Veterinary Leadership Survey: Your insights could change lives!

Veterinary mental health and wellbeing is big news and if you are a vet, your insights could help design interventions. Complete this short survey & we’ll enter you in to a prize draw!

Veterinary Leadership Survey

In fact, veterinary mental health and wellbeing is such a hot topic at the moment that there was a full edition of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education dedicated to it recently[1].

In the introduction, Professor Susan Rhind from the University of Edinburgh talks about moving from studying the rain to studying the umbrella. At the VBC we take this to mean moving from focusing on the problem to being solution orientated. We’re really excited to offer you a chance to participate in designing umbrellas, figuratively speaking.

One of our clients is about to launch a personal development project for vets and vet nurses. They’re offering a chance to win a bottle of bubbly in return for completing a short survey[2].

Complete the survey here.

Your insights and comments will be incorporated into the planning of the programme and could help change veterinary mental health for the better. That could literally be a lifesaver for a vet who is struggling.

A test event will run later in 2017. If you’d like to keep up to date on progress, then the survey gives you chance to opt-in for emails too.

In anticipation of your support for this project the VBC and our client would like to thank you in and invite you to keep in touch with the project.

If you’d like to talk to the VBC in advance of the programme, please contact us here.

[1] http://jvme.utpjournals.press/toc/jvme/44/1

[2] Ts & Cs apply- Prize draw is open to UK and Ireland respondents only, but all insights are welcomed from around the world.

How to have an awesome meeting?

It’s a short blog this week because I’ve been consulting for one of my clients and helping facilitate a vet project they have in the pipeline. I’m really excited for them and of course I’d planned my workshop meeting and facilitation well.

However, I didn’t expect quite the level of engagement I got and I thought I’d share why the meeting was so successful.

Plasticine

(A.k.a modeling clay or Mála if you’re from Ireland.)

All of the pictures in this blog are productions of people in the room, whilst fully engaged in a very important strategic workshop. Aren’t they awesome? Who knew that we’d have some many budding Michelangelos in the room?

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It seems counter-intuitive to actively encourage a person’s mind to wander whilst you want them “in the room” for their meeting. Surely you want them focused and on task?

In a creative workshop such as the one I ran this week, we started with a problem and a group of folks to try and solve the problem, or at least to come up with the first iteration of a solution. There’s lots of evidence to show that the average human attention span is in minutes and runs in cycles. In a room of several people the challenge is to let the natural variation in the cycle of attention run, whilst trying to engage the team in a flow experience, which you might recognize as being “in the zone”. When you get in to a flow experience, time passes imperceptibly and people become deeply absorbed in what they’re doing. The quality of work is high and the experience in pleasurable and highly rewarding.

Pleasurable meetings? Really?

There are lots of flow models, but essentially in the creative scenario that we needed, we had to let the mind wander outside of the room, to alleviate the risk of boredom and to stimulate creative thought. Massaging plasticine, building Lego, using a fidget spinner and doodling all fit in this category. It enables your higher unconscious thinking to flow freely, in a mindful way. The skill of the facilitator is to then harvest the creativity and focus the outcomes in a framework for the team.

Here’s a suggestion on how you can do that.

  • Agenda and prework: Have an agenda that people can align with in advance. Set a simple pre-work task to get people in the mood of the meeting in advance, e.g. “bring an example of something that interests you on the topic of the meeting.”
  • Set up the room and have your tools ready. A few quid on plasticine, a bucket of Lego and some high protein snacks will help. Schedule and stick to the breaks or perhaps even schedule a walk as part of the meeting to freshen things up.
  • Frame the meeting objectives: Ask for personal objectives for the meeting or use the prework examples to get people thinking about the subject matter.
  • Let the subject go wide: The facilitator lets the subject run in different directions, whilst keeping the end in mind. They should be asking open questions, coaching the team and helping them drill down on ideas. This is the plasticine section and the longest part of the meeting by the way!

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  • Consider an exercise in the meeting where the team get off their bums and move around. A Post It note ideas boards, a white board or flip chart scribble session helps consolidate ideas and move the team towards consensus. Get them to draw what success looks or feels like.
  • Focus: As the meeting nears completion, start to focus the team on the stated objectives. Build the roadmap or action steps coming out of the meeting and start to build SMART goals that the team can use to keep each other accountable.

