New Study Reveals Link Between Specific Leadership Actions and Veterinary Practice Culture

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What leaders say and do matters.

It’s something we’ve all known deep down for years but probably struggled to know what actions matter most. 

Our new landmark leadership study reveals exactly what these actions are, giving conclusive evidence that leadership has a profound and measurable impact on veterinary practice culture. 

This new study has been conducted and published by the research team at VetX International and is titled Leadership Actions and Their Impact on Veterinary Practice Culture.

It shows that practices wishing to cultivate the best culture should focus their efforts on the following four activities: Creating time for leadership and then spending this time creating and communicating a clear vision, dealing with toxic employee behavior, and recruiting good people into their businesses. Each thing being inextricably linked to the others.  

Though perhaps obvious, the study also revealed some shocking data on the number of practices actually doing all, or indeed any of these things well.

Read on to learn more, and be sure to download your copy of the study below. 

Putting Veterinary Practice Leadership Under The Microscope

At VetX International, we think, ruminate, work on and talk about leadership a lot. But one thing we have struggled to do is find any relevant veterinary-specific data on the subject. This is a knowledge gap we feel strongly needs to be filled in order to tackle the current staff crisis engulfing the sector. 

In this study, we set out to identify some of the key contributors to practice culture and gathered data from a survey of nearly 100 practices globally.

Respondents were asked about four leadership factors that are commonly believed to impact workplace culture. These factors related to the leader’s ability to:

1. Implement a vision in practice.

2. Effectively manage their time.

3. Address and resolve inappropriate staff behavior.

4. Recruit clinical talent effectively.

Respondents were then asked to score their practice culture on a sliding scale as to how well it supported their practices’ objectives.  

The results were fascinating and help explain (in part at least) why we have retention and wellbeing issues within the profession. 

Good Leadership Makes for a Good Culture

The study results reveal that all four leadership factors assessed had a strong positive effect on a practices’ culture score, with the largest jump up in culture coming from implementing these factors in combination. 

Leaders who were unable to effectively put a vision in place, manage their time, address and resolve workplace conflict and recruit clinical talent effectively had the lowest cultural scores overall at 5.3/10.

Conversely, veterinary leaders who identified as having strong leadership qualities by responding positively to questions on all factors had the highest average cultural score of any one group of 8.0/10.

On top of this, when looking at factors in isolation, we discovered that a leader’s ability to address and resolve staff conflict had the single biggest impact on culture. Leaders in practice who struggled to address inappropriate or toxic behavior by staff had poorer cultures on average.

This gets even more interesting when we break the results down further to look at an individual’s leadership role in practice. 

Of the practice owners and clinical directors who responded, 73.9% struggled with finding time for work on leadership priorities. 39.1% also struggled with managing toxic behaviors, and 65.2% found attracting and recruiting new talent difficult.  

What This Means For The Future Of Practice Management

1. Tackling Toxicity Should Be At The Top Of Our Priority List

Addressing and resolving inappropriate staff behavior should be the first thing that practice owners or managers address. 

Very few people enjoy this process, but avoiding uncomfortable conversations is highly likely to result in poor work culture. 

This study highlights the need for thorough hiring processes and effective performance management to ensure leaders develop their teams in a way that is supportive of their business objectives.  

Failing to do so is likely to result in a poorer working environment, where there is higher staff turnover, accelerated burnout, and a lower bottom line. 

2. We Need To Re-Evaluate How We Use Our Time

The study shines a light on what we all know to be true- but we are unable to resolve.

Time, or the lack thereof, is the greatest threat to leadership effectiveness.

With a large proportion of veterinary leaders undertaking clinical duties, the time pressures have never been higher. In a profession that is managing a labor crisis during a period when the clinical workload is on the rise for almost everyone, trying to be an effective leader while also trying to cover clinical duties is simply ineffective and potentially damaging.

We now know that leaders who feel they have adequate time to effectively lead their teams perceive their workplace culture to be more supportive of their business objectives. 

All veterinary leaders, therefore, MUST significantly reduce the time spent on clinical duties and instead spend time on leadership. Easy to achieve? Perhaps not, but by no means impossible. 

It’s a matter of re-prioritizing the things that matter most. This stopped being medicine the day you signed up as a leader. Better ways to spend your time, we suggest, are revealed by the data in the study.

3. We Need To Understand and Create A Brilliant Vision For Our Practices

The results strongly point towards the fact that having a vision improves practice culture. And, although not directly measured in this study, we expect that vision also plays a role in all the other factors assessed.

With 44% of veterinary leaders identifying their practices as lacking a clearly defined and documented vision, it is easy to understand where part of the solution to a poor workplace culture lies for many. 

If there is no vision, there can be no foundation upon which intentional culture can be built. As the famous saying goes, ‘When you don’t know where you are going, any direction will do.’ 

Any practice lacking the clarity and certainty of a well-defined vision is begging to suffer from a random culture dominated by personalities and sub-agendas. 

Without a shared vision, staff show up for the job, not the mission. 

4. We Need To Reassess Recruitment 

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

From this study, we understand that practice culture and recruitment are intrinsically linked. What we were not able to demonstrate was whether it is effective recruitment that improves practice culture or a good practice culture that enables it.

It is likely a little of both. Good culture helps to attract better quality people, which further enhances culture. 

This is where practices with great cultures that engage in forward-thinking employer branding can make real strides in the recruitment market- identifying themselves as a cut above their competition and recognizable as the employer of choice for veterinarians and technicians.

Unsaid is the fact that the reverse is also true. Toxic culture has a vicious cycle that hurts the ability to attract talent, further degrading matters as it takes longer to recruit or onboard great team members. 

The Big Picture 

So what does this mean for the profession at large? 

Poor workplace culture is often touted as a contributor to burnout, high turnover, and absenteeism. This study highlights the imperative for good veterinary leadership. 

Strong leadership is no longer a luxury (we would argue it never was), but a necessity for practices looking to attract and retain values-aligned talent within their teams.

The biggest problem for many will be getting the time to work on leadership priorities. But doing so is likely to be the best investment veterinary leaders can make to improve culture. 

Once the time is made, focusing on creating and implementing a vision, addressing toxic behaviors, and working on recruitment processes is where this new time should be spent. 

To read the full report, click here. 

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