If you don't have IT, work on IT
by Mark Hardesty, D.V.M.
The author is a partner in Maria Stein Animal Clinic, Maria Stein, Ohio.
She has the IT factor," said the voice of the veterinarian who trained me to be a practitioner. Of course, I hold what he says in high regard, but I honestly didn't know what he was talking about. I asked him to repeat it but still didn't understand.
My initial thought was that it might be a TV show that I've never seen because I only watch the tube when I am really tired and then promptly fall asleep. Or maybe it was something hip that Wisconsin teenagers were using but hadn't passed through Facebook to Ohio yet.
Our discussion was a reference for the young doctor we have now hired. Practitioner references are the most valuable as their evaluation is in an environment much like ours.
Months later, one of my daughters said, "Dad you just don't get IT." I had a moment of realization. If I did get IT, I would have the IT factor, in her world. This IT factor might be like beauty, where you know it when you see it, but it's tough to describe. So, if you are an employer looking for the IT factor, also described as engaged employees with the right combination of knowledge, skill and attitude, how do we find or create it?
If you are a young person looking for entry into the industry or an experienced worker looking for advancement, how do you acquire and demonstrate that you have the IT factor?
Many in our dairy industry have given up having the IT factor and are just taking the easy path to a paycheck. Life can be so much better if you continue to strive for self improvement.
IT can be learned
As I write this on a journey to move our youngest daughter to college in Chicago, we have just finished the summer intern season.Our practice hosts about a dozen interns annually at various levels of their veterinary training. We do our best to give them the IT factor.
Most veterinary students are from suburban backgrounds and, while very bright, have limited exposure to the world of work. Undergraduate students are recommended to get real dairy farm experience.
We hope our veterinary students have dairy experience before the crowded four-year curriculum of vet school. Dairy experience and time spent in other practices contributes to an understanding of how a business works so they see what needs to be done and just do it.
Our interns ranged from those who were very accomplished and mature to those who were truly students. The mature seized opportunities and had already grasped the urgency and confidence that guides a doctor's way of thinking. The students feared they would do things wrong and missed learning opportunities.
If you are going to learn and grow, you have to take risks. Every intern advanced in confidence, grabbing the chance to learn. Time will tell if they get IT. New graduate veterinarians will do what I do 90 percent of the time, work. They will not be managers or consultants. They will need the IT factor.
What is IT?
The first key to the IT factor is to have people like you. You are more likely to have people appreciate your smile than you are to impress them with your knowledge. Of course, you have to have knowledge, and the slowest way to get knowledge is to assume you already have it. A sense of humor results in people liking to be around you and, thus, listening to you.
The second key to the IT factor is doing what needs to be done and helping others. I like the Redwing work boot commercial that says, "Work is work, not talking about work or telling others to work, it is just plain old doing what needs to be done."
The third key to the IT factor is organizational skills. This includes the ability to be where you are supposed to be, on time with the things you need to do your job. I hope nobody judges my IT factor in this category by looking at my desk because there are truly too many projects and too few hours.
There are tools to help us not forget things, and they work well when we use them. Discipline is needed to continue to work the system.
We have one dairyman who has one of the night milkers clean his desk every night. Anything left on it gets put in a box. This forces him to put things in files or throw them away. Develop a system that works for your style and job demands.
On the other hand, I'll give up the clean desk for family or recreation time. Interns learned where things are in our trucks and saw that all doctors have similar styles of organization to be successful.
The fourth key to the IT factor is pride in your work; not just getting it done. We train our students that first priority is doing things right, and the second is to do them quickly. It may not make a big difference if every knot in a suture pattern is perfectly placed, but you can bet that the surgeon who does that also gets the important steps of the surgery correct.
We teach our young doctors to always turn the uterus over and look again before calling a cow open. Taking 10 more seconds to be right is the way we demonstrate pride in our work.
The fifth key to the IT factor is an attitude of continuous improvement. I know that I had classmates who firmly believed that everything they were taught was forever factual. They resisted further learning while others have voraciously sought new knowledge and done the research to create knowledge when it was unknown. We have a requirement for continuing education, but most of us seek it far beyond what is required.
Seeing IT in action
I found that my mentor was correct about our new hire having the IT factor. She showed continuous improvement in the way she took notes during our discussions in the truck, never assuming that knowledge was complete after vet school. I see her refer to those notes often, and experienced doctors have asked for a copy.
The other four keys to the IT factor were all demonstrated on a calving that I joined her on near the end of her three-month training period. She showed pride in her work as she tied the tail and scrubbed the rear of the cow.
She assessed the position and showed organizational skills as she described the calf presentation, "We have twins, the top and most advanced one is posterior presentation with the right leg retained at the hip. The bottom one is front presentation with the left leg retained at the knee."
To this I replied, "Pull the one that makes sense."
She said, "That would be the bottom one because the foreleg will be easier to extract." After the first calf was delivered, it took some work to extract the retained rear limb. It was a struggle for me not to offer my assistance, but I had confidence because she did.
At one point during the hard work, she said, "I have the hock up and am pushing it forward. I do not yet have the foot curled under, but I will."
And she did!
During the entire 40 minutes of the calving, our new doctor lightened the mood by comments that had me and the two herdsmen chuckling.
We want everybody we work with to have the IT factor. Do you have IT? Did you ever have IT? What would your co-workers say about the IT factor at your place?
This article appears on page 699 of the October 25, 2012 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.