5 Tools for Building a Positive Practice Culture
The secret behind every successful practice is a healthy and positive practice culture. Unfortunately, acquiring this isn’t as easy as updating your software or investing in new equipment. And once you have such a culture, it must be cared for because it grows and evolves with time.
If you are looking for a way to boost morale, efficiency, productivity, and staff retention, focus on cultivating a healthy practice culture. Here are five tools from the Veterinary System Services team that can help.
#1: Lead by example—set the standard for your team
Practice leadership (e.g., ownership, management, supervisors) should ascribe to and personify the practice’s mission statement in their day-to-day actions and conduct. When owners, associates, and managers live out core values such as service, compassion, integrity, and respect, they collectively set the tone for their colleagues and support staff. Instead of words on a page, these values become woven into daily work and create a consistent framework and emotional climate for the team.
How leadership manages emotional challenges such as negative outcomes, crisis response, difficult clients, and toxic employees directly influences the entire team. Bad days in veterinary medicine are inevitable, but they pass. How you handle them, however, can resonate long after within your team.
#2: Lean in and listen—encourage open communication
Traditional top-down communication models can stifle the unified and collaborative approach necessary in veterinary medicine and leave employees feeling like mere cogs in the machine. Promote transparency and open communication in all levels of your team by hosting regular open-door office hours, team debriefings after significant events (positive and negative), and relaxed one-on-one check-in meetings—not to be confused with performance reviews—and by inviting team members to share their suggestions and insights about the practice.
When employees take you up on your invitation, listen without judgment or interruption. Strive to understand first, and fix second. Reliable two-way dialogues can help your staff feel heard and appreciated, strengthen the team dynamic, improve intra-team listening skills, and provide leadership with the chance to address rising issues within the practice before they affect morale, staffing, patient safety, or client service.
#3: Recognize effort and growth—don’t wait for big milestones to acknowledge your team
Recognition and gratitude are two powerful and simple gestures that can boost morale. But reserving them for large achievements can be detrimental to your team’s efforts. Acknowledge employees who step out of their comfort zone, go the extra mile, or keep putting in the work after a bad day or a string of difficult cases. This can be as simple as a sincere “thank you” or a handwritten note, or as elaborate as a promotion or a surprise catered meal for the entire practice.
When the entire team sees that effort—successful or otherwise—is recognized and supported, you can create a growth-minded culture in which team members feel safe to learn and apply new skills, set goals, make suggestions, share ideas and previously hidden talents, encourage fellow team members, and make positive contributions to the practice. In turn, team members feel personally invested in the practice, and this sense of ownership can improve retention.
#4: If you can’t improve what you pay, improve what you offer
Inadequate compensation and benefits are a common pain point and a barrier to positive practice culture. But when managers dismiss these issues as a matter of greed, they miss the bigger picture. Economic hardship and practical concerns are real issues your team members face every day—issues that place additional stress and anxiety on their emotional wellbeing, which is then brought—knowingly or otherwise—into the workplace.
If you simply cannot offer more appropriate pay or benefits to your team, consider other non-monetary benefits such as:
- Schedule flexibility
- Shorter shifts
- CE allowance
- Paid license fees
- Discounted services for personal pets
- Uniform allowance
- Advancement opportunities
- Floating holidays
- Morale boosters, such as team outings, incentives, and projects
- Team training days
- Hiring relief staff when your team is shorthanded
- Growth and promotion opportunities
#5: Prioritize mental wellness and self-care
As veterinary professionals, we’re capable of compartmentalizing and suppressing our emotions for the greater good, the sake of the team, the next procedure, and the lobby full of waiting clients and pets. But continuously pushing aside mental health and emotional wellbeing sets a dangerous precedent not only for the individual but also for the entire team.
Make mental wellness and self-care a priority the same way you do physical safety—with formal training, safeguards, and opportunities such as:
- In-house counseling services
- Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Protected time for uninterrupted lunches and breaks
- Mental health training for practice leadership
- Wellness program membership
- Team yoga, mindfulness exercises, and fitness challenges
Developing a positive practice culture takes ongoing intentional effort, but investing in your most valuable asset—your team—leads to exponential and far-reaching gain. Whether your practice needs short-term relief or long-lasting change, Veterinary System Services provides a suite of professional services that can help you reach your goals. Contact us to learn how we can help.