The GeniusVets Show with Dr. Michele Drake - Strong Culture = Strong Recruitment

The GeniusVets Show With Dr. Michele Drake - Strong Culture = Strong Recruitment

Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of the GeniusVets Show for veterinary practice owners and industry pros. I'm your host, David Hall, co-founder of GeniusVets. And today it is my distinct honor and pleasure to bring my co-founding partner, Dr. Michelle Drake, to bring some wisdom to you about how building a strong culture within your practice lends itself to a myriad of benefits. Including strong recruiting, and just a lot more value dropping to the bottom line.

Dr. Drake, is the Founder of the Drake Center for Veterinary Care in Encinitas, California, widely known as one of the top-performing independent veterinary practices in the country for many, many years. And today she's going to be sharing some wisdom that she has proven out in her own practice and has been widely recognized and celebrated for. So without any further ado, Dr. Drake, thanks for joining us today.


Hi everybody. It's Dr. Michelle Drake of the Drake Center in Encinitas, California, and I'm also the Chief Veterinary Officer at GeniusVets, a great digital marketing company.

Strong Culture = Strong Recruitment

I'm here to speak with to you about how a strong culture connects with a strong recruitment because I think pretty much every veterinarian in the world is suffering somewhat from some level of having recruitment issues. And I'm going to hopefully help to connect these things together to make your recruitment stronger.

How It Started

Just a little bit about myself to get started, this is a picture of me when I was seven with my two Schnauzers, Herman and Banjo, aggressively snuggling them. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and like many of you, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, both for undergraduate and graduate school.

As soon as I graduated, I packed my car up and my dog, and I drove out to Los Angeles where I practiced for a couple of years as an associate before, at age 27, buying my own practice in a little town called Encinitas, which is San Diego area. I'd never lived there before, but a couple of years after being an associate, I felt like I really had a strong opinion about how I wanted medicine and surgery to be their very best and how I wanted customer service also to be the very best.

I also wanted an atmosphere of work with my team that was very strong and healthy and that we really worked as a team. So I had passionate feelings about all these things and that's what promoted me, or pushed me, on to buy my first veterinary hospital at age 27. And three months into ownership, I had three employees. I inherited three employees. I had a receptionist, a veterinary assistant, and an RVT and a part-time girl. And three months into ownership, I fired the only RVT I had because she wasn't nice to the other employees.

At the end of that day, and it was a really hard thing to do because I'm 27 and I've just started ownership of a practice, a big deal in so many ways, moved to a new town, didn't know anyone, and one of the younger employees came up to me at the end of that day after I fired the RVT and she said, "Ding dong, the witch is dead."

So they had all been suffering under having this RVT to work with who really was not a very pleasant person. And they could see right away, "There was the new sheriff in town," is what they said. And that I was going to make sure that we had a team that worked together to attain the goals that I wanted for us to attain together.

How It’s Going

How's it going? Well, this is flash forward just a little bit. I did buy an additional veterinary hospital a few years later, about five years later actually. And this was a freestanding building that was another veterinary hospital, and I merged my little hospital into this one. This is a picture of... Let's see, there's nine doctors here. So this was the first year into Covid, we hired two doctors and this is now us at our Christmas party this year. I have two Christmas parties every year. One just for the doctors, there's 11 doctors now.

As you can see, everyone's smiling because as my husband noticed during that party he goes, "You guys laughed nonstop for three hours." And that's because we all truly do care for each other. I call it, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Stethoscope. A bunch of very strong doctors who work together as a team to care for our patients and work together as a team with our staff as well. So this didn't happen accidentally. A lot of work goes into making this happen, but it does make everything you do so much easier if you have a strong culture. So I'm going to really poke at you guys today to do your best to have a strong culture.

So in addition to hiring four doctors and about 20 staff during Covid, because my hospital grew 35%. During that time, we also opened up another facility right next door to the freestanding building that I owned. Built out another 2000 square feet and added six more exam rooms because obviously, with adding four more doctors, we needed a lot more space. And it's a beautiful space right next door.

We operate both facilities just as one facility. So all the employees and everything commingle quite a bit with the two spaces. But it's great to have an additional space and six more exam rooms because we only had four before.

