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Situation #1: Employee is seeking advice from Elsewhere Veterinary Hospital LLC.

Dr. Mild walks into her clinic on a Thursday morning to find her technician waiting for her in her office. Her technician informs her that the head receptionist has been to Elsewhere Veterinary Hospital for a consultation on her beloved poodle Chuckie. While this would not ordinarily bother Dr. Mild if it were something that she did not feel comfortable doing, or was beyond the scope of her clinic, this particular incident upset her for several reasons.

1.    This is not how she wanted to find out about her receptionist visiting her competition.
2.    This consultation was well within the scope of her practice and she had already given her time to examine Chuckie the week before, so had one of her associates.
3.    Her competition (Dr. Gonaway at Elsewhere Veterinary Hospital LLC) used to work for her and she had just ended a fairly lengthy and emotional non-compete battle and had lost to Dr. Gonaway.
4.    This is not the first employee who has taken their pet to competing Veterinary hospitals.

Dr. Mild feels that her receptionist needs to be confronted, reprimanded and prevented from visiting the competition, after all, her receptionist knows how hurtful the battle was, right?  And, why doesn't her employees seem to trust her with their pets?

Dr. Mild sees the issue as the following problems:
1.    Dishonesty- Her employees are sneaking around behind her back.
2.    Disloyalty- She pays them well and provides benefits and very flexible schedules.  Don’t they appreciate that?
3.    Insulting- Why would her employee trust someone else’s opinion over hers?  Do they think that she is not capable of providing the best care for their pets?

What is the real issue here?

Looking back at the interactions between Dr. Mild and her staff, and their pets, we see that Dr. Mild does not always give employee pets the attention that employees feel they deserve.  Records are not well written (if at all), the employee pets are squeezed in between appointments and examined in a hallway or on the way out the door, and treatments and follow-up are often forgotten.
What are the consequences of this incident/ situation?
Dr. Mild’s employees do not trust her with their own pets due to communication and messaging failures.   Her actions do not lend themselves to making her employees feel special or important.  As a result of this miscommunication, Dr. Mild has failed to give her own employees peace of mind about their own pets, how can they be expected to convey confidence of care to her clients?
If veterinary clinic staff do not feel that clinic leadership and Veterinarians are attentive to their emotional needs as pet owners, and if we fail to display compassion to them about those needs as well as the needs of their pets, they will not truly believe that our clinic is the very best option for their own pets, much less for our clients.

The take home message.

If Veterinary support staff do not believe in our quality of care, they will be unable to honestly convey that message to our clients.

How should this be handled?

First of all, it needs to acknowledge that we cannot go back in time and undo what has been done.   We may only move forward and try to make amends for what has passed.
Perhaps the best way to approach this with the receptionist is to ask in a non-threatening manner how the incident/ consultation came about.  She may be expecting a confrontation or defensive behavior, and it is important to swallow one’s pride and be genuinely interested in finding out one’s own faults in the interest of repairing what can be repaired.
One might phrase it as such:
“Joanne, I understand that you are taking Chuckie to Dr. Gonaway’s clinic for consultation.  I feel like I maybe did not give you answers that you are satisfied with.  Would you let me take another look at him?  I feel like I need to spend some extra time focusing on him to see what we can do for him”.  
Or ,
“Joanne, I feel like I may have missed an opportunity to fully examine Chuckie and address your needs.   I feel bad that you are taking him to Dr. Gonaway’s clinic for a consultation, and would like to make this right.  Will you please bring him in today and we will set aside a half hour so we can fully discuss what is going on with him?  I am confident that we can work through his issue together.”

This opens Joanne up to divulge how she feels about Chuckie’s case  and the consultation, as well as Elsewhere Veterinary Hospital.  One method is a direct confrontation which may not fit every communication style; the other is simply an opportunity to admit that there have been failures in communication and asks for the opportunity to repair the relationship.  She will not likely freely admit that she lacks trust in her employer, but opens the door to try to regain her trust.

Lessons learned.

As Veterinarians, we are leaders of our medical delivery teams.  As leaders, we must consistently be mindful of the message that we project, especially to our employees.    If we, as Veterinarians and leaders, are conscientious and compassionate for every pet and every client, no matter if it is Joanne the receptionist, or a well established extremely compliant “paying” client, our employees will be able to honestly and credibly project confidence and pride in the services that we provide.

Clients want to know that they and their pets are valued and respected.  Your employees are no different.

Case Study.. Do these situations sound familiar?

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