Post meeting follow up is always a challenge. A dry set of minutes isn’t anything other than a record of the meeting. Consider what is required. Is it an action list, a project plan or activity tracker? Or is it to evolve thinking? Certain people will go home and continue working on the meeting subject on the train home, in the shower or at the gym as well. Consider how you’re going to capture that energy and thought productively too?

Having a great meeting or workshop is a skill and requires planning and practice. Start small and invest in how you gather people together to do work: It will pay dividends.

For small business coaching, facilitation and mentoring, the VBC can support you. Get in touch and you too could have a team of micro-mascots on your windowsill.

Why having a clearly defined role & accepting it are two very different things

I’m a mid level cycling geek. I love nothing better than being out on a bike, especially a mountain bike and when I’m riding I find it’s often a mindful experience. I don’t get the same kind of flow experiences whilst running or doing other kinds of sport, although skiing gets me pretty close too.

Over the years I’ve read all kinds of books on the sport, whether it’s about Lance Armstrong and the conspiracies around him or more recently about Team Sky and their stellar performance in world cycling over the last few years. Sir Dave Brailsford is well known in the public psyche as one of the architects of this success. As I was thinking about my blog this week, one of his quotes about clarity of role came to mind:

  • Do the guys understand the teams’ strategy and the plan going in to a race?
  • Do they understand their own role in the plan?

The final piece of the obvious jigsaw is Role Acceptance.

Ask Sir Bradley Wiggins about role acceptance as his team mate Chris Froome rode away from him at the summit of La Toussuire in the 2012 Tour de France. Sir Brad’s autobiography makes a cracking read on the subject.

The concept of a strategy, tactics to deliver and people with the responsibility to deliver them is not new. Role acceptance is linked to company culture, but in the context of the average vet clinic it requires us to ask us some challenging questions. I’ve written before on culture and recruiting for culture and this is an extension of that thought process.

Our specific veterinary problem is that the pressure brought on by urgency in managing the clinical cases exacerbates our cultural and people challenges. Urgency usually trumps importance when it comes to task management. Urgent can take over by accident, but one way to help manage it is to ensure the important stuff is well thought out before urgency takes over. That means taking time to work on culture, strategy, tactical delivery of tasks and ensuring all team members know their role in the plan. Team members should be held accountable for that role too.

So here is the call to action. Answer the questions yourself first. If you can, that’s brilliant. If not, you’ve got some thinking and planning to do.

  • Does your clinic have a clearly expressed strategy?
  • Does your clinic have a plan for delivering on that strategy?
  • Do you know your role in the delivery of the plan?

And critically: Do you accept your role in the delivery of the plan?

I’ve come across many situations in clinic and business over the years where the strategy is clear, the plan is sound and people have the tasks clearly delegated to them. Yet the plan has not been succeeding because role acceptance has been an issue.

If you or your team haven’t accepted your roles, for whatever reason, then trouble lies ahead. It can be a real challenge to manage a person who hasn’t accepted their role in the plan. Usually it stems from having a divergent vision or belief about why they do what they do. Most people can explain what they do really well. Few can explain why as succinctly.

If your team doesn’t share the same vision and the same “why” of why you do what you do, then it’s unlikely they’re going to pull in the same direction and become a high performing team.

There’s a famous phrase, “Get the right people on the bus first and worry about them being in the right seats later”. Have you got the right people on your bus? Are you on the right bus? Don’t get caught up managing the seats on the bus if someone’s on the wrong bus. You’ll never make them happy and it might be time for a grown up conversation with them. It’s scary to approach this kind of conversation but usually both parties benefit, even if there’s a parting of the ways. Get the wrong people off the bus.

Engaging your team in building a shared vision, strategy and tactical delivery can reap dividends. Ensuring everyone knows their role and has accepted it is the final piece to get right.

The VBC can run a facilitated workshop for your clinic and coach you through it personally. We can help you work out job descriptions, roles, and responsibilities and help you roll them out. We’re not legal experts but we can also help you work through some of those difficult conversations you might need to have.

Drop us a line to set up a confidential chat, we’d love to hear from you!

