Your newest associate, Brian, has been working at your practice for six months now, and you’re wondering whether you made a mistake in hiring him. His workplace values seem to be very different from those of your team, and from the values of your organization as a whole. Your veterinarians care passionately about doing the work that helps horses and the people who love them. They value teamwork, and they’re always willing to pitch in or stay late if someone is behind because of an emergency. The practice is careful about scheduling, and everyone regularly works a four-day work week, so there is time for life outside of veterinary medicine. This has led to a culture of trust, friendliness and mutual respect within the team.
Brian, on the other hand, wants to be a “star.” He’s ambitious and hardworking, but he seems to focus on trying to transfer existing clients’ loyalty to him rather than building new relationships with new clients. He avoids calls that won’t build his expert status or achieve an easy revenue boost. When clients aren’t big spenders or successful competitors in the show ring, he tends not to return their calls or follow up on their horses’ cases. He might help if someone’s day has spiraled out of control, but that veterinarian might then find that Brian has now directed the client to ask for him for future care, or scheduled himself for the next recheck, instead of respecting the existing relationship. The problem is that his core career values clash with the core values of your practice. This is causing resentment and bad feelings within the group.
We all have our own values. And while you can’t always determine during the hiring process that a person’s values are perfectly aligned with those of the practice, you should certainly try. In this article, we’ll look at how you can better recognize and understand the values of your practice and the people who work there.
Determine Your Practice’s Values
Values are the core of 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 through their lifetimes. These are the personal truths that feel undeniable. They are the beliefs that are the foundation of how you see the world— what you believe is “right,” beyond a shadow of a doubt.
What is critical to recognize is that someone else’s beliefs can be very different from our own, but feel just as fundamentally, unshakably “right” to them as ours do to us.
Core beliefs serve three very important functions in your life and in your practice:
1. They provide ethical guidelines and boundaries for your personal, professional and/or practice mission and vision.
2. They simplify decision-making, because if something is not in alignment with your values or the values of the practice, decisions become easier to make.
3. They help resolve conflict, because your values become the standard of acceptable behavior within the practice or in your life.
Your values are an important part of your belief system. Belief systems are the driving force of individual behavior. If you are a practice owner, you are a leader in your practice. You might not always be a good leader, but you are a leader. It is your values, and those of your co-owners, that should make up the values of the practice. This is why is it is critical for you as a leader to have clarity about your belief system.
As leaders, practice owners must consider how their values should affect the behaviors of the entire practice team. If you are an associate and do not feel “at home” in the practice where you are employed, it could be that your personal values do not align with those of the practice owner.
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; 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 just as strongly about their core beliefs as you do about yours. When the values of the practice owners and employees are not aligned, the result is trouble!
When your belief systems are the foundation of your practice through the creation of clearly stated vision and mission statements (which were discussed in the summer issue of EquiManagement), shaping the direction of your practice becomes a much easier task. The practice owners’ values shape the culture and become the face of the practice’s identity. These values are non-negotiable and provide substantial ethical guidance to the people on your team.
The practice must then continually demonstrate those values; it is essential to regularly and repeatedly communicate the practice’s vision, mission and values to your staff and have meaningful discussions about them in order to guide the employees’ actions and influence their decision-making when you are not present. A solid foundation of these three touchstones will allow your practice team to function confidently and move forward readily even when you are not present.
Ultimately, the goal behind the thoughtful creation of vision, mission and values statements is to provide direction and guidelines for the people in an organization, and this an essential responsibility of the practice leader. When considering changes within your practice, openly reflect upon and discuss how the proposed changes align with the mission and values. Having this public expression of what your practice stands for is also valuable for the horse owners with whom you interact every day. It is important that they know who you are as an equine practice, what you believe in and what your values are. It’s the ultimate trust builder between the horse owner and veterinarian.
