6 Building Blocks for Creating a Great Practice Culture
Whether building a new practice from the ground up or approaching a new job opportunity, taking the time to build positivity into your business practices will pay huge dividends. Your practice culture will be reflected in your team’s attitudes and in turn, how your clients and patients feel when they enter your clinic. Here are 6 great ways to get you started…
Hopefully, most of us have experienced the power of positivity in the workplace; as a team member who feels heard and appreciated and/or as a customer entering a business that feels warm and inviting. That positivity can penetrate every aspect of the work environment; improving interpersonal relationships and the quality of the work, and reducing turnover rates of team members.
We’ve all likely experienced the toxicity of a negative workplace too; whether it was as an undervalued employee and/or as a customer where the staff seemed downright unpleasant to deal with. Veterinary clinics can be especially vulnerable to some pitfalls due to the high stress, hectic schedules, and long hours the work entails. Many well-meaning managers and owners are so focused on the welfare of the animals in their care that the welfare of team members can sometimes take a backseat.
It may be challenging to pinpoint where things went off track or to have the perspective and time to change a workplace culture that is deeply ingrained in the business. Once good habits are established, however, it will be easier to maintain a culture of positivity. No matter your role on the team, there are so many ways to incorporate positivity into your work and elevate the whole atmosphere. It is important to be patient and consistent to allow new styles of practice to become routine.
Offer Clear and Frequent Communication
The desire for clear communication is not a new concept and is certainly not unique to veterinary medicine, however, it is even more important in a medical setting where protecting patient and staff safety is integral to our work. Most people feel reassured when they know what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. But what does this actually look like in a veterinary practice? When your days are spent juggling mornings in surgery followed by back-to-back appointments, and your evenings are spent catching up on medical records and phone calls, it can be difficult to prioritize non-urgent communication. This is why building good habits are so critical. Eventually, you won’t have to think too much about it.
Setting up regular staff meetings is a great strategy for providing clinic updates, time to ask questions, and share concerns. Empower your team by asking them to suggest topics via a suggestion box or a shared online document. Encourage team members to take the lead on running the meetings and hold everyone accountable for showing up and participating as expected.
Clear communication extends to the way your team interacts with clients as well. Designing clear written protocols for what time of day clients can expect updates on inpatients, a timeframe for phone calls to be returned, and when medications are refilled, will ensure everyone is on the same page about these expectations. All team members should be trained in how to provide clear explanations of common medical procedures and how to discuss sensitive matters such as fees, end-of-life decisions, and confrontations with dissatisfied clients.
And finally, take the time to speak to your team members right away when issues arise as well as to point out when they do something great. It may feel difficult at first to have those uncomfortable conversations or it may seem like you have more pressing tasks to attend to, but addressing a concern right away will allow it to come to a resolution before small problems snowball into large conflicts. And balancing those hard conversations with positive acknowledgments when a team member goes above and beyond helps to maintain that positive culture. It takes time to become comfortable with direct and honest communication and the more you work at it, the easier it gets.
Share Regular Feedback
It may not be intuitive that performance reviews build positivity, however, there are many benefits to giving and receiving regular feedback. First, setting aside dedicated one-on-one time with your team members shows them that they matter. When you take the time to share observations, acknowledge their strongest traits, and provide constructive criticism, it shows that their actions don’t go unnoticed and that you are invested in their success. Additionally, it provides invaluable time for team members to share concerns and goals with their supervisors. This can open the door to making changes that will retain a valued team member or help a struggling team member to refocus. Reviews are also a great time to discuss raises as an incentive for hard work. When the team feels appreciated and fairly compensated for their efforts, their dedication and positive attitudes will reflect that.
Protect Time Off
The term ‘work-life balance’ has become a major buzzword in the veterinary community where most jobs require a lot of personal sacrifices. Let’s be honest, that will always be the case as clients and animals rely on us to be available when they most need our help. No one schedules a dystocia for 9 am on Tuesday so they can be easily fit into the surgery schedule… they show up late on a Friday night, and of course, you and your team jump in to help. And while there is no way around these last-minute emergencies, there are ways you can protect your personal time and respect your team members’ time off, so that there is as much balance as possible.
For starters, encourage team members to use their vacation time. It will make scheduling easier if you plan out your vacation time far in advance and ask your team to do the same. Design a standard procedure for how to request time off, and how you cover those shifts. Don’t leave it up to team members to figure it out and cover each other. Making it easy will allow team members to take those much-needed getaways and come back energized and refreshed.
The same goes for lunch breaks; make it a non-negotiable that everyone, including the vets, takes one.
It may be tempting to work through lunch to catch up on paperwork or squeeze in an extra appointment to accommodate a favorite pup, but this can develop into a culture of routinely encouraging, or even pressuring the team to work through their personal time. It may be hard to accept at first, but they will come to realize that you are protecting their much-needed midday recharge.