The three behaviours holding back veterinary leadership

I’ve just spent the last couple of days recovering from and reflecting on BSAVA Congress 2017. Like many others, I have an unbroken run of 15 years or more attendance, although until recently I’ve been on the exhibitor side of the fence. Even as a pure delegate, Congress continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

The delights are the quality of the event, the people and the opportunities that it presents, whether for networking, learning or business. Having a sunny couple of days also really helps charge the batteries after periods spent in lecture halls. However, it markedly impacts the exhibition’s performance and I know people who will have been hoping for rain to drive the crowds indoors at the BarclayCard Arena.

The frustrations from me this year fall in to two areas. Firstly, the distributed nature of ICC, Arena and linking walkways give all kinds of logistics issues. Yes, it gets the blood going round after two hours seated but it challenges my timeliness. Secondly, I find myself frustrated by us as vets. Let me explain because it’s a question of language.

At a rough count, of the 350 or so lectures at congress, about 10% were on non clinical subjects, with a nice proportion of those addressing personal development and leadership topics. That’s great to see and the improvement in the number and quality of non-clinical topics continues. However, having sat through a number of these sessions, despite excellent content, it doesn’t seem to be widely sinking in that leadership is a personal thing, delivered by the individual, on behalf of organisations.

There are three key behaviours that we, as a profession, need to work on.

  1. Use the language of leadership. There is no place for mickey taking, sarcastic witticisms, lack of respect and anything less than carefully chosen language. If you need help, let me know because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life working on it and it’s not easy to get right.
  2. Behave as leaders. This is a choice. We choose the perspective that we take and we can choose to stop moaning, take a positive outlook or a broader view and accept that we are masters of our own destiny. Yes, some of the things that are happening right now are contentious, but they’re happening nonetheless and whilst it’s great to be passionate, we must channel our passion into a positive approach these issues. The next generation of vets and the pet owning public are watching.
  3. Move to a solution oriented position. The problems of the profession are well elucidated and there is a plethora of published materials on it. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, the Vet Futures Report, the Mind Matters Initiative, the VetLife statistics about the number of vets seeking help or the RCVS Strategic plan all demonstrate the problems. But we’re in a tailspin. We’re sitting with our heads bowed arguing about who has it worst. It might be because we use a “problem oriented learning” approach to clinical cases, but we’ve got to move on.

We need to look up and see that veterinary leaders are now starting to move forward and that a vision of the future profession is being painted. We’re being invited in to the future. We all need to talk like leaders, act like leaders and bring solutions, not problems to the table. Don’t you want to be part of the solution rather than one of the problems?

Let me give some of examples: –

  • I have chosen to use Doctor as a title. I have had friends, both PhD and not PhD question this. Its been done in private and also in front of an audience. One example is, “I’m a real Doctor because I earned my PhD”. I respect and understand this, however why don’t you respect and understand my right to use the title? If we can’t offer each other the mutual respect and courtesy, how can we expect to get along? It’s just not acceptable. My old American DVM boss always called me Dr Pratt out of respect, long before I was able to use the title. Imagine the sea change in public and professional perception we could drive with that level of respect.
  • The Vet Futures report has a list of 24 jobs that need doing. Each has a draft plan, but there’s no roadmap or sense of urgency. We need to prioritise the jobs, communicate the plans and hold people accountable. Not in a punitive way, but through leadership. I think at least 4 of the jobs represent mandates for action and are commercial opportunities for entrepreneurial vets. Facebook use the phrase, “Better done than perfect”. Our instinctive perfectionism holds us back, but perfection is an asymptote, meaning it’s unobtainable, so let’s just get going.
  • I heard the phrase “fear of the RCVS” used in several contexts, several times and it’s clear that a population of vets live in fear of the RCVS or of a mistake costing them their career. What’s driving this fear? It can’t help that the RCVS has a Disciplinary Committee rather than a Fitness to Practice Committee or that Communication in Practice seminars delivered by well meaning organsitions have jokey references to how not to get sued. We need to carefully choose our language, because we can’t know the impact on people were trying to reach. Read the RCVS strategic plan, because it might just change your perspective. You should have had an email from them yesterday.

We are a bunch of passionate, caring, professionals who do an incredibly skilled job, often under suboptimal conditions. We owe it to ourselves, the next generation and to the public and animals that we serve, to walk and talk like the leaders we aspire to be.

