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If you have recently become a veterinary practice owner and recognise the importance of workplace culture, I guarantee that you will be interested in how to make your practice a ‘psychologically safe’ environment. Alternatively, you may be a well-established clinical director but have noticed issues stemming from the culture of your practice. ‘Psychological safety’ is not just another pop-psychology buzzword, but a key driver of workplace happiness with direct links to the bottom line of your veterinary practice. You may be wondering, ‘that’s all great, but what exactly is psychological safety and how do I create psychological safety in my veterinary practice?’. Read on for the answers…

The Veterinary Career Success Show · Freewheelin’ Ep 70: Is there a link between culture and the bottom line?

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is basically a culture of openness. It is a workplace culture where individuals feel empowered to speak, share their errors and thoughts. VetX has previously written on the importance of harnessing the moment, that is thinking in the present and speaking up in the moment. Well, if a veterinary practice is not psychologically safe, your staff will not feel empowered to speak in the moment, rather will let the moment pass by unnoticed. 

Consider this: you briefly train a veterinary nurse how to take blood tests, so you can spend more time making diagnoses or performing dental procedures. However, the nurse/technician is new and quickly forgets how to perform the blood draw. Instead of asking you to walk through the procedure again, it becomes a charade of guesswork and anxiety. They would rather potentially perform the blood test incorrectly than ask for your help. No wonder! The last time they asked you to clarify something you snapped back at them, making them feel incompetent and ignorant.

This impatient behaviour creates circumstances where mistakes happen, and staff begin to feel drained and anxious. If you can create a more psychologically safe, open culture, your staff will be willing to share their concerns and mistakes so that things can be put right. Undeniably, this will have an effect on your bottom line.

Blame Culture Hurts Team Performance

For example, research by Professor Amy Edmondson comes to mind. She discovered that teams operating in a culture of blame were the ones who made the most mistakes. This was because individuals did not feel empowered to speak up and thus no resolutions could be found collaboratively. Those that produced the least mistakes were the ones operating in an open culture where problems were shared and debated. The team could then collaboratively work to reverse this mistake, or change procedures so similar mistakes could not occur in the future.

Of course, the basics of the business are important. People must do the work required and they must be led. However, by making your workplace psychologically safe you will automatically feed into the financial growth of the business too. Staff attrition will be reduced, morale increased. This is the cycle of successful leadership.

Finance in focus

In sum, a psychologically safe workplace can affect the bottom line of your veterinary practice in the following ways:

People are not terrified to fail, and share their failures so they can be worked on.

It encourages a certain amount of risk taking which can push the business forward.

Your staff will be autonomous thinkers, individually empowered.

Innovation will be embraced: staff can share their ideas, creating innovative new ways of working in order to improve the business.

Ideas can be parsed through the fire of constructive debate – improving good ones or rejecting poor ones.

Commitment improves.

Individuals will take accountability for their actions and ideas.

Staff retention rates will increase as staff cohesion improves.

Of course, a workplace culture starts with leadership style, and, the type of leader you are seems to have more importance now than ever before. The veterinary workforce is an increasingly millennial one, a demographic that generally prefers collaboration instead of hierarchy. Indeed, the leadership technique of ‘command and control’ often promulgated by Boomers and tolerated by Generation X is no longer effective and will only contribute to the current retention crisis in the veterinary profession. Millennials realise the importance of creating a psychologically safe workplace for both the wellbeing of staff and the fruits this can bring to a growing practice. 

Therefore, don’t get left behind as a leader. Consider making your veterinary practice culture more open. If you found this article useful, you will definitely benefit from checking out the VetX Leaders programme, a series of modules and support to make you the best leader you can be.

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