Personal Culture—It’s Not About Your Yoghurt—Personal Culture/Self-Awareness
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
S. Clement
Carling Animal Hospital, Veterinarian, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Culture is a current buzzword in the veterinary profession. We are bombarded with advice on how to address poor clinic culture. We blame poor culture on toxic employees, intergenerational conflicts, and a host of other causes. There is a key underlying cause which does need to be considered when attempting to remedy a problem with clinic culture, and that is the inconsistent personal culture of leadership.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “culture” as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Key points which result from this definition:

  • Leaders in a practice need know what the practice’s values are
  • Leaders in a practice need to know what the practice’s goals are
  • Leaders in a practice need to know how to implement policies that speak to the values and goals of the practice
  • Leaders in a practice need to share this information with their teams
  • Leaders in practices include owners and managers, but it is important to remember that key members of your team, not just those in management positions, play a critical role in shaping the culture of your practice. Team members in practices will be guided by the personal culture of leaders, and will emulate their behaviour, both good and bad.

Formula for establishing personal Culture

Step One

Define your personal culture.

Consider what is meaningful to you (core values).

Consider whether you have any “lines in the sand”.

Just remember—this should be your ideal personal culture—what you aspire to.

Step Two

Determine how consistent you are at maintaining your ideal personal culture.

Consider a family who has spent their entire holiday savings to go to Disney World so their daughter can meet Cinderella. What happens if Cinderella is having a “bad day”? As an aside, the folks at Disney go to great lengths to ensure that Cinderella never has a bad day.

There’s a reason that they are able to charge the prices that they do (excellent (repeatable) experience, each and every time, with each and every guest).

Be honest with yourself now … do people skirt around you on certain days, you know, when you’re having a “bad day”? Does your team consistently try to emulate your awesome behaviour or do they adopt your bad habits instead?

Step Three

If you are like most people, you need to fix your personal culture before you can start to fix your clinic culture. Leaders need only remember one simple phrase when it comes to personal culture. Be consistent. While we would prefer that you are consistent with your ideal culture, it’s almost better to be consistently grumpy (so people know what to expect!). Unpredictability leads to guessing amongst your team, and an inability to progress with their day to day workflow. Making a decision to change your personal culture will not be noticed at first. For most leaders in practice, you will need to be extremely consistent for 4–6 months before your team will start to trust that you have changed!

The unfortunate thing is that during this period, even a small slip up means that your team may not trust that you have succeeded in changing your behaviour. Once you are consistent with your own behaviour, bringing the other leaders on board is the next step. Leaders in the practice all need to agree on the goals and values, and how to implement them. They also need to behave in a consistent manner. It is at this time that you need to review the Core Values of the practice (and make sure that they align with your personal ones!


Speaker Information
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S. Clement
Carling Animal Hospital
Ottawa, ON, Canada

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