Veterinary organizations must prioritize a healthy workplace culture now more than ever. With so many industry professionals succumbing to burnout and exhaustion, clinics and hospitals that fail to focus on the wellbeing of their workforce will quickly collapse. Defining and implementing a positive workplace culture must take precedence in every veterinary group.
Practice owners and consolidators should review this guide to first define, then implement, and finally maintain a workplace culture that ensures the health and efficiency of their employees.
Defining Workplace Culture In Your Veterinary Group
A company culture cannot be implemented across your workforce until it’s properly defined and well understood by each and every member of the organization. As the Harvard Business Review points out, culture is the “tacit social order of an organization.” Your company culture consists of the values, norms, taboos, and practices across the organization. A healthy company culture will champion positive values that encourage all organizational members to live up to high ethical and professional standards.
In many ways, a written statement about your company culture can serve a purpose similar to a written mission statement. Such a statement can illustrate your company’s purpose to others and instruct your workforce on how to behave when it comes to their everyday functions. Nevertheless, a company culture is much more complicated and in-depth than a simple written statement. While your core values can be enumerated in a document for easy reference, these values must be manifested in the everyday practice of your organization to become your company culture.
After you define the core values that will shape the ethical composition of your organization, ask how you’re implementing them into your regular business practices. Pay particular attention to whether or not your managers, practice owners, and consolidating partners are adhering to the company’s core values. This is of critical importance because a company culture must be equally respected throughout the ranks of the workforce in order to take hold.
Leadership is the Strongest Force
No workplace culture can survive without the staunch support of company leadership. Practice owners, consolidators, and managers must become cultural leaders within their organizations if they expect their workforce to grow accustomed to any cultural company standards. While maintaining a healthy company culture is the responsibility of each member of the organization, leaders take on special significance when it comes to demonstrating key values and living up to high standards.
Company values must be implemented from the top down in each veterinary organization. If the clinic’s owner or a senior manager is seen breaching the basic values that your organization lives by, their subordinates will quickly lose respect for these values. Managers who fail to lead by example will soon be left to grapple with a workforce that possesses no moral compass and is unfamiliar with the basic tenets of the company’s philosophy.
Ensure that senior leadership can espouse the company’s core values by heart. More important still is their ability to actually implement these values into everyday practices; if your clinic is ostensibly tolerant of innocent mistakes, managers cannot overreact to minor errors and harshly punish their subordinates. Doing so illustrates that your senior leadership does not actually care about your core values, which will in turn demoralize and alienate your workforce.
Improving workplace culture is impossible without strong leadership. When executives stay true to their vision and closely adhere to their own moral guidelines, the entire organization will thrive. It enhances the moral authority of managers when they need to justly discipline other professionals and ensures you avoid ethical, legal, or commercial scandals which could harm the brand of your veterinary group. Finally, it convinces clients that your organization is dedicated to excellence and won’t tolerate lackluster professionals who may treat their beloved pets poorly.
How Workplace Culture Translates into Internal Communication
Culture in the workplace shouldn’t remain solely in the workplace. If your organization has developed a positive workplace culture, it’s imperative to demonstrate that in both your internal and external communication. Begin by reviewing your internal communication, or that which occurs within a clinic or veterinary organization and involves only employees and owners.
Lackluster communication standards are a glaring sign of a toxic workplace culture. When employees seldom communicate with one another and can’t be reliably updated by their superiors, a veterinary organization is sure to struggle. A lack of digital communication tools, unclear communication standards, and quiet or inappropriate leadership are often the cause of shoddy internal communication that can degrade a veterinary group.
Improving workplace culture is effectively impossible without clear, consistent lines of communication being established throughout the workforce. Managers must be able to discern when employees are feeling burned out and overburdened through textual communication, especially now that smartphones and email correspondence are so essential to everyday operations. Be sure to invest in an active Slack channel, and consider regular video meetings when in-person gatherings are impossible.
Fostering continuous improvement to develop a positive workplace culture can only happen when managers and owners are staying in constant contact with their professionals. Nevertheless, setting certain boundaries is also important, especially when it comes to avoiding burnout. Ensure employees are regularly updated, but don’t ceaselessly hound them with a deluge of digital messages that are unnecessary and tedious to keep up with.
Translating Culture into External Communication
External communication with clients and vendors is often as important as internal communication amongst team members. When dealing with clients, ensure that your company communication standards emphasize gratitude and transparency. Few clients will want to stick with your veterinary group if they feel information pertaining to the health of their pet is being withheld from them. Simple gratitude whenever conducting a commercial transaction is also an excellent customer service standard that you should prioritize in your organization.
