Shawn’s Blog

What Would Shawn Do? How to Hold a Brainstorming Session that Actually Works


Holding a brainstorming session with my team sounds productive and fun, yet very intimidating. How do I begin?


Brainstorming is a useful tool for solving problems. Invite people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Sometimes a fresh outlook comes from someone who isn’t considered an expert or close to the problem.



Before the meeting, give participants a brief explanation of the problem and its history. (This will help everyone prepare mentally.) The more specific the topic, the more you’ll be able to focus on creative ideas related to the problem. Write the objective in the form of a question. For example: “How can we better understand the needs of our customers?”


Also distribute the rules beforehand, like “Criticism of ideas isn’t allowed.” “ALL ideas, no matter how wild, are encouraged.” “The more ideas, the better.”


Encourage participants to build on or combine the ideas of others. If there are more than 10 participants, create teams. Small groups encourage more sharing.


When the flow of ideas comes to a halt, you, as the facilitator/leader, should keep the conversation going. Try re-reading every third idea, or asking each participant to select one idea and give three reasons why s/he likes it, or keeping some ideas to yourself and sharing when the conversation dies.


Brainstorming can be tiring. The session shouldn’t last longer than 30 or 40 minutes. Schedule another session if needed. Lastly, take notes, and save all ideas for future reference!


Good luck!


If you have a question you’d like Shawn to answer in a future issue of our newsletter, please reply to this email or submit the question via our website on our contact form. (We will maintain your anonymity.) Thank you!

Are You Being Poisoned at Work?

Healthy teams experience routine hassles and the occasional hiccup, but they bounce back quickly. A toxic workplace, however, has a completely different feel. Its effects are insidious. It can even be deadly — for the business, and maybe for the people who work in it.

What a Toxic Workplace Looks Like

Team members in a toxic workplace have high stress, low morale, physical and emotional illness, no work-life balance, unrealistic expectations, and dysfunctional relationships. The atmosphere is one of dread and negativity. Mistreatment of each other is commonplace. Hard work goes unrewarded, and communication has broken down. This is the normal, everyday pattern rather than the exception.

Six Signs Your Environment Is Slowly Killing You

Anxiety: You’re in a toxic environment if you find yourself in a chronic state of worry that you’re doing something wrong, or that if you make a mistake you’ll lose your job. You lose sleep from not being able to keep up with your workload. You have a sense of impending doom.


Anger: Are you constantly irritable, impatient, or angry? Do you feel you’re in danger of blowing your stack at any moment? A toxic workplace creates hostility. You may be angry because there are too many demands and not enough time to meet them. Perhaps you’re short-tempered when others make a mistake. You blame others when things go wrong and find yourself seeking revenge.


Lack of Control: There’s a sense of powerlessness that comes from feeling ignored or being unable to have a say in how your work will be done. When work pressures increase and you have little input, you feel undervalued, ineffective, and stuck. The same can be said if you’re ready for a bigger challenge, and there’s not one available to you. It’s unnerving to think that the people in charge either don’t know or don’t care about what’s going on.


Lack of Confidence: You start doubting your abilities. A loss of confidence that leads you to live in constant fear of what everyone thinks, or leaves you believing you’ll never be good enough, is a warning sign that you’re in a toxic environment.


Shut-down Feelings: You might have trouble knowing or trusting what you’re feeling. You don’t feel safe expressing yourself and choose to hold feelings in — until they erupt.


Diminished Relationships: Do you spend a lot of time alone? Have you lost interest in friends and family? Slowly, you’ve found yourself consumed by work and too tired to maintain your relationships.

Deadly Results

A toxic workplace hurts the employees, and it can be deadly for the business. Some of the signs are insufficient funding, people pushing their personal agendas in team meetings, unresolved emotional conflicts, and overall poor management. In a clinic with that type of culture, you will see:
  • The business lose its good reputation,skull
  • Employees performing poorly,
  • An increase in sick days,
  • An increase in disability claims, and
  • High turnover.
Overcoming or leaving a toxic environment is definitely challenging, but it is possible. You CAN choose how you react to it. Next month, we’ll talk about how you know if you’re contributing to a toxic workplace and the steps you can take to heal.
This article is adapted from content in Shawn McVey’s presentation titled, “Take the Test: Are You the T in Toxic?” To schedule Shawn to give this presentation to your group or team, contact Cindy Oliphant at 888-759-7191 or by email.

What Would Shawn Do? How to Hold Meetings that Matter


My staff lets out a collective, resigned sigh when they hear the word “meeting.” I don’t blame them. Our clinic meetings are either time wasters or a platform for ranting. How can we make them count?