A little bit more about me. Here's some of my favorite things in the whole world. My two sons, Christopher and Matthew, we do a lot of adventure travel together. And Bentley, my Labrador and Wilbur, who are all super important family members.

Strong Culture is a Business Fundamental

I think that we've been hearing about culture forever, but what I'm hoping to impress upon those views, especially if you've been out running your own practice for a long time, is that a strong culture is not just Kumbaya. It's not just about everyone being sweet with each other during the day. It's also a super strong and important business commodity to have as well.

Connecting Culture to Recruitment

Having a strong culture makes recruitment super easy. I have not had to advertise for any veterinarian I've ever had. I did have an add-in for a short time about six months in the middle of Covid because it was during the wintertime and all of a sudden I had one of my doctors that had to move to San Francisco to help care for her elderly parents and her husband got a job up there as well. So I did have to start recruiting sooner than I normally would because I really don't lose my doctors once they start working for us, unless they move away.

Other than that, we've never ever even had put an ad out. And the reason is because of the four doctors I hired this time around, one of them came because a local specialist recommended her to our practices, being one they thought was a really great practice. One of them was a veterinary worker in another practice. She was unhappy and she just reached out to us and it was a time when we needed, we did not recruit for her, she came and asked us. And then two of the other doctors that we hired were actually recruited by current employees. So our employees themselves actually reach out of their way to bring their friends that they know would fit well in the practice and be strong teammates for our practice. It's just reflects on our culture that my own employees will actually help find new doctors. So having a great culture really does lend itself to great recruitment as well.

What Are Your Challenges With Recruitment?

I think everyone's had tons of challenges. Any growth we've had... During Covid, everyone grew. So whether you grew 10%, 20 or like us 35, and I'm sure there were somebody that probably grew even more than that. The necessity to constantly hire and train has been tough for everyone.

It Has Been a Rough Couple Of Years

So it's been a rough couple of years. Covid was a massive challenge for me personally for just all the high volume that we had accepting the challenge of taking every patient that we needed to see. We never had more than a 24 wait to get into our hospital.

So of course we grew tremendously because we felt like these patients needed to be seen and no one was seeing them, including the emergency hospital. So we decided that we wanted to take on that challenge and take care of all the patients that needed to be seen. And what that required was that we hired doctors that were already capable of stepping in and then we had to train up quickly of staff. So yeah, sure, there was definitely some bumpy rough times during that period.

I think we did a great job of managing. And again, if you have a strong culture going into tough times, it's really easy to lean on your whole team. I've bought my practice for 30 years, during that time I've been through a couple of challenging times. If those of you that are on this, were owning your practice in 2008, you remember that was a really tough scary time as well.

Anytime I have experienced a tough time in the industry, or the economy, or whatever it is, I always just look at, "Let's reassess what we're doing. Let's reassess who our consumer is and what is it that they want? What are they looking for and how can we continue to improve our services and our care to best meet the needs of the consumer? Obviously and always increasing patient care as well at the same time."

So I've bought my practice for 30 years, during that time I've been through a couple of challenging times. If those of you that are on this, were owning your practice in 2008, you remember that was a really tough scary time as well. Anytime I have experienced a tough time in the industry, or the economy, or whatever it is, I always just look at "Let's reassess what we're doing. Let's reassess who our consumer is and what is it that they want? What are they looking for and how can we continue to improve our services and our care to best meet the needs of the consumer? Obviously and always increasing patient care as well at the same time."

What We Want to Accomplish

What I want to accomplish today is I want to discuss the current challenges in recruitment and hiring? How we're going to combat those, what you can do in your practice? A clear understanding of what a strong culture looks like in a veterinary practice. And why a strong culture is important and how culture drives recruitment and retention. I've already given you a few clues to that, but we'll add some more in there. And then I'm going to give you a few tips on how to actually start building a strong culture.

Key Issue for Recruitment / Retention Today

This is just a list that I came up with or what are some of the challenges that we have right now with recruiting and retention? Wage inflation, smaller labor pool, job hopping, staff exhaustion, burnout, and then increased demand. And I'm going to kind of go through most of these and discuss them a little bit.

