Culture Challenge: Drop Your Stick and Carrot

Culture Challenge: Drop Your Stick and Carrot

Age old question; How do I encourage my staff to do what the veterinary practice needs, follow the policy manual they all signed off on, not call out twice a month or just show up for work on time? Dangling rewards for good behavior and the proverbial slap on the wrist for stepping out of bounds is what I grew up on. As a result, that was how I led when first called upon to do so.

It. Never. Felt. Right.

The veterinary industry is complex. Working relationships are forged among team members with stark contrast in levels of education, wages paid, and experience in a professional medical environment. The stick and carrot needed to motivate a veterinarian may be very different than what might be needed to motivate a technician. It was exhausting trying to figure out how to discourage "bad behavior" or choose the right variety of carrot to dangle for each team member to drive performance.

I found the chore of writing policy manuals that discussed consequences of 1st tardy, 2nd tardy, 3rd tardy and how many minutes actually qualified you as tardy a painful experience. I wanted to call out so I didn't have to think about it!!

Frankly I just despised the way thinking about petty consequences made me feel. The punitive nature of this management style rarely changed an employee's core thinking. At best, the stick created forced or fake behavior or compliance, and despite the punishment or consequences the employee would often continue the behavior. I found myself soul searching and thinking, is this the kind of employee the practice, my team, the clients, and the pets need? I knew the answer was "absolutely not!", so I started to look at staff behavior differently and read about alternative methods of leading people.

I started down the path of "some other way" when I first saw Rick Griggs speak at an AAHA conference. He discussed our humanity, our responsibility to each other and that relationship in and out of the workplace. It really resonated ...in fact to this day his "Triumph in Teams" is always with me so I can discuss his concepts with veterinary team members. But ... my "a-ha" moment came when I was introduced to the concept of principled behavior and team self-governance by a company named LRN; I have never looked back.

Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN wrote a book called "How. Why How We Do Anything Means Everything". His global company is built around the idea that principled businesses are the most profitable and sustainable.

"The results we want today can’t be achieved by pulling the same old performance levers—tempting with carrots and threatening with sticks. These are classic examples of shifting: using the promise of reward or punishment, applied against policies and expectations, to exert influence over others’ behaviors."

~ Dov Seidman

I decided then and there I would no longer drive behavior on a punishment/reward basis. I may use reward to celebrate behavior and achievements, but my expectations for employee performance would be based on principled behavior, not "the rules".

Research shows companies that out-behave the competition are more successful financially and more gratifying environments for employees to work in. That's what I really wanted. I wanted each and every staff member to wake up and want to come to work! That person would naturally call out less, be late less, and translate that enthusiasm to clients.

In this new world we can create policy manuals that talk about behaviors like being tardy as a breach of practice culture and the code of conduct, not just an act that will result in a write-up and eventual termination. I like the concept that the practice simply does not believe in being late. Being late means you don't adhere to our code of conduct. Breaking the code is terms for separation, not how many times you are late.

Guess what? Your very best staff will love this concept too. They won't be affected at all by this culture shift because they already are your desired culture.

Now, we all know there are very good reasons for staff being late and all situations are heard and discussed. However, in my world there is no stick to drive staff to be on time other than knowing it is the right thing to do which really isn't a stick at all. If my staff can't honor a start time, what else won't they honor? What other values do they deem unimportant?

Those are the kinds of questions I started asking myself as a leader. I started hiring for qualities related to practice values, not just a skill set. I didn't know it then, but I was using Behavioral Interviewing, another concept I have come to admire. I used staff meetings to discuss the merits of "doing the right thing" and holding each other accountable as a team.

All staff members must have high expectations of accepted behavior from each other, not just from an owner or manager.

I have learned to give team members freedom to make decisions based on a "culture of yes". They are allowed to act when necessary based on practice values and our desire to say yes to clients and each other as often as we can. This training and culture means client issues and internal conflict are more often solved almost instantly, and without escalation to a manager or owner.

Your practice dynamic can change dramatically when guided by principles rather than rules. Your behaviors (should and shouldn't) rather than your rules (can and can't) can govern your practice to new operational heights. This is a cherished concept I learned from LRN. You'll watch under-performers fall away as your high performers outshine them and train them.

Endeavor to create a practice environment that makes it uncomfortable for call outs and laziness not because the owner or manager writes offenders up, but because the offender's colleagues will not tolerate it. I promise, your practice will shine as your stars light up and lead the way to performance greatness.

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