Team tool: A sour story to provoke discussion


Is something rotten in this veterinary practice getting its latest hire? Whos to blame? What could they do about it? Turn a short, engaging, ambiguous story into a brainstorming tool for your next team meeting.


Here's a peek inside a practice in upstate New York. Little do these employees know that your prying eyes are about to uncover a radical new way to increase job satisfaction, decrease turnover and improve customer service. Read the following scenario and then offer your ideas for change in the comments below. Try reading this story out loud at a team meeting-maybe with colleagues playing the different parts and you, the team meeting leader, acting as narrator-to see if you can generate even more helpful ideas.

Our characters?

• Dr. Cranston, the practice owner

• Eileen, the practice manager

• Ann, a veterinary technician

• Becky, a new but smart client service representative

• Molly, the new hire

‘You don't want to start them out too high'

Dr. Cranston, the practice owner, leans against a door and discusses his thoughts about a prospective employee with Eileen, the practice manager, who is also relatively new to the hospital.

“I like her,” Cranston says as Eileen nods approvingly. “What's her name again?”

“Molly,” Eileen says.

“Molly. Why don't you offer her the position? Ask if she'll take $12 an hour. If not, maybe bump it up to $12.50. I don't like to start CSRs out at more than that. If she turns out good …”

“If she turns out good,” Eileen finishes, “we can always move her up to $13, but not right away. I'm in agreement. You don't want to start them out too high.”

A dark cloud over the hospital?

Becky is assigned the responsibility of training Molly. Becky has been with the practice for four months and has picked up on the job very quickly. A former copy editor, Becky is no dumdum. She has a decade of quality employment on her resume and a master's degree in English. She takes the job at the practice only because she and her husband have moved to this rural area to start a hobby farm, and the job, even with its brutally low pay, is a welcome shot of cash, a chance to get out of the house and interact with people, and a way for Becky to dabble in writing on the side.

As Becky educates Molly on the finer points of Avimark, Molly stares wide-eyed and opened mouth at the computer screen. Becky isn't sure if Molly is uninterested, overwhelmed, confused or just plain dense. During the training session, Becky is frequently pulled away to answer the phone, find a doctor, greet a client or digress on any one of the job's innumerable finer points.

“So, typically, I wouldn't book that appointment here. I would put it here,” Becky instructs, tapping the computer screen, “but this doctor, she gets very ups- … she'll flip her- … let's just say, you should make sure you don't book her more than two sick patients in any given hour.”

A teamwork problem?

Despite Becky's dutiful attention to Molly's training, training doesn't quite go as expected. There seems to be something nasty in the air …

“Ann...?” Becky gingerly asks some assistant on one of these trips, “I have Mrs. Schmitt in Room 2. She's already checked out. Do you want to get Viola for her?”

“I don't know anything about Viola,” says Ann flatly without looking up from her work.

So Becky and Molly make their way deeper into the hospital in search of someone else who can help.

The ostrich with its head in the sand?

During other occasions, Dr. Cranston, with a colleague in tow, shows up briefly at the desk and checks in.

“How's it going?” Dr. Cranston asks.

“Fine!” Becky exclaims brightly.

“OK,” Molly follows with a propped-up smile.

“Great!” Dr. Cranston announces with his head back in a chart, “Is there coffee?”

Tenacity pays off, but not much else

Two months from now, Becky will have finally succeeded at getting a chance to train as a veterinary assistant, mostly because of her relentless angling for the opportunity. She will only get to do it one day a week, but it will be a start.

Molly will still be at the front desk, but her performance will start to be a problem.

Practice manager Eileen will be in front of her computer with the website opened up. The page will cast a green glow on her face.

With just this little bit of story, do you see anything wrong? What is it? Do you have questions that could be asked inside the team and in management to figure out problems? Do you have ideas for activities, meetings, training or HR decisions that might improve things? Talk it over in the comments below!

Bash Halow is a practice consultant and owner of Halow Consulting as well as a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, a Licensed Veterinary Technician and (best of all for us) a regular Fetch dvm360 speaker. He contributes regularly to dvm360 magazine, Firstline magazine, Vetted magazine and

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