Last week I had a conversation on the Uncharted podcast with my friend and colleague Stephanie Goss about how a practice manager might dig out of a pit of negativity. This manager had been running a veterinary practice for years where the practice owner “just didn’t want to deal with it” when staff conflict or bad behavior arose. As a result, damaging habits like gossiping and in-fighting had firmly taken root.
Now, the practice has been sold to a corporate group and this manager has been tasked (and empowered) to fix these deeply ingrained problems. She asked us for advice on how to approach turning this mess around, and we tried to break it down for her. You can listen here (or wherever you get podcasts) if you’re interested. It’s episode 164.
I love answering questions like these, and I get 45 or 50 minutes on the podcast to unpack what’s really going on and dig into actionable solutions. Still, It’s not lost on me that there are fundamental skills and practices that every leader should know that HUGELY impact these situations and that we never have time to lay out.
The single most valuable tool that I often find people-focused leaders missing from their toolbox is the ability to accurately assess their team members. No one teaches us how to look at those who work with us or for us and recognize what their potential is, their strengths, or how to coach them to be the most effective and successful version of themselves. There was no course in vet school on the importance of putting particular skill sets into specific practice roles. There was no lecture on how placing someone into the right job is exponentially more impactful than trying to coach them in a role they are ill-suited for.
It’s easy to look at problems with our teams and see them as “team problems,” but teams are just groups of individuals. If we don’t do a good job of knowing and understanding the individuals who work for us (both as people and as workers) then our ability to solve problems at the team level is always going to be limited.
My encouragement is to take a look at your team. Do you know these people? Have you thought about what each one is good at, where they excel individually, and what roles in the practice might showcase their unique strengths and talents? Do you know who your high performers are and WHY they are successful? Do you know who is struggling and can you diagnose what, exactly, is holding them back? These kinds of insights are often right in front of us. We just need to clear our heads and uncover them so we can put the knowledge to use.
It’s worth investing the time to consider the people we lead as individuals; to recognize that everyone has their own motivators, values, strengths, weaknesses and concerns. Managing a team without managing the individuals inside that team is like trying to cook a complex recipe without paying attention to the quality and preparation of ingredients. Sure, you can put everything together as the cookbook says, but that doesn’t mean you will have the Michelin 5 Star dining experience you want (or even that you won’t get food poisoning!).
Most of this skill really comes down to practice. It’s about thinking intentionally and deeply about your people and then zooming out to think about how those people engage with your practice. If you would like some help doing this, or would like to see how I think and talk about team member strengths and weaknesses, I am running the third Uncharted Strategic Planning Workshop on February 23rd at 8pm ET, 5pm PT. The workshop is called Loading the Bus (All About the People) and will cover everything I mentioned above.
The most important thing to remember when doing these exercises is that the people on your team are just people. They are probably good people who want to help pets, and I suspect they are seeking some amount of purpose from their work. They are also almost certainly fighting battles in their personal lives that you and I know nothing about. If we accept these things as true, we will be better able to see them as human beings, to treat them with compassion, to build stronger relationships with them, and to find reward in leading.
Take care of yourself!