Sharing the success of your organization on external social media channels is increasingly popular in this digital age. Veterinary groups which seek to leverage the internet to build brand awareness must be careful, however. Never appear flippant when communicating with clients on social media, even if you’re playfully trying to go viral or market a new service. Ensure that members of your team who are in charge of external communications on social media understand the merits of professional behavior. Otherwise, your brand may face a digital external communications scandal which can be difficult to recover from.
Convincing clients that you possess a positive workplace culture is important and best achieved via digital communication tools. Nevertheless, mastering client communication in the digital era takes time and expertise. Reject sluggish communication tools from bygone eras to avoid the impression that your company culture is backwards and incompatible with modern consumer expectations. In addition to ensuring your client communication is smooth and efficient, this will also optimize your internal communication since so many veterinary professionals are now digital natives. Modern communication technologies will help you spread awareness about your company culture to clients while ensuring employees are kept in the cultural loop when you seek to implement new ethical standards across the board.
Consolidators should also strive to ensure that a positive workplace culture is being exemplified whenever they’re communicating with possible acquisitions. Clinic owners and veterinary professionals will evaluate your external communication with them to gauge whether or not they want to become part of your corporate family. Maintaining professional and friendly communication standards will contribute to your long-term growth and the allure of your workforce to industry talent.
Implementing Organizational Culture at Scale
Veterinary clinics that are rapidly expanding may find it difficult to implement organizational culture at scale. Clinics with a relatively small workforce will find that the intimacy of small groups often makes it easier to arrive at shared values and enforce them. As your network expands, ensuring that every employee remains in the loop and agrees with your basic cultural framework will become more difficult.
Consolidators should pay particular attention to implementing organizational culture in the wake of a recent acquisition. Employees who have only recently joined your network may be unfamiliar with the cultural standards that you normally champion. Hosting a cultural orientation event and providing written materials to new members of the organization is highly encouraged. Consolidators should also ensure that their managers set aside extra time to brief new organization members on the company culture.
Remember that familiarizing yourself with a new company culture can be a difficult and timely process. Managers must work closely with the professionals under their watch to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. Answer questions whenever they arise, and remember the power of example when illustrating your company culture to newcomers in your ranks. Forcing new members to quickly acclimate to a company culture they’re unfamiliar with will lead you down the road toward a toxic workplace culture that generates frustration and resentment.
Creating culture in the workplace is one thing — spreading your existing workplace culture to a new workforce that you’ve recently acquired is another. Digital tools will prove to be immensely helpful when it comes to achieving cultural cohesion between two workforces that are now merging into one. Slack channels and other means of digital communication are increasingly popular because veterinary professionals love to use them. Ensure your cultural standards proliferate across every digital medium you use to ensure your workforce is a well-oiled machine.
Consolidators who want to ensure the successful implementation of company culture at scale should take the following steps:
- Host network-wide cultural briefings in the wake of an acquisition to ensure cultural unity
- Hold small meetings at the clinic level with managers who reiterate cultural standards
- Ensure new employees have a mechanism to ask senior leaders about company culture
- Consider a dedicated digital forum for such questions — such as a Slack channel
- Send out periodic emails and other digital briefings on company cultural standards
- Quickly respond to workplace disputes or ethical mishaps with special cultural briefings
- Provide an anonymous method for whistleblowing about violations of ethical norms
Implementing these measures will ensure your company culture is resilient across the workforce.
Why Culture Resonates
Many veterinary organizations continue to ignore workplace culture at their own peril. The modern veterinary industry is largely populated by a younger workforce and youthful clientele. These digital natives pay close attention to how companies treat their workers, and will quickly abandon your brand for a competitor if they suspect that you have a toxic workplace culture. Mindfully managing culture change in the workplace and continually improving workplace culture are the only methods which you can rely on to keep your clientele’s faith.
It’s a thoroughly established fact that younger veterinary professionals are more vulnerable to workplace burnout these days than ever before. They feel emotionally and physically exhausted, and may believe they’re not valued within their organization. They often rate a positive workplace culture as one of the most important things they’re looking for when on the job hunt. Higher wages and attractive benefits may fail to lure in the best industry talent if they disagree with your workplace culture.
Younger clients are similarly sick and tired of corporate brands that fail to prioritize the wellbeing of the workforce. A positive workplace culture will attract new pet owners to your clinic while ensuring your consolidation goes off without a hitch. Culture resonates too much for your veterinary group to ignore it. Start defining and implementing a robust workplace culture today, and your practice will thrive tomorrow.