Unstick your stuck-in-the-mud veterinary team member

Unstick your stuck-in-the-mud veterinary team member

You’re set to make big changes to improve your dental program. One teensy problem—you’ve got to face your stick-in-the-mud team member who resists change.
Dec 01, 2014

GETTYIMAGES/www.alastairhumphreys.comSometimes a team member becomes a road block to the care you want to offer. Many practices have hit this wall at one time or another. Consider this quandary from a manager who’s trying hard to make big changes to her practice’s dental program—and these steps to a solution: 

Q: “How should I handle a team member at the practice who simply won’t change? Everyone else is on board, but her—forget it! And when I go to the owner about the issue, he says I should just let her be. Even he’s afraid of her. Plus she’s been there so long, he’s afraid of upsetting her and having her quit. What should I do?”

The doctor’s perspective

Practice ownership is exceedingly stressful. Those who undertake it experience a roller coaster of triumphs and catastrophes and everything in between. Imagine how loyal you would be to someone, however imperfect, who’s seen you through that entire nail-biting ride. Imagine how forgiving you would be of a person who has seen you at your best—and many times at your worst—and still stuck by you. Recognize that’s it’s difficult for owners to have a discussion with a loyal, tenured employee that they feel is going to go over poorly, or worse, end in a fight.

Consider Miss Stuck-in-the-mud’s perspective

This isn’t this long-time team member’s first rodeo. She’s seen eager managers like you come and go. And change? She knows all about it. She was there for the first round of your practice’s dental program. She taught pet owners to brush their pets’ teeth long before it was popular, and she talked dental chews and sealants from the first moment your practice recommended them. Remember the practice consultant the boss hired? Miss Stick-in-the-mud was the only one who followed through with the recommendations—not the owner. And then afterwards, when everything fell apart, she had to clean up the mess. Another change? Thank you, no. She’ll sit this one out.

Your perspective

Your mission statement doesn’t say “We treat your pets like they are our own when we feel like it,” does it? Of course not! Whatever your practice’s history or your obstructionist team member’s story, it’s all water under the bridge. Regardless of the past, you, your owner and the rest of the team rise each morning, set your personal needs aside and undertake the business of realizing your practice’s goals of excellent care and service. You can’t pick and choose when you’ll play on the practice team. As long as it’s not raining, we’re all playing ball.  

Action plan

Listen to your obstructionist team member’s concerns and validate them, but make the point that you’re all responsible for representing the practice’s mission statement every day respectfully and unwaveringly clear. I would reassure Dr. Bud Ineedher that the chronic pain he experiences sidestepping around the obstructionist team member’s needs is far worse than standing firm for the practice’s mission—and all the rest of the employees who are on board with this move. Be patient with both of them as they go about the sometimes difficult process of change, but set a limit. At some point, that senior stick-in-the-mud you’ve got working in the back is going to have to get herself unstuck, or she’s going to have to go stick herself in a veterinary practice elsewhere. 

Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Halow Tassava Consulting.