Creating a Healthy Practice Culture

Amy L. Grice VMD, MBA | University of Pennsylvania | Published: Issue 2, 2024


Editor's Pick

Culture is created through the actions and behaviors of the leaders, what leaders pay attention to, what they reward and what they punish, and their allocation of attention and resources. The complex interplay results in the “feel” of an organization. The mission, vision, and values of an organization are the cornerstones of the culture.

The mission of an organization serves as a filter to separate what is important from what is not and communicates a sense of intention to both the organization and the public. A mission statement is an important part of your practice’s business strategy because it captures the essence of your practice’s philosophy in a few succinct words or sentences.

A properly written mission statement announces what your business is all about to your clients, employees, and the community. It’s the fundamental reason for the practice’s existence and serves as a compass that helps keep a practice’s decisions and direction focused on True North.

The vision sets a destination to serve as a clear beacon for plotting current and future paths of action. By articulating what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the future, the entire team understands what they are trying to achieve through their work. Engaging in meaningful work for a worthy goal motivates and inspires people at work.

The values of an organization strongly shape its culture. Values are the core of the identity of individuals and organizations – they are the principles, beliefs, and philosophies that are held sacred. Individuals absorb their values from their earliest experiences in their nuclear families, and these core beliefs will shape them throughout their lifetime. These are the personal truths that feel undeniable.

In organizations, values shape the culture and mirror the owners’ non-negotiable beliefs. Developing practice values is not a team activity; these fundamental tenets should flow from the owners of the practice. The practice owners must continually demonstrate and communicate those values, as they provide a guideline for the expected behaviors of the entire veterinary team.

It is essential that practice owners hire to support their values because people with different values feel as strongly about their core beliefs as others do about theirs. When values are not aligned, everything becomes difficult.

Core beliefs serve three very important functions in a practice:

  • Provide ethical guidelines and boundaries for the mission and vision.
  • Simplify decision-making, because if something is not in alignment with the values of the practice, decisions become easy to make.
  • Help to prevent and resolve conflict, because values become the standard of acceptable behavior within the practice.

It is not uncommon for a practice owner to have written a mission statement that sounds good on paper but is not in alignment with their most deeply held values. The culture of such a practice often feels discordant.

For example, if the mission statement describes a practice that is centered on caring and service excellence, but the owner veterinarian rarely is willing to step up when emergencies occur during the day, or fails to make callbacks to clients with questions, the staff will feel a lack of authenticity.

If one of this veterinarian’s strongest values is making money to be a good provider for his or her family, he or she may value doing highly lucrative scheduled work more than breaking off to see an emergency or taking valuable time away from revenue production to call clients. It is essential that practice owners “walk the talk,” or they risk creating a cynical, demotivated practice team.

When the mission, vision, and values of the practice are aligned, the healthy culture creates a practice team that can be astonishingly successful. When practice leaders regularly and repeatedly communicate with their staff about the practice’s vision, mission, and values, and have meaningful discussions about them, this will guide the team’s actions and influence their decision-making even when the practice owners are on the road, in surgery or on vacation.

A solid foundation of these three touchstones allows the practice to function confidently and move forward readily even when the owners are not present.

Consider these suggestions to help support a culture that honors your practice’s vision, mission, and values:

  • Only individuals who are in alignment with the practice’s values should be hired.
  • Communicate your practice’s mission, vision, and values regularly and use multiple methods.
  • When changes are being considered within your practice, open a dialog to explore how the proposed changes align with the mission and values.
  • Reflect on how your alignment with the mission, vision, and values is demonstrated in your daily behavior. Are you “walking the talk”?

Having a healthy culture in the workplace helps boost morale and productivity, and reduces employee stress and turnover. Consider whether there are specific areas where improvements can be made in your practice to create a positive workplace culture that supports and inspires your team.

In a healthy culture, the leaders do the following:

  • Understand, articulate, and live the practice values with authenticity.
  • Create a safe and inclusive environment where everyone’s contribution matters.
  • Establish psychological safety across the organization and listen to the team.
  • Set clear goals and expectations for every role in the practice.
  • Acknowledge imperfections and learn from mistakes.
  • Create workplace policies that make the team feel valued and appreciated.
  • Show self-compassion, kindness, respect, honesty, and mutual trust with small gestures: greeting your colleagues, being kind to yourself when you make a mistake, reaching out to someone who’s going through a tough time, and advocating for your team’s well-being.

Culture is more important than ever in creating a successful practice. A great company culture is built and reinforced by its people as well as the leadership team. By sharing values and being inspired by the good work being done that makes a positive difference, teams will thrive.

Amy L. Grice | VMD, MBA

Dr. Grice was an ambulatory equine practitioner in the Hudson Valley of New York for over 25 years, serving as the managing partner of the thirteen-doctor equine referral hospital in Rhinebeck, NY. At the end of 2014, she retired from clinical practice to concentrate on veterinary business consulting and moved her residence to Virginia City, MT.

Dr. Grice received her BA in Biology from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and completed her veterinary education at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine in 1990. She earned her MBA with a concentration in Ethical Leadership from Marist College School of Management in 2014.

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