How to Manage by Core Values
By: Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
Most veterinary businesses, regardless of size, are started by individuals who have a vision of how they would like the business to operate and some idea of their desired long-term goals. Unfortunately, practice owners don’t always fully develop and define their vision for employees. This lack of planning and communication on the part of the business owner often results in problems with the successful execution of daily operations and achievement of short and long-term goals.
Veterinary practice owners are wise to consider whether they have clearly defined and articulated the vision and mission of their business. Both practice owners and managers are responsible for ensuring the vision and mission is communicated to all employees. Ideally, the leadership team should take the additional step of developing core values for the practice which serve as an important foundation for effective management. When team members all understand the mission, vision and core values of the practice it becomes easier for everyone to stay focused on the same goals.
Developing a vision, mission statement, core values and business strategy are all part of the strategic planning process for any business. The terms vision and mission are often used interchangeably. These statements refer to the purpose and goals of the business. They should define the focus of a business and highlight the most important operational goals.
Mission statements can be one sentence or several paragraphs. The mission statement refers to the daily purpose of the business and typically does not change significantly if at all over time. The mission statement should ideally be stated on all marketing collateral such as brochures, business cards, and newsletters as well as on the practice’s website.
The vision is usually an internally communicated statement that reflects the long-term goals of the business owner. When practices have both a written vision and mission, the vision is a loftier statement that conveys how the practice will look once it has met the long-term goals. It is important to anchor the entire team to the vision of the practice so they “know where their boat is going” and understand their important role in the business’s success. The vision should create a picture for the team of what the practice would look like if all goals were attained. It should also evoke a level of pride and emotion designed to motivate the staff. For example, the vision of “To be the best small animal practice in Central Florida due to our unparalleled service and patient care” is more motivating and powerful than a vision of “We want to offer high quality services and increase growth”. While your practice has specific financial goals-which may be encompassed in the vision-these are not typically motivating for most of the staff.
Core values are words or phrases that define how a business will conduct business. Core values traditionally encompass the values which are most important to owners and they serve to define how all employees of the business will interact with each other, clients and the community. Companies may refer to their core values as “our beliefs”, “our promise”, “our commitments”, or “standards”. Examples of core values for a veterinary practice might include:
WHY CORE VALUES ARE SO IMPORTANT
- Treating all pets with compassion
- Making all clients feel welcome and special
- Communicating value to clients
- Treating co-workers with respect
- Providing high quality patient care
Core values serve as a foundation for effective management for two primary reasons.
First, they define how the veterinary practice will conduct business and clarify the expected behavior for all employees in the workplace. For example, when employees understand that “providing high quality pet care” and a “commitment to client education” are core values of a practice, they know that their actions need to support and enhance these efforts. Core values help to focus the veterinary healthcare team on achieving hospital goals in a manner that is consistent with the vision of the practice owner.
Second, core values serve as a foundation for talking to staff about accountability. When lack of accountability is a problem, managers can point out that the team member’s behavior does not adhere to the core values for the hospital. For example, if tardiness is a problem, managers can remind team members that “respect” is a core value of the practice. When an employee is tardy, they are showing a lack of respect for their co-workers. If “providing exceptional client service” is a core value for the practice then this should be emphasized when discussing lack of accountability with respect to meeting client service standards. Employees are much more receptive to dialogue focused on core values. A discussion about inconsistent job performance no longer sounds like nagging but instead focuses on how adherence to core values is necessary to fulfill the mission and vision of the practice.
HOW TO MANAGE BY CORE VALUES
To effectively manage a veterinary practice by core values takes time and patience. This is particularly true if the leadership team is transitioning to this type of management for the first time. Follow these steps to manage by core values:
- Develop written core values. If your practice does not have written core values, these need to be developed. To be effective, limit the number of core values to the range of 4-8. If you have a long list of values, they start to become less meaningful. Core values can be established with or without input from key staff members. New practice owners will decide on core values without the input from the team. For established practices, ideally they should be developed in a planning session that includes the leadership team, all managers and key employees. This session can be facilitated by the owner, the practice manager, a practice management consultant or experienced facilitator. One of the advantages of staff participation is that employees are more likely to buy-in to future discussions about core values if they were part of the development process.
- Disseminate and discuss core values with staff. Once you have established written core values, distribute them to the entire staff. To avoid having your core values just be words on paper, they need to be discussed with the healthcare team. Owners and managers need to engage the staff in dialogue about what the core values really mean and what specific types of behavior are consistent with the values.
- Use core values as a foundation for human resource management. To manage by core values, incorporate the values into communication between owners, managers and employees when giving feedback on job performance. We call this “bringing the core values to life”.
- Walk the Talk. Core values will never become an integral part of the practice culture if the leadership team doesn’t model the behavior desired from employees or if they don’t uphold the core values. For example, if “respect” is a core value, then it is imperative that managers and owners show respect for employees, clients and pets at all times.
- Discuss core values during new hire training. A discussion of the hospital’s core values should be part of the training program for all newly hire employees. This serves to reinforce the practice culture and keeps new team members focused on how to act to help achieve the practice’s mission and vision.
Amanda L. Donnelly, DVM, MBA
ALD Veterinary Consulting