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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

One Way to Support Extraordinary Veterinary Professionals

“Extraordinary outcomes require extraordinary relationships.”

Several months ago, I began leadership development work with a large veterinary hospital. Open 24 hours a day, with a staff of over 120 people supporting roughly 30 doctors, this is one of the biggest privately owned practices I’ve ever had the honor of working with.

The leadership recognized an opportunity. From the early days of “just a couple docs” and an ultra-close team they had outgrown their culture.

One of the doctor owners, with a kind of vulnerable authenticity that made me want to hug her through the Zoom call, said, “We used to be so close. I used to know everyone so well. Now we’re so big I feel like I hardly know anyone. I miss that connection.”

When they were “small”, building extraordinary connections that fueled extraordinary relationships throughout the team came easy. It was as natural to them as breathing.

This, of course, led to great success. People wanted to work there and brought their best to the worthy, purposeful work they did. Clients felt this and wanted to bring their pets their.

The hospital grew and so did the team.

Eventually, they grew so big the extraordinary connections took a back seat to the workload. Not by fault or intention. Nor by flaw of character.

Sometimes we just fall victim to what feels like overwhelming, unceasing demands.

Then they reached out to Flourish.

Discovery – Connection Still Exists

To plot a path for a journey we must first know where we begin.

With that in mind, we conducted an extensive discovery effort. This included interviews, surveys, and some candid conversations with a variety of folks at the hospital.

We also measured some well-being and job satisfaction metrics.

As a whole, for such a large practice the scores were higher than average. Given the picture the leadership had painted, this was a pleasant surprise. Certainly, there was room for improvement but rather than crossing a chasm, we simply needed to craft a path through a healthy forest.

At Flourish we believe even in darkness, there is always light. Every veterinary professional, every team, every hospital has strengths – areas where they shine. So, our next step was to look for the strengths. And boy did we find one.

In my experience, associate veterinarians often feel lost in the shuffle in large practices. As a result, I tend to see their workplace well-being and satisfaction scores in the lower half.

Not in this practice.

Their associate doctors had scores significantly higher than any other hospital role. In fact, their scores approached what might be called truly excellent.

These were some exceptionally happy, high-functioning veterinarians!

I wanted to understand why. So, I dug deeper. And I found what I was looking for.

The hospital owners, in their words, “take our doctor’s happiness really seriously.” To that end, beyond the fair compensation and medical autonomy, they created an internal mentorship program. Every associate is matched with a mentor. At least once a month they meet, “off the floor but on the clock”, to explore how they can support each other.

You read that right. This is a mutually beneficial mentorship. While the “purpose” is to support the less experienced doctor in succeeding both in the hospital and in their career, they approach the relationship not from a hierarchical perspective, but on even ground.

As a result, they become close colleagues and close friends.

Every owner, every leader, every doctor agrees – the mentorship program is what makes their practice special and explains their high scores on my surveys.

High Quality Mentorship

Much has been written about the value of mentorship. Researcher Belle Rose Ragins believes the typical mentorship helps teams perform well – but to become extraordinary, they need extraordinary relationships.

In a recent paper, she outlines exactly what that is and how to get there.

Here’s the essence of what her research has found – high quality mentor relationships are exactly that, relational. They are not transactional, like the traditional mentorship.

In a relational mentorship:

  1. Both the mentor and the mentee find the relationship to exceed satisfactory. In other words, they would describe it as truly high quality.

  2. The mentor provides career development and psychosocial support, like in a traditional mentor exchange. However, in this case it goes both ways. It is a “two-way street”.

  3. Mutual learning occurs and both mentor and mentee develop close bonds.

As Brene Brown puts it, in a mentor/mentee relationship, “care and connection are irreducible needs [when we lead].” In fact, as she describes in this podcast interview with Adam Grant, in the US Air Force they believe we simply cannot lead (or mentor) people who we do not have genuine affection for.

Back to Connected

Collectively we realized the solution to “getting back to how it once was” at this hospital was already there in the mentorship program they built for their doctors.

But how do you build a program like that for 150 people?

One step at a time.

Together we decided everyone on the team deserved the benefit of a high-quality mentorship relationship.

To help get us started, we’d start small.

Every month, everyone in the hospital would get a brief “check-in” – 5-10 minutes per person, off the floor, undisturbed, and undistracted. We’d build a template for the program and train “checker-inners”.

One of the associates who, having benefited from the mentorship program, was inspired to spread the joy stepped up to champion the efforts. She recruited almost 30 “leaders” to become checker-inners. We led some training and built a program and, as of today, it is in place and making a difference.

All of this during the chaos and overwhelm of a global pandemic and double-digit client visit growth.

What we focus our efforts on is what we become. For this hospital, they are focusing on relationships so they can become a close, high-performing team….so that they can be there, in all the best possible ways, for the clients and patients they serve.

In what small ways can you build closer, more supportive connection in your hospital?

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