Wage Inflation

So wage inflation. Why is wage inflation happening? I think there's multiple factors, but to me the most obvious one is that there's a shortage of labor. When there's a shortage of labor, people start asking for more money and it's during a stressful time as well, so if you had an RVT whose feeling like they're super overworked in all these emergency facilities and just in any practice they're going to ask for more money. Also, just so many other, I think, we had so much pressure from so many other organizations, big corporations, Amazon, FedEx. I don't care which what organization you want to mention, they're all having to raise their wages in order to keep the employees that they needed to continue running their businesses as well.

That lent to the pressure of us at... So even in California, our current minimum wage I think is 16 something, and the average beginning wage around here is $20 for just about almost anything. So obviously that's going to create some wage inflation for us.

So how does this affect the practice? Well, it requires us to be more financially disciplined. So I use numbers every month, I always have to run my practice. The two biggest things I always pay attention is my payroll number, and my drugs and supplies, or the COGs, cost of goods. You cannot continually raise your wages for your employees without raising prices as well. It's not possible. And I do think that this is one of those times that clients understand everything else they're paying for has gone up. And so you should feel very comfortable with raising your prices to meet the needs of the wage inflation and obviously the cost of goods that you're experiencing as well.

Job Hopping

Job hopping. I do think Covid was especially tough on the very old and the young. People in their teens and early twenties, I think that Covid created a sense of anxiety. Just a year and a half of being lost, of acquiring skills in just the real world of being in school or having beginning jobs. And I also think that it was such a chaotic time in veterinary medicine that a lot of people had a lack of direction, didn't feel stable. And I just think it also created in the young 20 something, I feel like there's just a job hopping experience that I'm seeing with some of the 20 something year olds.

So how does that affect our practice is that we're having to constantly train more and more people. Combination of growth and probably increase in job turnover due to job hopping. So what this forces us to really focus on is the employees that we have, how are we going to keep them?

Because I'd like to think that we're hiring for good reasons and good people. But how are we going to take these employees and hang on to them, the ones we want? So you don't want to find out six months into a training situation of someone who you think is maybe a young 20-year-old and they seem very capable and they like veterinary medicine and they have good communication skills and you think you're been going well and all of a sudden they're turning around and they're giving you their two-week notice.

I think one of the ways to help avoid that is staying way more engaged with our employees than we have in the past. And we're already so busy. So it's like how are we going to do that? Well, what we do at my practice is that we have a leadership team and we have a team two, which is level two of our team. We ask everyone to select members of our entire team and we have stay interviews where we just check in with them. We have a series of five questions that we use with everybody for sure, but it's really just a time to spend 10 or 15 minutes just checking in with this employee and see where they at. Are they happy with what's going on? Are they feeling any frustrations with their job? Are they having any difficulty? Are they having any trouble with maybe another employee in the building?

Something that we maybe can't see that they could tell us about? So just checking in with them and then just making sure that they're on the trajectory of learning more skills. And really creating that sense of belonging into a place that they'd like to be.

Burnout and Exhaustion

Burnout and exhaustion is something I think is thrown about so much in veterinary medicine. And I do think that we do have to be aware of this, but I think it's way more than just long hours. I think it's that for one, I don't think veterinarians and veterinary employees are very good at creating boundaries. So just some ideas of what are good boundaries. There's personal boundaries, there's relationship boundaries, there's work boundaries, there's all different boundaries. So it's a pretty big topic, but I think when you think about things like the person who is having relationship trouble and I try to teach my employees that no matter what's going on in your outside life when you come into the hospital, try to leave that at the door so that you can come in and my goal is to create an environment that's a nice teamwork to be part of.

We have a mission-driven business, which is a great place to be. We do wonderful things in our building every day. We're helping pets, we're helping people. And so if we can get behind that and try to leave some of the static of the world on the outside the door, and that includes all the constant bombardment from the media about the world being such a terrible thing.

During Covid all the fearmongering that was going on, there's need to be cautious and be aware and be educated, but the amount of fear that was created, I think, during that time was completely unhealthy for everyone. And so teaching people to create boundaries so that they can make good choices and then leave that static outside.

