Here are five steps to creating a unique workplace culture which stands out from your competitors and attracts the top talent to your practice. By Shane Conroy
Population growth and rising disposable income are expected to drive further growth in Australian pet ownership in the coming years. That’s according to the IRC Skills Forecast 2019-2022, which also points out that higher pet ownership has subsequently increased demand for veterinary services.
However, this increased demand has landed the veterinary services industry on the current national skills shortage list. The IRC forecast reports that: “The supply of suitable candidates has not kept up with the demand for veterinarians, with an average of 0.8 suitable applicants per vacancy having contributed to only 28 per cent of vacancies being filled.”
That leaves a whopping 72 per cent of veterinary job vacancies unfilled. So with job candidates likely free to take their pick of multiple employment options, what can vet practice owners do to stand out from the competition and attract quality candidates through your doors?
Jackie Rahilly, director of Brisbane-based recruitment agency Appoint, believes vet practice owners should begin by looking inwards to the work culture at your clinic.
“Workplace culture is of vital importance to today’s job-seeking candidates and they expect more from their would-be employers,” she says. “Employer organisations that offer a workplace culture that is vibrant, inclusive, progressive and welcoming tend to attract the best talent and also experience dramatically lower attrition rates.”
Those are benefits most practice owners would take in a heartbeat, and Joanne Barnes, director of Jb Corporate Consulting and a former HR manager at the Australia Veterinary Association (AVA), believes they are well within reach for even the smallest practices. “Being small doesn’t mean practices are not able to promote a positive culture,” she says. “It is the leadership of the business that is responsible for promoting a positive workplace, whether the practice is large or small.”
Here are five steps you can take to start building a positive culture in any sized practice.
Step 1: Assess your clinic culture
Barnes says key signs like poor employee retention and low customer satisfaction could alert you to a potential workplace culture issue. “If your employees are reluctant to go above and beyond their normal day-to-day job, complain a lot, and don’t want to get involved in company functions or team bonding activities there may be room for improvement in your culture.”
For larger practices, Rahilly suggests conducting 360-degree performance reviews to identify where your workplace culture could be going awry.
“That means including someone above, below and to the side of the employee you’re reviewing,” she says. “This will reveal a picture that is about more than pure performance. It will help you build an understanding of your team dynamics, and where any workplace negativity may be coming from.”
Step 2: Define your values
At its core, positive workplace culture is about creating the conditions required to get your team working together to achieve shared goals. “That requires a clear vision based on the values you want at the heart of your practice,” says Rahilly.
“Giving people a common purpose will help to create special bonds between the staff,” agrees Barnes. “It’s all about sharing the same values and goals, and you need to ensure all your team members have a very clear understanding of what those are.”
Step 3: Live your culture
Positive workplace culture must come from the top, and that means practice owners must display the values you’ve set in your day-to-day interactions with staff and clients.
“Actions speak louder than words,” says Barnes. “You must demonstrate, acknowledge and collaborate. Facilitate instead of making decisions for the employees, and don’t micro-manage.”
This is a much more effective approach to building positive workplace culture than simply throwing money at the problem in the form of raises and incentives, says Rahilly. “Money has nothing to do with building positive workplace culture. It’s all about respect and integrity—and as the practice owner, you need to set that example.”
Step 4: Commit to team building
The next step is to actively engage in building strong relationships between your team members. But that doesn’t have to involve elaborate events or grand gestures, says Rahilly. “It’s more about establishing appreciation for everyone, which comes when all your people understand everybody else’s roles and the challenges that come with them. It can be as simple as holding a morning staff meeting that provides a space for all your employees to understand each other’s points of view. This is how you drive collaboration across the business, and when the real magic starts to happen.”
Barnes says it’s also important to take opportunities to recognise individual successes. “Staff meetings are great for crediting people who have gone above and beyond. Also, participating in social activities together gives people an opportunity to bond outside of work.”
Step 5: Communicate your culture
Now that your clinic culture is in good shape, you need to effectively communicate it to prospective job candidates. “Your values and culture need to be in all your messaging,” says Rahilly. “The job advertisement should sum up the flavour of who you are as a business. You also want to target it to the type of person you’re looking for. That is, an advertisement for an extroverted customer service assistant should have a different tone to one for a specialised technician.”
“It’s also imperative to promote the right mindset during the interview to engage the right candidate for the practice,” adds Barnes. “Ask targeted questions that align with the values of your practice. Also ask the candidate what he or she thinks a good culture looks like to assess whether they are the right fit for your practice. And remember that employing a range of different personalities is a good way to promote diversity and show that your practice is progressive.”