who assumed full responsibility for the kennels and hospitalized pets. The rest of the team quickly saw her dedication to the patients and to such kennel-related issues as cleanliness and disease prevention. "We always had complete confidence in the people she trained, based purely on her own job performance," she says.
Our sources say top team members' dedication doesn't end with their own roles; they approach every aspect of veterinary practice with drive. As Cummings says, "Adept employees anticipate the needs of clients, patients, and co-workers and immediately take action to meet those needs."
Taking initiative also means resolving problems before they get out of control. Even if the roof caves in, highly motivated employees still will make sure service is uninterrupted. "The best employees work hard to meet team goals," Dr. Smith says.
- Continuously evaluate your job performance and look for ways to improve it.
- Focus on finding solutions—not on problems in the practice.
- Go beyond your job description. Ask, "What more can I do?"
- When you see a need, take care of it.
Respect for practice goals
"An ideal employee works as an advocate for pets and for the practice. He or she lives our goal to practice exceptional medicine—and works to maintain the health of the business," Dr. McCabe says.
Another critical trait top team members share: maturity. "Veterinary medicine is a profession—not a hobby," Cummings says. "Exceptional employees recognize the importance of veterinary medicine, and their professional attitude and actions prove the services are worth every penny clients pay."
- Memorize the practice's mission statement, and apply it to every task you perform.
- Take pride in your role on the team.
- Recognize that the practice is a financial operation, and make sure you contribute to its success.
Every employee brings strengths to his or her position. The best employees apply their strengths to perform at the highest level they can—no matter what position they hold in the practice. Take the challenge today—go for great success.
Colleen Ryckert Cook is a freelance writer based in Lenexa, Kan., and a former Veterinary Economics senior associate editor.