How does this affect the practice? Obviously, it can create more turnover, it can affect the quality of care. People are not just putting their head into their job and allowing, "Oh my gosh, these things happen." I think of something like a receptionist that has a bad exchange with a client on the phone and does she just deal with it and move on or does she go around and tell 10 other employees that day about this terrible exchange?

Now, she didn't take the time to go around and tell them about the 10 other exchanges she had with very nice clients who were appreciative and thoughtful about the experience that they had with us. She just wanted to go around and tell everyone about the terrible experience that she had. And that's a really unhealthy thing that goes on, I think a lot in veterinary practices. Or so-and-so shows up 10 minutes late and this person has to tell everyone else in the practice about it. And that's just so unhealthy for everyone as well. Does this serve us or you in any way? If it doesn't, then that's a boundary that we don't want to be crossing.

What can we do as owners and managers of our practice?

We can focus on the mission of our hospital. So again, I have a very specific mission at the Drake Center. It's to provide the best medicine and surgery in a compassionate environment and unsurpassed customer service for our clients. And every single decision I've made for the past 30 years, it goes to support that.

I explain that to my team as soon as they're hired. And we do bring this up pretty often at our staff meetings so that everyone is very well aware of what the mission of our business is. And also just again, talk to people about setting boundaries. And the same thing when they leave at the end of the day, I want them to leave their veterinary medicine worries at the door, hopefully communicate with the next team member that may be taking over case, but otherwise when they leave that door, they should be able to leave the practice concerns and the practice and go home and enjoy their life.

This picture just makes me think, I know this is Pig-Pen, and all the static that's surrounding him just makes me think of all the bad news and negative media that becomes static around people. And there's so much of that in the world right now and I just try to make our practice be a way to get away from that for a while. And I've mentioned in many talks that I've given that veterinary employees are never going to make a lot of money. But I do think that what we as managers and owners of practices, I think it's our responsibility to provide them with the best environment we possibly can to be really healthy and a place where they can learn and thrive and do well and grow from the experience in our hospital.

I think that's upon us to create that and it is very possible. Those are the things that we have control of. What we don't have control of is all the nonsense that goes on outside the world, but what we do control and we can't control even some mean clients, but we can't control our responses to it.

Here we have Linus, instead of Pig-Pen, and he's enjoying his patient and there's no static around him. And I guess that's Charlie Brown standing by with a nice smile. So leave your personal problems outside the door when you come in and leave your work problems at the hospital when you go home.

Increase Demand

We've also just had a tremendous increase in demand of our services. Our industry grew at a minimum of 20% and there just simply aren't more doctors and techs just waiting in the corner. So to me, the only way we can manage the increase in demand is to hire for culture. And I'll talk to you about how we did that at my hospital and then we train people. And if your team all knows that they're responsible partially for training, we have some people that really like it and are great at it, but everyone has to participate in some way in order to make sure that these people are brought up as quickly as possible.

We have different levels of technician skills that are required so we can get these people engaged in doing things pretty quickly in our hospital. Within two weeks we want them to have at least a set of 10 items that they can do well and feel comfortable and safe at it so they feel engaged in their job and appreciated by their teammates because now they're taking off the burden from the rest of the team.

Again, this increasing demand can push the boundaries of what we can manage as a group. If your culture and your team is strong, it's unlimited what you can do. And a lot of this depends on the leadership's mindset of what they feel like they can do and what they want to do. But really the increase in demand, I think there's very few industries that would look so negatively at it.

I think veterinary medicine did where everyone complained about how much we were seeing and I was very appreciative that I had an opportunity to take care of so many pets during that time. And it did grow our practice a ton.

What can we do as owners and managers of our practice?

What can we do? We're constantly hiring and training. So maybe before we used to just put out the hiring ad out in Indeed or whatever we use when it comes to veterinary assistants and CRSs and now we're doing a lot more of that all the time because we know there is some constant turnover, especially when you get to a certain size.

I have 11 doctors and about 50 something employees. And just this year alone we have four awesome veterinary assistants or veterinary, not RVTs, but unlicensed technicians that are headed to veterinary school that have been with us for a couple of years and we're super proud of them. They've been awesome employees, now they're headed off to veterinary school and we are going to have to replace them over the next six months.

