Nurturing 3 core elements to create a healthy culture in a veterinary practice

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Matthew McGlasson, DVM, CVPM, chief medical officer for Noah’s Ark Animal Clinics in Ohio and Kentucky, provided tips for veterinary staff retention and growth during a session of the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego.

Veterinary Practice Culture

Credit: Ekaterina/Adobe Stock

What does it feel like when you walk in the door of a veterinary practice? That feeling is the personification of its culture; the sum or its mission and core values, policies and attitudes, said Matthew McGlasson, DVM, CVPM, chief medical officer for Noah’s Ark Animal Clinics in Ohio and Kentucky.

In a session at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego, California, McGlasson outlined the 3 elements of a healthy culture and tips on how to build and maintain one. Those elements are people— the most valuable asset—followed by communication and growth, McGlasson said.

One tool that McGlasson recommended using quarterly to foster employee retention, as well as communication and growth, is a 1-on-1 meeting for every employee with their direct supervisor. These meetings should not be approached as gripe sessions, but rather an opportunity for an employee to talk about what’s going well and what they’re struggling with. They should also be encouraged to talk about a skill they are working on during the quarter and how management can help, he said. There should be no surprises for the employee at these meetings.

For managers, the 1-on-1 meeting is a chance to be proactive and address small problems before they fester and become big ones, he said. It is also an information gathering session to help the manager assess whether the right person is in the right job.

At McGlasson’s practice, he noted, managers complete a standardized report, “the people analyzer”, on every direct report. The report was designed to help the manager assess whether they have the right person in the right role and whether that person has the capacity to perform their job as expected.

It has been helpful, he said, to identify valued employees who may not be best suited to their current role but could thrive in another position. It has also helped assess and communicate with employees about areas for growth.

McGlasson also favors daily huddles during which the entire staff gathers to discuss news and celebrate high points from the previous day. The huddle content can be designed to suit the practice. For instance, at McGlasson’s clinic the huddle may include a “Medical Minute,” during which one of the doctors shares information about a new procedure or a development in science and medicine.

What’s the point of all of this? Growth, McGlasson said.

“If you aren’t super interested in helping an employee grow, you’re going to lose them” he said, because currently there’s such a high demand for good team members.

During his talk, McGlasson also identified the 3 top culture killers: gossip, client shaming, and tolerating toxic clients.

Gossip, he said, is the most dangerous behavior because it’s divisive, creates anxiety, damages an atmosphere of trust, and decreases productivity. McGlasson has instituted a “no gossip” policy at his practice and recommends it to others.

It’s important to be very intentional about squashing gossip immediately when it appears, he said. Identifying gossip is relatively easy since it is usually something said about another employee who is not present. An exception, he said, may be when someone is praising an employee who is not present.

Client shaming usually appears as judgmental remarks about a client to another employee. It creates an “us versus them” relationship between veterinary staff and pet owners, which distracts from delivering care and education.

“Clients need to know that everyone in the practice is on the same team regarding their pet and doing everything possible to help,” McGlasson said

When dealing with toxic behaviors from clients, McGlasson said its best to remember the practice is often seeing people on the very worst day of their year, which calls for patience and grace. Although you cannot control every client, the veterinary staff can control their reaction to that client, he noted.

McGlasson, however, said the line should be drawn when an employee’s health and safety are threatened by a client. Allowing such behavior undermines a practice’s healthy culture and the trust the team has in its leadership, he said.

Reference

McGlasson M. The top culture-killers in veterinary medicine. Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference; San Diego, California. December 2-4, 2022.

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