"First impressions count a lot," I had gathered Dr Vanessa, Min, Intern Mr Lim and Administrative Executive Nicole at around 12 noon on Dec 19, 2011 before I went on leave this evening.
I sat on one side of the consultation table facing 4 of them and the main door. Since this was a very small room of 8 sq me, all 5 of us filled up the space. I prefer not to hold such management and performance meetings as I usually speak one-to-one but each internet employee has his own mind and personality and sometimes do not comply with instructions. Early Min was clicking his pen obsessively while I spoke one-to-one with him about his performance. "Stop clicking your pen," I said. "You may think that you can always go back to Yangon and get a job at a vet practice. Maybe US$500 a month but with not many variety and interesting cases to give you the hands-on experiences. Let's say you prefer not to work. One month finishes very fast and you get no income. If you want to start your own practice like Dr Saw who had worked for me for 3 years, you do not really have sufficient experience to be a good vet. Here, you learn from me as do teach you, especially in anaesthesia and surgery. No other vets will want to waste time teaching you.
"You also can see the cases of Dr Vanessa and Dr Jason. In a small practice like Toa Payoh Vets, you have lots to do. Unlike X (a famous practice), where you will be given one thing to do. For example, you will do ultrasound and lab test or you just do past mid-night assisting the vet. At the end of one year, you are only good in ultrasound and nothing else. Vet practice is much more than that, as you can see, if you want to open your own practice in Yangon.
"Of course, if you don't follow instructions, you get scoldings. You are not the only one 'scolded' for poor or lack of performances. When you needed a job, you phoned the agent daily enquiring about a job at Toa Payoh Vets.
"Now, you have a job but you start comparing to what others do in other clinics. Just complete the one-year contract and look for better employers," I said. "Just give me 2 months' notice like Dr Saw and we part amicably and happily." Myanmar vet graduates can't converse well in English and are seldom in demand compared to Filipinos whose command of English and service are top notch. I don't take Filipinos as this is part of my philosophy of 'making a difference' by mentoring Myanmar vets. It is a great disadvantage as regards poor service and interaction with clients as Singaporeans can't understand Myanmarese English. But this is part and parcel of my community service. Just like employing old man James till he was hunched double and could not work anymore. It is not that I can't afford to employ younger and smarter office assistants. It is part of a philosophy of giving back since I was a recipient of a Colombo Plan scholarship from the British government to study vet in Glasgow Univ. Every vet can make a small difference in this world and it is up to each vet to do what he can. For me, it is to help the Myanmar vet and Min is the 3rd one. All he needs is to stay one year and there will be other clinics who will pay him much more as Dr Saw was said to be offered $3,000 by Dr Jason Teo who had started his own practice.
Back to my meeting with all 4 today, I covered the topics of office attire, self-respect, initiative, eye contact by the vet with clients and productivity and performance expected of a vet, assistant, intern and employee. All these will make a long story and I will cover one topic - first impressions.
As regards first impressions, I looked under my table to see what footwear all four were wearing. Dr Vanessa had her clogs, a grey blouse and pants, Nicole wore slippers and no collar T-shirt, Intern Lim wore sports shoes and jeans and Min wore normal shoes and jeans.
"This is not your father's clinic," I said to all four. "Or your grandmother's office. I expect common sense as to what to wear to the office as an employee or intern, without me having to spell out the dress code. Clients who see you all dressed casually will think that their pets are also treated casually when they compare to other clinics with uniforms. This is what they think but they will not say it loud.
It has also to do with self-respect if you don't respect others. As a qualified vet, you set an example. Wearing slippers, sandals and clogs to work are not getting you the respect of others. You may not care. Self-respect is hard to define but it includes certain types of behaviour that is expected of a professional vet or employee. As for Min, he wears jeans. It may be because he has few clothing as he comes from Yangon but Mr Lim wearing jeans to the office is not acceptable.
I had to be frank with them. It is hard. "I have better and many things to do than to check on you," I said. "In 2012, I expect common sense and knowing what to do." If not, I will wield the big stick and start firing or replacing people who will not do what is right in the office. Otherwise, Toa Payoh Vets will just go down the drain and cease to exist as more than 50 vet practices will be set up in 2012. Firm leadership and good management is needed to improve business performance and sustainable profitablility. No short cuts. No casual and loose management anymore.