Individuals as well as practice owners can create a values statement or simply list their personal or practice’s values. Simplicity and clarity are most important when creating a statement. When identifying values, it is best to prioritize them, and choose the five to eight values that are the most essential to who you are as an organization or an individual.
Hiring for Values
Your organization’s values identify what your practice cares about most deeply. It is important that your staff’s personal values align with these. This is achieved by careful hiring practices. When value alignment occurs, people in your practice more easily understand one another’s motivations, everyone does the right things for the right reasons, and this common purpose and understanding helps people build strong relationships.
When values are out of alignment, employees work toward different goals, with different intentions and with different outcomes. This can damage work relationships, productivity, job satisfaction and profitability.
Only hire individuals who are in alignment with your values. Skills can be taught, but values are forever. If you are seeking employment, only join an organization that shares your core beliefs.
In order to do this, you need to uncover values during the interview process. To do so, ask focused questions that tease out the behaviors you can expect from the candidate or practice in the future. These will mirror their values. For instance, as an employer or candidate, imagine that honesty and integrity are two of your personal or practice’s core values. You could ask: “Describe a time when you felt ethically challenged. How did you go about identifying and understanding the opposing points of view? How did you adapt your working style to deal effectively with the challenge? What was the outcome?”
As a candidate, you might ask the same question of the practice owner, but adapted to the circumstance. Or an employer or candidate might ask: “Has there ever been a time when your beliefs clashed with someone else’s at work? If so, how did you overcome these differences?”
An even more effective way for an employer to find out how a person will perform in a job is to have that person show you. By creating “A Day in the Life of…” scenario, you can evaluate the candidate on how well he or she handled or managed the variety of demands, requests and questions that occurred during his or her “day.”
You want to assess how well each candidate prioritizes, organizes, analyzes, plans, delegates, communicates, solve problems and make decisions. It is best to create the “day” on paper in several segments. These segments are given in sequence to the candidate, who is then required to sift through the information, decide what to do with each item and describe why he or she chose that course of action.
A less formal but similar inquiry could be made by a candidate to tease out a practice’s typical handling of a busy day’s challenges.
This example splits the “day” into four segments.
Segment one (8 a.m.) might include:
• three sets of lab results for three different patients: - one markedly abnormal with a brief clinical history about yesterday’s visit, which was performed by another of the practice’s veterinarians who is not working today - one routine screening for PPID (Cushings) that is WNL - one quantitative fecal with 8000 strongyle eggs/gram from a horse with weight loss
• two phone messages from clients: - one requesting a pre-purchase exam tomorrow - one reporting that a horse with a laceration sutured two days ago is now toe-touching lame
• a list of ambulatory calls for the day, with a request for an 8:30 a.m. ovulation check as the first stop. Clients are requesting estimated times of arrival.
Segment two (10 a.m.) might include:
• a phone call requesting feedback on radiographs that were sent by e-mail for review yesterday that you have not yet evaluated
• a call from receptionist about a colic in progress 30 minutes from your current location. She tells you one of the other veterinarians from your practice is 20 minutes from the colic.
Segment three (2 p.m.) might include:
• a call from a farm manager asking for advice about a 12-hour-old foal that hasn’t nursed yet
• a call from lab reporting positive Salmonella result on the diarrhea sample you sent in three days ago from a neonatal foal with diarrhea
Segment four (5 p.m.) might include:
• a call from your spouse asking what time you’ll be home for dinner and asking you to pick up milk
• a call from another veterinarian in the practice asking for help with a dystocia.
An owner who manages the practice in accordance with a personal belief system will enjoy a more positive culture and a more rewarding return on his/her investment. An associate aware of his/her personal values and in alignment with the values of the practice where that person is working will achieve a more satisfying career.
Whether you are a practice owner evaluating candidates for a position, or an associate veterinarian looking for a home for your career, it is important to understand the importance of aligning values. This is an effort that will pay off exponentially.
This article was first published in the Fall 2016 issue of EquiManagement magazine.