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Keep Your Reputation Green

Morgan McArthur for The Veterinarian

24 March 1999

Water your reputation frequently and it will grow.

Have you ever experienced the frustration of doing work you’re proud of – making a difficult diagnosis or performing a fine piece of surgery – only to have the results come unstuck once you’ve entrusted the owner with the aftercare? How can we prevent it from happening?

Water it. Often.

Let me explain.

At the beginning of the summer I decided I wasn’t going to do any more yard work. I hired a professional landscaper to replace my lawn with a “maintenance-free” garden. He assessed my needs (no mo mowing!), drew up a plan (a radical yardectomy with a ground-cover graft), and gave me a quote. I’ll pay a reasonable fee for a reasonable outcome and I okayed him to toil in my soil.

He was finished in a couple of weeks and wow, it looked good. After one season’s growth this was gonna be a showpiece! I paid him and then waited for my garden to grow.

I waited. I weeded every week. I watered on hot days. And I waited.

Something was happening. Some of my plants were dying. Others didn’t look so good. My magnificent (and expensive) garden was looking pretty horrible… and I needed to BLAME someone (else).

The landscapegoat!

Things were looking good when he took my money and I’ve been doing what he told me to do but now I’m a month down the track it’s looking grim to the brim… Blah blah blah. Blame blame blame.

My anger festered. Then, one day he rang up unexpectedly. He’d looked in when he was passing by and he was worried about the garden. Said that I needed to water more. I blustered and sputtered about how I had been watering and how those plants weren’t very hardy and yak yak yak. He told me I’d been giving it a token tinkle when it needed a Daily Drenching. Full stop.

As vets we often send an owner home with our good work and our best intentions, assuming that they have enough common sense to take care of the details. Some do. Assumptions are risky business though, especially when our reputation’s at stake.

I’ve experienced some real wrecks in practice by not being clear enough with customers about what they should expect, when they should expect it, and what they need to do to achieve the best possible outcome. It can be hard for them to see that they share the responsibility for the result. On the other hand, it can be easy for us to check on the progress of the case.

I hadn’t taken the responsibility for the outcome of my landscaping. Wasn’t it obvious that more water = more better? Not to me. I thought I was watering enough.

If I would have called the Professional I would have protected my investment. If he would have called me he would have protected his reputation. Which one is worth more?

My case history might seem too silly to be true but in fact it’s too true to be silly. Don’t let your stream of communication dry up when important cases go home. Water your reputation frequently and it will stay green and growing.

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