Those are just things that are constantly going on in our practice. We do hire a lot of college kids that are thinking about medical school or veterinary school. A lot of them have gone on to nursing school and they're not with us for a long time, but they're great employees while they are with us. And we encourage them obviously to pursue their goals and while they're with us, we're going to train them.

We can't cure all these issues, these crazy issues with recruitment and retainment. But by creating a great culture we can greatly diminish all these effects. It's the one thing that I think helps with all issues because when you have a strong culture, you have a strong team and this team, they will help you. There's nothing you can't do when everyone leans into this. So again, just creating that really helps your team just lean into whatever it is you're trying to accomplish.

This is just one of my philosophies in life is that, "Happiness and peace in life is 5% what happens, and 95% how I respond to it." And that to me is so much about reactivity of when there's things that are explosive and/or negative that are going on, how we respond to it and not turning that from something that is, again, outside of what we can control, but we can control how we respond to it and just receiving it, taking care of it, and then moving on.

Whether it's a bad review or a client that has unreasonable demands, we manage it, we take care of it, we may make some decisions about how we're going to do things going forward, but we're not going to just go on and on about it and share it with 10 people and make it a bigger deal because again, how does that serve us? So that's a skill I try to work on with everybody in my team and I think it's an important one for everyone enjoying their work life as well.

Have a Strong Mission, Values and Culture

I'm going to encourage everyone to consider having a strong mission, core values also and culture. So strong culture equals strong business. My practice has also financially has been a very successful practice for thirty years. And the thing I'm most proud of though is the fact that I've created a place where people actually like to work.

Culture Goals

We're going to talk about the culture goals we're going to have for today. And we're going to talk about what does culture actually mean, let's understand the value of it. And then what I'm really going to have you guys think about whether it's now or down the road, and I will suggest to you that when you decide, "Hey, I don't really like our culture that much." We start realizing what it is that's going on in our business, that it starts with yourself. Whether you're the manager or the owner, hopefully the two of you together look at each other.

"Actually, we've got some issues." And it's so important to get outside of the practice to have these conversations and this thought. So put some thought into it yourself and then meet with your key leadership of your practice. So manager, maybe a head tech, assuming that these people are not the ones that really have emotional IQ issues that will make it difficult for them to be leading this charge of having a strong culture. But talk about what it is you guys see right now. Talk about what is your vision for what you think your culture would like to be. If you don't have that vision in your mind of how you see things and how you would like for them to be, it's going to be really hard to get there. And then you're going to take the steps towards building that strong culture. And I'm going to help you with that a little bit today.

What Makes a Healthy Organization

What makes a healthy organization is having a strong mission that everyone knows. It's having core values that are defined and that you live them daily in the practice. So at the Drake Center, I already told you my mission statement, we also have three core values and those are things we aspire to every day. So for us it's compassionate partnership, it's a pursuit of excellence, those are two of them that we have that we aspire to these things every single day, and steadfast care and service. So no matter what's going on in the world or no matter how crazy it gets during the day, that we will calmly manage your situation individually and take care of you by the end, we can promise that we will do our very best to make sure your pet got the best care.

Finally, a strong culture that everyone knows to and agrees to. So the last one is the one that I feel like the entire team needs to buy into. And we are going to make sure that you guys have access to the video that Merck Pharmaceutical helped me produce. That's an exercise that you can go through, I suggest going through with your leadership team first and then with your entire practice. Because you want your whole team to participate in deciding what your culture is.

For my practice, we have four items on our culture. It's kindness, respect, teamwork, and fun. So those are the four things that my team came up with that they want to consider our culture.

What is culture

What is culture actually? It's the way the team interacts with each other as well as with your clients and your patients. That's what culture is. So I always say it's the way that you play in your sandbox. So here we have a picture of a sandbox of two little girls that are very calmly enjoying, they're playing next to each other, playing with each other, but they have smiles on their faces and they're peaceful and they're just getting their work done and enjoying themselves.

Contrast that to this sandbox where you've got two little girls who are not having a good time. One is aggressively trying to take a toy and the other one is super mad and who knows? Maybe she stole the toy first, I don't know what exactly happened, but there is no cooperation, of course, it may be related to an age difference there, I don't know. But these two are not happy. This is not a good sandbox.

