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Work sweet home: Create a positive practice culture
A positive practice environment makes you-and patients and clients-feel happy, cozy, and right at home. Here's how to ramp up the good vibes.
Every workplace, from a veterinary practice to a high-powered law firm, has a culture. A business's values and processes—everything from how leaders communicate with employees to how successes are rewarded to how (or whether) work life balance is achieved—determine its culture. Employees might describe culture as "how we do things around here," and the culture sets the tone for how these employees act and feel at work.
A positive organizational culture is associated with higher performance, productivity, and employee retention rates, according to Cultivating Effective Corporate Cultures, a 2008 study conducted by the American Management Association (AMA). Why? Because people who work at companies with positive cultures are generally happier with their jobs, and happy people work better. So how can you apply this to your veterinary practice?
Organizational culture is
If your practice's culture is positive, it will demonstrate eight characteristics:
1. Invites cooperation.
2. Aligns with the practice's goals.
3. Helps accomplish goals.
4. Encourages new ideas and creativity.
5. Fosters trust among employees.
6. Quickly responds to needed change.
7. Brings out workers' best performance.
8. Gives decision-making authority to employees at all levels.
If your practice is missing out on just one or two of these items, don't panic. The AMA study found that few companies achieve all eight to a high or very high extent. Still, your practice should aspire to create the most positive culture possible. And if you're failing at a few of the items on the list, beware; your culture is probably negatively impacting employees and even your clients and patients.
When your practice's atmosphere needs refining—or when you want keep the positive vibes going strong—communication becomes critically important, especially communication from the practice owner to the team. In order to make improvements, you need to know the realities the business faces. Hold your bosses accountable for this information. Ask them to share it with you. While you're asking your boss to share information about how the practice is doing in general, ask him or her to share other information with the team with questions like:
1. How would you describe the practice's code of conduct?
2. What are our organizational values?
3. What's our organizational structure?
4. What's our mission statement?
5. What's our compensation system?
6. What are your expectations for how we communicate as a team?
7. What's the business strategy?
In addition to being clear about the goals and strategic direction of the company, you need to be involved in it. Encouraging this involvement is the owner and manager's job. Practice culture is much better when all team members are empowered, on board, and working together. If you can't see what the score is at a football game, you don't know when to cheer. It's the same for a business. You don't know what you need to work on if you don't know the practice's goals.
But remember, business is a two-way street. To be a stellar team member—one who contributes to creating an upbeat practice culture—you need to be proactive and show interest in the business. Your role doesn't stop here. Not only does your boss need to reward and recognize your success, but you also need to commend your team members when appropriate. Walk the talk. Just because your name's not on the practice door doesn't mean you aren't a leader. Make sure you're leading by positive example. Support the culture 110 percent and also tirelessly support your managers' efforts to create a more supportive environment.
Know when to leave
There's no way every minute of every day will be sunshine and roses, even when you work in a positive practice. But if you're experiencing mostly clouds and thorns, it's time to take a close look at yourself and your workplace's culture. Sometimes the culture isn't broken, but rather it doesn't align with your values. If this is the case, think about finding a new job. There is another practice out there that needs you. You must be confident in yourself and know that you deserve the best.
A long time doesn't always equal a good time
Repeat after me:
> You deserve to be happy at work. It should be fun. You should enjoy the opportunity to work collaboratively with team members rather than in competition with them. Elbowing your way through your job is not an ideal situation.
> You deserve a sense of self-worth. You should feel respected.
> A positive practice culture comes across to your clients. They can see that your practice is a good place for their pet. You should believe this too.
> You shouldn't be worried about being fired or feel that you have no clue what tomorrow may bring. With successful communication and an affirmative practice environment—even during difficult times—uncertainty fades away.
A positive culture means that you are happy about going to work almost every day, and the clients and patients you see are happy about visiting your practice. This makes all the difference in the success of your team. Instead of seeing a dog in the reception area barking out, "Don't make me stay here. It doesn't feel good," your patients will show signs of, "Oh, yeah, I love this place, and they love me." And that's a reason to snuggle into any practice.
Marianne Mallonee is hospital administrator and part owner of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo.