Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Millions of U.S. workers said, “I quit,” last year. The COVID-19 pandemic was seen as the chief cause of employees — nearly 4 million of them in April 2021 alone — recognizing how valuable their time was and wanting to spend it in more meaningful ways. Some looked for more workplace flexibility, while others sought a sense of being appreciated. If we take the macrotrend of people walking away from unsatisfactory job sites to the microlevel — individual workplaces — we realize it’s more important than ever that a business provide a culture that resonates with employees.
Workplace culture can be defined in different ways. For example:
- Environment and interactions.
- Personality and character.
- Vision and values.
- Beliefs and behaviors.
- Traditions and customs.
No matter which bullet point jumps out, workplace culture encompasses what you and your colleagues do in your veterinary practice and the attitudes of everyone undertaking the responsibilities. Positive workplace cultures are a big plus when hiring and retaining employees and serving clients. Conversely, less ideal cultures contribute to workplace issues and dissatisfied customers.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 caused many veterinary clinics to consider resetting their culture. What exactly, though, does that mean, and how do you know if your practice needs a new one?
Consider taking these six steps.
1. Take Stock
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel or dedicate resources to a cultural reset just because other businesses do. Instead, what’s important is to focus on what your practice needs to do (or not do).
To clarify whether your practice needs a reset, look at your mission statement. Does it still ideally represent your practice? If not, then step one is to re-evaluate and recraft the text.
A mission statement should include your practice’s primary objective and be tailored for your target audience. As previously noted in Today’s Veterinary Business [bit.ly/Mission-TVB], the mission statement should be an emotional guiding light for your practice and its philosophy but not so similar to other practices’ philosophies that yours achieves a cookie-cutter level of boring. When revamping your mission statement in an inspiring way, consider why your practice does what it does and what you want to accomplish. Who do you envision as your clients? What purpose feels meaningful to you? How can you compellingly encapsulate all that?
After analyzing the mission statement, you might discover that you still embrace its concept but that it doesn’t match reality.
Few businesses attain everything in their mission text, but a significant gap is a red flag. Perhaps the gap grew over time. So, do some observing. Do you see high levels of stress, disengagement and burnout in the workplace? Do employees feel supported and appreciated? When does an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion feel like an integral part of your workday? Where is more mutual respect needed?
2. Invite Employee Input
After you make high-level observations, ask team members what they think through anonymous surveys, one-on-one conversations or both. As part of the process, clearly define what you mean by workplace culture and then ask appropriate questions, such as what employees like and don’t like about your practice and how they like to be motivated, recognized and rewarded.
Those conversations might lead you to streamline how your practice operates. That’s because while you likely will add or keep helpful policies and behaviors, you’ll also want to acknowledge when things that were always done, such as unproductive meetings, don’t serve your practice any longer.
3. Prepare the Managers
Before announcing cultural changes, prep your managers about their roles during the process. How will they model new behaviors? Think about how you will measure success and identify lags.
Besides working with your managers on cultural changes, remind them of the “why”— the purpose of having an improved workplace culture and the benefits, such as enhanced morale, increased productivity, better teamwork and greater employee retention.
4. Team-Building Time
You want employees to deepen their sense of connection to and purpose at your practice. In other words, you want to help them focus on why working at your clinic means more than the routine events they are involved in. You can accomplish this through team building. It can range from grabbing a cup of coffee with an employee to group activities.
One of the best ways to make people feel part of the team is to communicate with them regularly. Or, said another way, one of the best ways to make someone not feel part of the team is to keep them in the dark, unaware of what’s going on in the clinic and the imminent changes.
People without a sense of purpose tend to burn out quicker, raising the turnover rate. Conversely, employers and employees who co-create a definition of success become united. After both sides agree on what success looks like, follow up on its progress throughout the year. Don’t let the momentum fizzle.
5. Weed Out Toxic Employees
Although most employees will appreciate being part of a movement to improve workplace culture, you might find those who, despite all efforts, aren’t contributing to the success. Instead, they cause problems and slow the momentum. Ultimately, after giving these team members the opportunity to improve and after following the disciplinary steps in your employee manual, they might need to be let go.
Recognizing a workplace culture change goes a long way in its continued improvement. Flaunt the achieved goals and how the changes enhanced your practice. Pat yourself on the back for taking a good, hard look at your practice’s old ways. After you finish celebrating, keep going down the new path. And when the time is right, celebrate again.