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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

Your Workplace Culture is a Cat

Kitters, aka the "Golden Child"

We can best manage only what we measure. What we measure becomes important.

My cat, Kitters, is quite the incredible little creature.

This morning she exhibited the classic kind of cat behavior that just leaves me smirking while I slowly shake my head.

The alarm went off and she instantly leapt into action. And by action, I mean the barely audible meows indicative of a feline who clearly has not been fed for days – perhaps weeks. Of course, there were still kibbles in her dish but we all know those expired mere minutes after being placed there the night before.

I fed her half a can of wet food which she promptly gobbled up.

And then puked up next to the fish tank (which is much better than that time she puked it up INTO the fish tank!).

Then she ate it again. Gross.

A bit later she was right as rain, looking to steal the sausage breakfast scramble off my and my wife’s plate.

Classic cat.

Another classic cat behavior is the way they persevere through illness. That is, until they can’t. Every veterinary professional knows the path cats take as they cope with being unwell.

Compensate. Compensate. Compensate…….CRASH.

Cats look and behave “normal” for a long time while something inside them begins to fail. The changes, if any, are subtle and we don’t (can’t?) notice them. Eventually, they can’t hide it any longer, their health crashes, and they end up at the vet.

A refrain I’ve heard – even said – thousands of times in my twenty years in veterinary medicine sounds like this:

If only they had done annual bloodwork.”

Why? Because cats are experts at hiding ailments. If we rely only on what they show us we’ll miss opportunities to manage, even elevate, their health. Measuring their organ function with bloodwork helps us catch problems early when medical interventions can be most effective (and potentially far more inexpensive).

Your workplace culture is a cat.

For a variety of reasons, teams – even high functioning teams – tend to compensate for and cope with cultural ailments.

How safe they feel speaking up or asking for help. The struggle they are having with a doctor or fellow tech. Whether they feel appreciated or valued enough. How close to burnout – or something worse – they might be creeping. If the work is fulfilling or meaningful. The great idea they have – or the concern about the new policy.

These are all things they are likely to “just push through”.

As leaders, if we rely on our “gut” feeling alone to inform us about the health of the team’s culture (e.g., what we can see, hear, and feel about our team’s behavior) we will miss opportunity after opportunity until the culture crashes.

That’s when the curative interventions become much more difficult, less effective, and potentially expensive by way of lost productivity and turnover.

“But I have an open door policy,” you say, “my team can come to me anytime!”

That’s great! You should have such a policy. But here’s the brutal truth.

They aren’t coming to you.

There is a constant stream of human experience at work you simply aren’t privy to. For one, you’re not experiencing everything first hand. You can’t be everywhere, all the time.

Secondly, at various times, every one of us withhold some feelings, concerns, worries, issues, and problems from the people closest to us in our personal lives. Why, when we are in a leadership position at work, do we think this normal human tendency will just shut off and our team will tell us everything?

It doesn’t. And they don’t.

So what’s a veterinary leader to do?

Don’t wait for the cat to crash. Do the preventive bloodwork.

It’s time you start regularly measuring your team’s cultural experience.

At Flourish Veterinary Consulting we encourage all our clients to do this. To help, we offer a variety of evidence-based measurement tools to read the “cultural bloodwork” of their teams and offer our expert analysis of the findings.

And it works.

A CEO at a large veterinary organization partnered with us to get cultural bloodwork on his full leadership team. As a result he discovered some things pertaining to his leadership that he had no idea they were thinking and feeling. He evolved his approach with them and it changed things for the better.

A 5-doctor small animal hospital partnered with us on a year-long journey to help them cultivate a workplace culture that supports employee well-being. We kicked things off by measuring an extensive cultural bloodwork.

One of the findings surprised hospital leadership – the team did not feel safe expressing their perspective and, as a result, were withholding a lot. At the time, the employee promoter score, a measure of overall employee satisfaction, was a 12 on a scale of -100 to +100. That’s the high end of average for veterinary practices. So, not bad, but not “great”.

Together, we all got to work on improving these cultural indicators. Six months later we ran a “re-check bloodwork” and found double-digit percentage improvements in the team’s comfort in expressing their perspective. The employee promoter score also improved, by 55 points, to a +67. That’s one of the highest scores we’ve ever seen.

In a job market where veterinarian unemployment is less than 1% this hospital has hired two new doctors.

The culture at our hospitals makes a huge difference in the business’, and the human beings who make it up, ability to thrive.

So why don’t we all regularly measure it?

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