Work sweet home: Create a positive practice culture

Work sweet home: Create a positive practice culture

A positive practice environment makes you—and patients and clients—feel happy, cozy, and right at home. Here's how to ramp up the good vibes.
Mar 01, 2011

Every workplace, from a veterinary practice to a high-powered law firm, has a culture. A business's values and processes—everything from how leaders communicate with employees to how successes are rewarded to how (or whether) work life balance is achieved—determine its culture. Employees might describe culture as "how we do things around here," and the culture sets the tone for how these employees act and feel at work.

Organizational culture is
A positive organizational culture is associated with higher performance, productivity, and employee retention rates, according to Cultivating Effective Corporate Cultures, a 2008 study conducted by the American Management Association (AMA). Why? Because people who work at companies with positive cultures are generally happier with their jobs, and happy people work better. So how can you apply this to your veterinary practice?

If your practice's culture is positive, it will demonstrate eight characteristics:

1. Invites cooperation.

2. Aligns with the practice's goals.

3. Helps accomplish goals.

4. Encourages new ideas and creativity.

5. Fosters trust among employees.

6. Quickly responds to needed change.

7. Brings out workers' best performance.

8. Gives decision-making authority to employees at all levels.

If your practice is missing out on just one or two of these items, don't panic. The AMA study found that few companies achieve all eight to a high or very high extent. Still, your practice should aspire to create the most positive culture possible. And if you're failing at a few of the items on the list, beware; your culture is probably negatively impacting employees and even your clients and patients.

Take responsibility

When your practice's atmosphere needs refining—or when you want keep the positive vibes going strong—communication becomes critically important, especially communication from the practice owner to the team. In order to make improvements, you need to know the realities the business faces. Hold your bosses accountable for this information. Ask them to share it with you. While you're asking your boss to share information about how the practice is doing in general, ask him or her to share other information with the team with questions like:

1. How would you describe the practice's code of conduct?

2. What are our organizational values?

3. What's our organizational structure?

4. What's our mission statement?

5. What's our compensation system?

6. What are your expectations for how we communicate as a team?

7. What's the business strategy?

In addition to being clear about the goals and strategic direction of the company, you need to be involved in it. Encouraging this involvement is the owner and manager's job. Practice culture is much better when all team members are empowered, on board, and working together. If you can't see what the score is at a football game, you don't know when to cheer. It's the same for a business. You don't know what you need to work on if you don't know the practice's goals.

But remember, business is a two-way street. To be a stellar team member—one who contributes to creating an upbeat practice culture—you need to be proactive and show interest in the business. Your role doesn't stop here. Not only does your boss need to reward and recognize your success, but you also need to commend your team members when appropriate. Walk the talk. Just because your name's not on the practice door doesn't mean you aren't a leader. Make sure you're leading by positive example. Support the culture 110 percent and also tirelessly support your managers' efforts to create a more supportive environment.