Which people belong in your practice toolbox? Consider your current team and how a new employee with a different approach might offer fresh tools for your practice.
Building a house requires a toolbox full of tools that are each designed to tackle specific tasks. While a hammer won't cut glass and a drill won't hold beams together, these tools, along with many others, are necessary for constructing a quality structure. And it's what's different that makes these instruments most useful.
Debbie Allaben Gair
When your managers hire, they add to your practice toolbox. Of course, they look for a candidate with the basic traits, such as someone who's trustworthy, honest, dependable, and possesses a good work ethic. Filtering out candidates who don't offer these traits helps us choose solid employees who will build a strong foundation for the practice. Your managers also might look for some secondary traits to address an open position's specific needs or to increase the team's overall diversity. As you read about these different behavior styles, consider which types of team members might best balance your current team—and think about which tool type best describes you.
Traits: Patient, kind, loyal, good listener
Motto: We want what's best for the team, even at our own expense.
When the glue sticks: A glue team member is likely a calm person who works methodically to meet everyone's needs. She swaps work schedules, sacrificing her own wants or needs. She's dependable and plans vacations and time off well in advance to make sure she covers her shifts adequately.
She's established effective systems and routines to handle her duties, and there's no confusion about protocol or procedures. Before making changes, she considers how they will affect the team, practice, clients, and patients.
Clients love this type of team member because she's often worked at the practice for as long as they can remember. In fact, some glue team members who are closing in on retirement have worked at the practice since they were teenagers and their mothers still drove them to work. A glue employee fosters a peaceful workplace and treats clients and team members like family.
When the glue doesn't hold: A glue person is slow to change and dependent on systems that worked in the past. She's overly concerned with how others feel and she sometimes doesn't meet her own needs. Because she likes to avoid conflict, she helps create a pleasant work environment, but she sometimes fails to address or resolve issues. She needs others to support her efforts to speak up and comfortably adjust to change.
This team member tries hard to save relationships, but her tactics for keeping the peace might challenge others. She may need encouragement to act assertively, and you may need to create systems to help her manage change.
The glue team member alters her plans routinely to accommodate others, and she does so willingly. In fact, she gets satisfaction out of making others happy. But at some point, this team member explodes from a frustration no co-worker knew she felt. Afterwards, she's quick to apologize and resume accommodating others at her expense.
Traits: Enthusiastic, customer-service driven, positive attitude
Motto: Let's have fun.
When electricity flows: The light bulb kicks open the back door, ready for a fun-filled day of actively helping clients care for their pets. As she works, she shares stories of past travels and is always dreaming about upcoming vacations or even just her plans for next weekend. She accomplishes a lot, but it's hard to notice because she effortlessly mixes work and fun.
If a light bulb makes mistakes, she recovers and moves on to the next challenging task. She multitasks, juggling her responsibilities while laughing and brainstorming evening social plans.
Her personality is gregarious, persuasive, and emotional. Other team members find her pleasant to work with, and she's enthusiastic about her job.
When the bulb burns out: This person likes to have fun, but she's easily distracted, jumping from one incomplete task to another. She needs others to help her stay focused. Sometimes she moves so quickly that she may need to be reminded to slow down and focus on accuracy. She also may need help accomplishing her goals.
With a light bulb, it seems there are great days and awful days and not much else in between. Luckily, on most days, she's cheerful and optimistic, but she's susceptible to the attitudes of the team members around her. On the other hand, she can affect the attitudes of those same team members.
The light bulb employee may be disorganized, lack follow-through, and appear to be superficial. To work more effectively, she needs to be surrounded by tools that help her organize and listen to others more carefully.
Traits: Conscientious, professional, analytical, dependable
Motto: Check it once, check it twice, and check it once again for good measure.
When it's straight: The level team member strives for accuracy and diplomacy. She's certainly capable of working with others, but she prefers to work alone in a more formal atmosphere. She's courteous and business-like, and she handles herself and clients in a pleasingly restrained and diplomatic manner.
A team member who's a level thrives on following the practice rules. Policy manuals and job descriptions help her meet and exceed expectations. She completes tasks systematically, conventionally, and to perfection. If your goal is to develop high standards, this team member will show you how.
When it's crooked: The level likes to follow the rules, but sometimes we need to adjust rules based on the situation. And this can be tough for the level. For example, perhaps her practice doesn't allow charging on an account. Although this is a smart policy, it may alienate a quality, long-term client who's experiencing a tough time. The level could get so wrapped up in analyzing this issue that she'd need a nudge to make a decision and then act on it.
A level may focus too much on perfection in herself and others. She can react defensively and act aloof, and her strict adherence to the rules might end up hampering other team members' creativity. To create a more effective practice culture, it's likely the level will need encouragement to open herself to what's new and different and to work on her communication skills.
Traits: Fast-paced, task-focused, results-oriented, audacious
Motto: Follow me or get out of the way.
When it's right on target: The nail gun focuses on completing her projects. In an exam room, there's no time for idle chit-chat with clients. And when she can, she moves on to the next appointment quickly. She tends to influence her environment by overcoming opposition to accomplish results, and she spares little time for emotions and socializing.
Because she welcomes a challenge and likes taking risks, it's common for a nail gun to charge ahead with little consideration for consequences. She knows she can resolve issues when they come up, so she prefers to keep moving forward. She often thinks, "It's easier to do it myself than train someone else." She's adventurous and easily implements new ideas.
When it misses: The nail gun team member is so focused on results that she may forget she needs help to accomplish certain tasks. Often accused of disregarding others' feelings, a nail gun misses necessary details in an effort to quickly meet common goals. She can improve by slowing down and explaining her wishes. Then team members will be able to help her complete the tasks and achieve the excellent results she desires.
The nail gun may seem aggressive, autocratic, and inflexible, and she may overpower other team members with force. People who are nail guns may also seem unapproachable and insensitive, show impatience, and push other employees to act before they're ready.
To improve the team dynamic, the nail gun can work to develop more patience, tone down her directness, and ask more questions. Paying some attention to her body language may help her seem more approachable.
In general, people tend to prefer one or two behavior styles. While that's natural, remember to focus on strengths rather than just limitations. As we learn to appreciate other behavior styles, we recognize that a mix of these styles creates a strong, well-balanced team.
Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a management coach, recruiter, and educator. As president of Bridging the Gap, she works with veterinary practices to help people work together more effectively. Please send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.