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The foundation of effective team building: clarifying your mission, values, and culture
Take these steps today for better veterinary team building
Content submitted by GeniusVets, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
In running my practice for more than 25 years, I've always felt that my clear mission, core values, and culture were an important factor in my success; but I've been surprised at how few veterinary practice owners focus on this. Looking outside our veterinary medicine "bubble," I quickly learned that the CEOs of the world's largest companies say that mission, values, and culture are literally the most critical factors in building a successful business. In fact, in a Duke University survey of 1,400 corporate CEOs and CFOs, 92% said they believed that improving their firm's corporate culture would improve the value of the company.1 We need to learn from these leaders and follow their example.
What is your mission and are you still committed to it?
In talking with practice owners around the country, I've found that most do have a mission statement. However, it's a plaque on the wall or thumbtacked to the corkboard; it's not a living part of the practice every day.
We've all been through a lot lately. Practices with a clear and unified mission have emerged stronger and more united. If your practice has struggled with turnover, staff wellbeing, or client complaints, you may need to make a special effort to re-launch your mission. Take a moment to look at your mission statement again with your top people, and either renew your commitment to it or adjust it so you can fully commit to living your mission every day.
Core values also support team building
Core values are what we aspire to every day. Having these clearly documented and communicated allows us to hire people who align with those values. For example, at The Drake Center, 1 of our core values is the pursuit of excellence. We know we'll never be perfect, but we're always working to improve. We're upfront about this in how we hire and manage team members. High-quality professionals like to work with other high-quality professionals. Our employees know they're part of a high-performing group selected for excellence, so they perform better as a team.
Define your culture before someone else does
I refer to practice culture as "how we play in our sandbox." It's how we relate to one another and our clients and how we want the practice to feel. Every business has a culture. If you as the owner don't define it, then it will be defined randomly by your employees and clients, leading to a negative environment. Sadly, I've seen this many times in veterinary practices. Toxic employees or rude clients will sense this discord and lack of team spirit and exploit it to get their way. This is a significant factor in the mental health issues in our profession, and it's in your power as a practice owner to do something about it.
You must establish your culture, make sure your team knows what it is, and hire, train, and fire based on that culture. When you do that, your team—and your clients—will know that you're serious about your practice culture. Your team will pull together and be resilient, and your clients will respect your team more and treat them better.
The risk of subcultures
Without a well-defined practice culture, you can end up with what I call "subcultures." Most practices have this problem to some degree. For example, you might have a clique of front desk staff that always go out on Friday nights and come in talking about it on Monday, excluding other staff. Or you might have a "front vs back" conflict. There's nothing wrong with employees having a social life, but they need to know that they are 1 team within the practice.
In our monthly staff meetings at The Drake Center, I give my team a "State of the Union" message. This includes reviewing our mission and reminding the team how everything we do supports that mission. I also point out times during that month when team members stepped up and did something that really showed an understanding of our values and culture. I've heard some practice owners say they aren't big enough for this formal approach, but I've been doing this since I had only 4 employees. Now that I am up to 55 employees and 11 doctors, I can attest that starting early has paid off tremendously in recruitment, retention, and practice growth.
If you're not doing a monthly all-staff meeting, start there. It's essential to keeping your team on the same page. As business owners, we're constantly thinking about how to make our business better; it's not quite the same for employees. So, as the owners, we have to be the ones to continually remind the team of our values. I know your practice is busy. Mine is, too, but I promise you that taking this time to create alignment will pay off in efficiency, workplace satisfaction, performance, and profitability.
Steps you can take now
- Review your mission statement with your leadership team. Ensure it's still relevant and that you're all fully committed to it, or make any needed adjustments based on how the practice has evolved.
- Review your core values with your leadership team and then your entire staff. If you don't yet have core values, whiteboard them together.
- Watch my video, “Create a Stronger Team by Defining Your Practice Culture,” (Sponsored by Merck Animal Health) and follow the procedure it demonstrates. This short video walks you through the steps I use to define and strengthen our culture in my practice. I've used this process with other practices around the country, and many have applied it on their own with excellent results.2
- How corporate culture affects the bottom line. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. November 12, 2015. Accessed July 11, 2022. https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/duke-fuqua-insights/corporate-culture
- Veterinary staff culture workshop. GeniusVets. Accessed July 11, 2022. https://www.geniusvets.com/veterinary-marketing/special/staff-culture-workshop