The common thread in all good meetings is ACTION. Here are the basics: meeting
  1. Meet only if necessary. Meetings aren’t the place to socialize. Avoid a gathering if the same information can be covered in a memo, email, or brief report.
  2. All meetings must have clear objectives. Outline the specific results you aim to achieve.
  3. All meetings must have an agenda. Organize the objectives so as to keep the meeting on track. Assign presenters and allot times for each topic.
  4. Watch the clock. Start on time. Don’t run over. Limit after-hour meetings.
  5. Circulate information about the meeting to everyone beforehand. Include the objectives, agenda, time, date, location, background information, and required preparation. This will make it easy for everyone to participate actively and meaningfully.
  6. Be a role model for good communication! Protect the self-esteem of participants by stopping any public criticism. Let everyone have a chance to speak, and facilitate skillfully so that one person doesn’t grandstand. Don’t use group pressure to force decisions.
  7. Take notes. Record assignments and decisions. Circulate the notes to everyone afterward.
Holding a meeting doesn’t have to be a major production. A 15-minute meeting can be highly productive if you focus on the issue at hand and concentrate on reaching a workable solution. Meetings are a powerful way to figure out — together — how to do something better.
Good luck!


If you have a question you’d like Shawn to answer in a future issue of our newsletter, please reply to this email or submit the question via our website on our contact form. (We will maintain your anonymity.) Thank you!

Your Team Has Talent!

If you find yourself repeatedly criticizing and judging your employees’ nonproductive behaviors, STOP! Put those same people in different roles, where they can do what they do best.

Identify Your Team’s Talents

Before deciding which role is right for each employee, you’ll need to understand the difference between talent, knowledge, skills, and a strengths.

A talent is a pattern of thoughts, feelings, or behavior that a person does well without thinking about it. Examples are instantly converting pounds to kilograms or effortlessly making small talk with every client.

Knowledge is what an employee knows in a factual way. Examples are the specifications of different types of computers, the physical signs of a disease, or the features of an ultrasound machine.

Skill is the ability to perform the fundamental steps of a process or procedure, such as a tooth extraction or collecting a client’s payment and entering the sale in the computer.

Strength is the ability to perform a task in a consistent, near-perfect way. It takes practice to turn a skill into a strength.To identify an employee’s talents, ask these questions:

  • What part of your job is most satisfying to you?stretching
  • Given a choice, how would you spend your time here?
  • List five characteristics that describe you.
After observing the employee hard at work, ask yourself:
  • Where does the employee focus her efforts?
  • When is she most productive?
  • When does she seem happiest?

Fit the Person to the Role

After getting to know your employees better, you will be able to put them in the right roles and give them the right projects. Write down which talents, knowledge, and skills are required for each role or project you have available. Then match up the employee to the role.

For example, you need someone to call clients whose pets are more than two months overdue for their annual exams. The goal is to set appointments. Which talents, knowledge, and skills are required for the role? You need someone who:
  • Easily converses with people (talent)
  • Knows all of the reasons why a dog or cat should have an annual exam (knowledge)
  • Enjoys talking on the phone (talent)
  • Is persuasive (talent)
  • Can schedule appointments in the practice management software (skill)

Two employees are available for this project. Beth has a knack with people, is familiar with the practice management software, has worked as a technician, and loves the challenge of turning a “No” into a “Yes!” Mark is a manager who is skilled at organizing and jumps at the chance to improve the day-to-day operations of the clinic. He is a computer whiz who loves process. Mark is a nice guy but doesn’t have any sales experience or much people know-how.

Who is the better fit for the role? Assigning this project to Beth makes more sense. It’s inherently easy for her to talk to clients in a way that will lead them to the desired action. She has the knowledge based on her background as a technician, and she is skilled at using the practice management software. Mark may be enthusiastic and able to learn on the fly, but his talents don’t lend themselves to this project. Don’t set him (and yourself, and the practice) up for failure by putting him in a role he isn’t suited for!

Employees who are able to showcase their talents at work are engaged and happy. Put your team’s talents to work in the right roles, and watch as productivity and profit increase and turnover decreases.



This article is adapted from content in Shawn McVey’s presentation titled, “Turn Talent into Performance.” To schedule Shawn to give this presentation to your group or team, contact Cindy Oliphant at 888-759-7191 or by email.

What Would Shawn Do? Helping Your Staff Make a Good Impression


My team often shows up to work looking like something the cat dragged in. Our four-legged visitors tend to look and smell better than my staff does. Help!


Working with animals isn’t glamorous. Quite often it means sporting pee- or poo-stained scrubs and being covered in pet hair. But you have to pay attention to appearance, because clients use it to form an impression of you and your business.

Within seconds of meeting you, a client will make a number of assumptions, including the level of your self-esteem, confidence, organization skills, soundness of judgment, attention to detail, creativity, and reliability.

Here are some tips to manage your practice’s image, increase your team’s confidence, and give them a psychological edge:

  • relaxingCreate a written appearance and dress code. Tie it to the business’s mission and core values.
  • Train the team on what constitutes professional appearance, etiquette, and social graces in your practice.
  • Spell out what the consequences will be for not adhering to the appearance standards, and enforce them. Watch my video about how to handle violations.
  • Create contests for fitness improvement or best-dressed employee. Give a makeover or other image-related prize that fits your practice’s culture. The goal is to increase team satisfaction and buy-in to the image standards.

More Resources

In this video, I talk about proper posture for a veterinary-service setting.
In this video, I discuss how to talk to employees about a personal hygiene issue.
In this video, I discuss proper attire for practice managers.
Veterinary Growth Partners members should take the online course called “First Impressions: Image Management for the Veterinary Team.”
Good luck!