If you’re an entrepreneurial vet service provider that would like to sit down and explore Vet Futures with a view to writing a business plan, then get in touch, we’ve got lots of ideas.

If you’re a vet who finds themselves wanting help getting out of a tailspin, personally or on a clinic level, then the VBC can help. Get in touch via our contact page.

How culture turns you into THE employer of choice

Recruiting for Culture: becoming the employer of choice is the second blog of two. Company Culture was the first blog, which is here if you haven’t read it.

The premise for this blog is a friend asking, “What do you do if you can’t recruit for culture and you’re desperate to fill a vacancy”?

I’m going to break this into two halves,

  1. Why you should never recruit when you’re desperate.
  2. Using culture to become an employer of choice.

Opportunity cost

That’s the answer to number 1. An opportunity cost when faced with two mutually exclusive decisions is defined as the value given up when making one decision instead of another. The cost of making a bad employment decision is traded off with the cost of having a vacancy.

I’m going to be honest, I’ve recruited when desperate and I’ve paid. I’m going to lay out the cost of my vacancy and the cost of the poor recruiting decision so you can understand how I paid.

Cost of vacancy

  • Sales revenue lost directly
  • Failing customer relationships
  • Personal impact of trying to manage my own job and do the “essential” bits of the vacant role too.
  • Impact on the performance of my own role and pressure from my manager.

Cost of poor employment decision

  • Revenue lost directly due to poor performance of the employee
  • Failing customer relationship, including the loss of credibility for putting this employee in front of them.
  • Cost, time, effort and stress of performance managing the employee
  • Cost of exit strategy for the employee

The two are almost the same on paper, but believe me; the personal cost of performance management in time, stress and wellbeing, far exceeds the cost of a vacancy.

So how do you get it right? How do you become the employer of choice? Well, that’s part 2.

Culture, culture and a rock solid, proven recruitment plan.

If you have a great company culture, your team, clients and friends will have been extolling its virtues already. It happens organically and word of mouth is still the most powerful business tool in the box. It’s just we do it digitally these days. Internal culture with your team is now exactly equal to external culture with your consumers, or at least it should be, because of the transparency and immediacy brought about by social media. Double that impact because we exist in a small profession where everyone knows everyone and you’re only 2 steps away from some who know how good or bad your business is.

Get your culture right and you won’t just have clients, you’ll have advocates. Get it wrong and everyone will know. So consider this:

  • What do your EMS students say about you? Well, back at vet school that could be at least 150 people who know you and you’ve never even met.
  • What do your trainee nurses says about you when they’re at college? Ok, there are another 50 people who know you.
  • What do your clients say about you and how you look after their pets or animals? That’s thousands of people!

You’re looking for Love at First Sight. You’re crafting Loyalty. That’s what your culture should do for you and that culture will travel further than you think. If you have a great culture, you become an employer of choice and people will know about it. The right people will want to be part of your culture and therefore your business.

So how does your culture help you become the employer of choice?

People with shared values gravitate towards you

Having a common platform of beliefs and values to work together with is rocket fuel for your business.

Your jobs become aspirational

People really want to work for or with your business! The news will travel fast and people will be looking for the opportunity to contact you. Many will spontaneously contact you in advance. Nurture these contacts; they will bear fruit in the future.

Your culture will spill out into everything you do

Culture and your mission become the flavours of your business, but you’ll have to work really hard to select for a good cultural fit. Passion and enthusiasm for your mission is a prerequisite for any prospective employee, but ensuring your next employee has the right cultural fit becomes just as important. Skills can be trained, but changing beliefs, attitudes and values is very difficult. That puts increased emphasis on a solid recruiting process.

Have a think about your business. Are you an employer of choice? Can you describe your culture and, if so, would your team agree with you? We can help you organize your thoughts and design a roadmap to cultural success, so drop us a line.

For another blog

Recruiting is a massive topic so we will revisit it in another blog. There are many steps to creating a solid, proven recruiting plan, but it essentially boils down to three elements

  1. Precisely plan your recruiting, from person specification and job description, right through to the end of your on-boarding process and probationary period.
  2. Have a multistage, objective interview process.
  3. Prepare and implement a stellar on-boarding process. Hiring only finishes when the new employee is at full performance.

The people you employ have to be as passionate about their mission as you are and they have to be the right cultural fit.