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Good Workplaces Blog - Culture

What does culture actually mean? It’s tricky to reduce it down to a specific goal that you can simply tick off your to-do list. It’s much more complicated than that. It’s the personalities, the people and the behaviours we find in practice, and where colleagues can truly be their authentic selves.

But how do you tease out what those values and morals are? What does kindness and fairness look like to you in practice?

Culture as a weather map

 It’s helpful to begin by taking stock of how the culture in your practice currently feels i. One simple way to do this is to describe your practice in terms of the weather (something we’re all used to doing!). There can be good and bad parts to any day; perhaps your day was sunny with a few clouds, or maybe they were more like showery clouds – you get the idea.

We asked you, and you said:

Our practice is like a British summer! Some days are marvellous and other days there is a lot of rain on a picnic

Fair weather some days but dark and gloomy on other days which varies on which staff are due to work

Behaviours can change on a day-to-day basis, but culture is something that runs deep. Culture is the morals and the values behind why we do something and so shouldn’t change according to which members of the team are working that day. A good workplace culture should be embedded into a team, and act as a guide to how they should conduct themselves.

How do you start the journey?

Speak to your team, regardless of your position in practice. Bring culture to the top of your business plan, and then ensure that it’s implemented from the top down and bottom up – you will need buy-in from your whole practice. Once you’ve established your first steps, it could then be as simple as sending out a survey to your practice team to ask what they’d like to see, which can then be fed back in to establish what a good workplace culture looks like in your practice specifically.

It’s important to ensure that everyone feels valued. Make sure to ask every individual what is most important to them and thank them for their input; get them onboard to help implement the changes. People feel valued when they’re listened to. Not everyone in practice will want to participate in the same way (we’re all wonderfully neurodiverse) so leaders, make sure you’re checking in with the whole team to see how they want to participate. This will ultimately help everyone to unite together to embed these values into the practice culture.

Authentic vulnerable leadership

Authentic vulnerable leadership is very powerful. No-one is superhuman, and this style of leadership allows other members of the team to show vulnerability, and it creates a culture where people feel comfortable coming forward and talking about issues (be they cultural or otherwise). 

But what if you are in a senior position and you show your vulnerability, and rather than showing team members that you are human, it instead causes them to struggle with their own vulnerabilities/anxiety/fear?

As a leader your job is not to fix things; you can’t disallow people from feeling inadequate or from worrying. However, you can create an environment where people are happy to share – and thank them when they do! If their issues are work-related, then you can discuss why they’re feeling that way and what changes can be made in practice to help. You can also signpost them to external help such as VetLife (and their GP where appropriate).

Sharing is caring

Sharing is very important in leadership and in achieving cultural growth. By showing trust and delegating tasks, opportunities are given to others and they are made to feel like valued members of the team. Your own stress is also helped when sharing out the leadership role. It’s important to empower others to lead, but also to make mistakes, understanding that “it won’t always go to plan, but together we can bounce back”. Keeping that communication channel open is key - what is working, what can we change and then implement?

Job well done

Celebrating success is very important, but don’t do it for the sake of it! Make sure you take the time to check in with team members, and to fully describe the situation, the behaviour, and the impact – why are they being praised?

“Thank you for doing x, because it enabled me to do y.”

Negative behaviours are different. Don’t feed them; if you simply sit and listen, you’re feeding it. Instead, these behaviours should be established as good or bad within the values of the practice. When someone goes against these values, they can be alerted to their behaviour and told it’s not appropriate.

As a senior vet I always report positive comments from clients and support the vet who did a good is harder to deal with negative comments, as I worry it will knock their confidence....

If you have a learning culture, with an open “no blame” culture, then it can become a great tool to discuss when things go wrong. If the person finds it a negative experience talking about what went wrong, then it can be useful to unpick why they do, to avoid the same issue resurfacing in the future. It won’t always go the way we want, but fostering a culture where people can come forward with issues will ultimately help them to help themselves.

If you want help kickstarting this conversation in your practice, check out our Practice Culture Survey, which uses a “traffic light” system to help you identify areas of concern, and to enable you to appreciate all the good you do, the quick wins you can make, and the goals you can set to ensure that your practice thrives.

About VDS Training
VDS Training are passionate about developing all members of the veterinary team, to help you overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis, and to build practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.