Consider offering flexible schedules aside from the traditional 5-day/8 hour shift option. Figure out when you need the most coverage and be open to nontraditional schedules if you can make it work. There are many software programs designed to help manage scheduling to make this easier. Team members will appreciate your flexibility and understanding of their needs. If you are not in a managerial position, consider speaking with your supervisor and suggesting an alternative that meets your needs. Presenting your perspective while offering solutions to make sure the busiest times are covered will make your case convincing and considerate to the whole team.
Finally, make it a policy to avoid contacting team members on their days off. It can be so tempting to call up a colleague to clarify the plan for the inpatient you are covering, or ask if they intended to refill that prescription, but by allowing your team to truly unplug and not feel tethered to work, they will come back refreshed and feeling that their time is respected.
Create Opportunities for Growth
Providing ample opportunities for personal growth will also facilitate positivity in your practice. For example, if your associate veterinarian is passionate about ultrasound, encourage her to practice and consider purchasing a machine for the clinic. Recognizing the interests of your team members and giving them the tools to build new skills will make them feel valued and also enhance services for your clients. This is a great way to take initiative as a team member too; bring suggestions to your team when you see room for improvement and you can build your own opportunities for growth.
You can achieve this without large financial costs too by giving your team more autonomy. Whether it is in letting them make their own schedules as a group, running their own staff meetings, or coming up with a new design for inpatient treatment sheets, team members will feel more invested and proud of their work if they have a sense of ownership.
Leadership roles are another great way to recognize outstanding team members and focus on their positive contributions. While common promotions include managerial titles such as Veterinary Medical Director, Head Veterinary Nurse, or Lead Receptionist, this is another area where you and your team can get creative. Maybe a Client Compassion Specialist would be helpful, or a Director of Staff Entertainment would boost morale. As a team member, this is also a great way to show your supervisors that you are highly motivated and dedicated to your job. Taking the time to design a role that you feel would benefit the clinic and offering to take on added responsibility will elevate the whole team and give you a new and exciting challenge.
Offer Competitive Pay and Incentives
While this may seem like an obvious way to build positivity, some veterinary practices have been shortsighted when it comes to offering the most competitive packages.
And while we know many practices have tight margins and it may be tempting to trim any excess costs, this is an area where small acts of generosity have exponential rewards.
What may be a relatively small difference in your bottom line can send a meaningful message to your team about their value.
Covering licensing fees and providing continuing education stipends to veterinarians and veterinary technicians is becoming the norm in many places. Other common benefits include health insurance, liability insurance, paid parental leave, and complementary medical care for team members’ pets. You can really get creative here too and consider offering more specific perks that will appeal to your team, such as providing a cell phone or laptop, transportation stipends, health club memberships, uniform stipends (for scrubs and lab coats), and/or meals for staff members who stay overtime or treat late-night emergencies. These are great ways to make your team feel appreciated while also ensuring your clinic remains competitive with other practices in the local job market.
You can’t script fun, but creating a workplace culture that encourages fun is so important. This is so unique to the chemistry of an individual practice. What one clinic sees as fun, such as vet wrap design contests on Friday nights, may not translate to another group; maybe they prefer mountain biking or salsa dancing?
This is where that autonomy comes in; encourage the team to plan activities that appeal to them. Perhaps you cover the cost and/or provide the time off, such as closing early once a quarter to encourage a team outing.
Or maybe you are a team member who wants to organize a staff holiday party, a gift exchange, a yoga class at work, or breakfast for the weekend crew. Consider approaching your supervisor to suggest it and plan it.
Creating a space for team members to connect, form friendships, and find common ground outside of work can elevate your practice from a well-run business to feeling like a family.
You can design many elements of the workplace to foster positivity and encourage team members to direct their own growth and success. Building a scaffold of support for your team will enable a positive culture to form, and with time, it will become automatic for you, your team, and even your clients.
Every team member at every level can find ways to contribute and promote positivity. When your team members are invested in one another and feel valued, they look forward to coming to work, they meet clients and pets with a smile, and they are motivated to give 150%… even if it means occasional late nights and daily wrestling matches to pill the clinic’s feral hyperthyroid cat. You’ll be so glad you invested your time and energy in nurturing a positive practice culture.
- 7 Tips to Make Your Staff Meetings More Effective https://clearhrconsulting.com/blog/hr-smalltalk/7-tips-to-make-your-staff-meetings-more-effective/
- How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work. 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/01/how-to-handle-difficult-conversations-at-work
- 10 Tips for Giving Useful Performance Review Feedback. 2021. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/giving-performance-feedback
- How to Set a Fair Vacation Policy for your Small Team. 2021. https://kinhr.com/fair-vacation-policy
- Best Employee Scheduling Software. 2021. https://www.investopedia.com/best-employee-scheduling-software-5081541
- The Most Desirable Employee Benefits. 2017. https://hbr.org/2017/02/the-most-desirable-employee-benefits?registration=success
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