DVM, BCC, PCC
Go With the Flow co-columnist Dr. Jeff Thoren is the founder of Gifted Leaders and an expert coach specializing in leadership and team development. He is one of only five veterinarians in the world to hold a credential from the International Coaching Federation.Read Articles Written by Jeff Thoren
Go With the Flow co-columnist Trey Cutler has a law practice focused exclusively on veterinary transactions and veterinary business law matters.Read Articles Written by Trey Cutler
In her July speech to the House of Delegates, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s new president, Dr. Rena Carlson, emphasized the importance of creating a sense of belonging in our workplaces and professional associations. “Belonging, acceptance and value have powerful long- and short-term implications for individual and collective well-being,” she said. A culture of belonging exists when each individual experiences acceptance, comfort and safety and feels valued, included and a part of something.
Honoring diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is critical for all veterinary professionals. Providing DEIB education and convening ongoing dialogue within our teams around how various identities and perspectives intersect with veterinary medicine is an excellent start to building inclusive, welcoming workplace environments. And, frankly, our success as a profession depends on our collective ability to embrace those principles to address the challenges of a rapidly changing marketplace and world.
Consider these three definitions:
- Diversity: The unique characteristics of a group of people. These include cognitive skills and personality traits, along with everything that shapes our identity, such as age, cultural background, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, geography, occupation and political views.
- Equity: Working toward fair opportunities and outcomes for all people or groups by removing barriers that result from unique disadvantages and challenges.
- Inclusion: Achieving a work environment where every team member feels respected, has equal access to growth and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.
Diversity, equity and inclusion combine to provide an atmosphere where all team members feel a sense of belonging and are most connected to their work community. In that environment, people are most likely to thrive and experience a state of flow. A sense of belonging and community correlates with better performance, both in academic and work settings.
You might ask, “What can I do to honor DEIB and create a sense of belonging in my workplace?” Dr. Tandi Ngwenyama, a faculty member at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, offers Dr. David Rock’s SCARF framework as a reference to help us take deliberate action.
We’ll explain the acronym shortly, but first, here’s some background from neuroscience research: The human brain is a social organ and experiences the workplace as a social system, first and foremost. For example, the feeling of being excluded provokes the same physiological and neurological reactions that physical pain might cause.
In his article “Managing With the Brain in Mind,” Dr. Rock stated, “The ability to intentionally address the social brain in the service of optimal performance will be a distinguishing leadership capability in the years ahead.” He made that statement in 2009, and it seems relevant today.
Shhh! Don’t Wake the Amygdala
According to neuroscientist Dr. Evian Gordon, the tendency to “minimize threat or danger and maximize reward” is the brain’s fundamental organizing principle. Therefore, by honoring the principle, leaders can bring out the best in others and facilitate enhanced engagement and performance.
Perceived threat or danger activates the brain’s limbic system and leads to a fight-or-flight response or, in its extreme form, an amygdala hijack. The threat response results in:
- Lower capacity for creative insight, learning and problem-solving.
- Less motivation.
- Reduced productivity and performance.
The SCARF Framework
In the workplace, five social qualities minimize threat responses and maximize reward responses. Here is each social quality under the SCARF framework and some dos and don’ts:
Status is all about the relative and perceived social importance of group members, such as how you see yourself and how others see you.
- Help others feel important, included, valued and secure.
- Acknowledge people’s skills and accomplishments and provide opportunities for professional growth and development.
- Avoid power differentials, hierarchies and competitive systems where “haves and have-nots” or superiors and inferiors are present.
- Avoid offering unsolicited advice or feedback.
Certainty relates to our ability to predict or be confident in the future. Uncertainty naturally creates tension.
- Do what’s within your control to avoid the perception of too much uncertainty. A foundational strategy is to be as transparent as possible with sharing information.
- Ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.
- Establish clear expectations and objectives.
- Seek ways to develop flexibility and resilience as individuals and as a team.
Autonomy relates to our sense of control over ourselves, what we do and the events around us.
- Let people exert as much control over their work as possible and carry out their decisions.
- Give others the freedom to tailor their development plan, set their learning objectives and go at their own pace.
Relatedness relates to our sense of safety and ability to connect with and relate to others.
- Teams of diverse people must be deliberately put together, not thrown together. This approach requires time and repeated social interaction to build trust. Social connections and a feeling of inclusion release oxytocin (linked to affection) in the brain.
- Provide mentoring or frequent one-on-one check-in opportunities.
- Build check-ins and short team-building activities into your regular team meetings.
- Have an effective onboarding program for new employees.
Fairness relates to our sense of justice and equity in the interactions around us and the reasonableness of decisions involving us.
- Create an environment in which effort is rewarded and negative behavior is addressed.
- Encourage shared accountability by co-creating team agreements that include collective vision and purpose, guidelines for day-to-day communications, and desired behaviors and values that must be honored.
- Offer fair compensation that matches each person’s capabilities and competencies.
- Avoid favoritism or giving some people special treatment. Transparency is a crucial leadership strategy.
The SCARF model can help you honor DEIB and create a culture of belonging and community. By minimizing perceived threats and maximizing the positive feelings generated through the reward of working alongside others, you can actively build a workplace and world where everyone can contribute and flourish.