When you think about the veterinary practice, what are some things that are the sandbox like this? To me, if you walk in the pharmacy and there's two technicians at the end of the hall and they're talking to each other and as soon as you walk into that area, they quit talking to each other because they're probably talking about you or something they don't want to share with you, that feels bad, that's not a good feeling in your culture.

Or you have a receptionist that really just got a call from a client, needs to get some information on a pet, but the pet is under the care of a technician that she doesn't get along with. Now she's trying to figure out how she can go around this person to get this information and just creates dysfunction, discord, unhappy feelings and not an effective business plan or a good financial strategy either.

Examples in practice

Examples of what culture looks like in our practice is how we answer the phone. So I always tell my team, "No matter what's going on, the person on the other side of the phone does not know what's going on, so please put a smile on your face and do your best to answer the phone in a most positive and warm and welcoming way you can, even if you have to put them on hold or plan to call them back." So always working on making people feel warm when they call our hospital.

How we interact with our clients is super important. Obviously, always with kindness and respect, for sure. How we interact with each other and that's the same kindness and respect. I do really think that manners are very important and I think they've gone by the wayside in a lot of our culture. But I ask my team to do their best with greeting each other in the morning, "Good morning" and using addressing everyone by their first name. If you have time you ask them how they're doing or connect with them in some way or another. And if you have a massive staff that's not possible. But then make sure you at least say hello to people and connect with your team when you get there in the morning. That's good manners and you may not always feel like doing it, but it's important.

Those are one of those things where good manners are all about making others feel comfortable, but it makes the team stronger if you can display those things. Saying "Please" and "Thank you" throughout the day when you're interacting with each other as well.

How we deal with stressful situations is a great example of cultures. I like to use the example of if receptionist says she had a flat tire, she's going to be an hour late and you have three surgery drop-offs in the front room and you have a disnat cat in one of your exam rooms. And how we're going to manage that situation because you may have to have one technician go up and be the receptionist for a while and you have a doctor with a kennel team member or another technician jumping in to help out. Because we're obviously going to take care of that cat first, but we need to somehow communicate with the people up front that, "Hey, they're super important. We're going to get to them."

How we manage that situation, maybe call on someone else to come in earlier if they can. And are we working together as a team and just realize and trust that everyone's doing their best and we're trying to communicate and do deal with the situation the best way possible? To get those surgery drop-offs taken in, but obviously deal with the cat. And then at the end of the day, are we high-fiving each other and giving each other a smile? I'm like, "Wow, that was quite a day today and we worked as a team. We did a great job." When we're high-fiving on the way out or we're rolling our eyes and stomping on the way out and then spending 30 minutes when we get home telling our spouse about how much we hated our day today.

Those things really depend upon how strong culture is and how everyone understands the expectations of behavior in the hospital every day.

How we train and how we hire employees, how we deal with how mistakes that are made? In our practice I want to know what happens. So I'm going to go to the person that maybe scheduled that appointment or dealt with that client and I want to know everything that I possibly can so that we can walk through it when we have time and see what we did and did we make a mistake or did that client have unrealistic expectations?

What needs to happen next and what did we learn from it so we can maybe not let that happen again or whatever the case may be. So there's never any berating of employees ever, ever, ever. I always assume that if an employee doesn't know how to do something or isn't doing something well, either I didn't hire properly or I didn't train them.

If you point the finger at yourself, it's so much easier to deal with many of these issues as opposed to constantly throwing up your hands and saying, "Oh, the front staff..." Or "Oh, those kennel people..." Or "Oh whatever..." I just assume that you actually can do something about it, which is train them better or reassess who you've hired and make sure they're in the right seats.

What Good Culture Feels Like

What a good culture feels like. I think we've all been into businesses, we've walked into businesses where we can immediately tell there's a lot of stress going on in there and people are unhappy and not really enjoy working with each other. And you walk into that say restaurant and you got a hostess and she hardly looks at you in the eye and you do not feel like you're welcome or that this is going to be a good experience right off the bat.

Now the rest of the employees are going to have to work really hard to make sure you have a good experience so that you don't go home and Yelp them and give them one star at the end of the day. So we all know what it feels like to go into that kind of a business versus coming into a business where you can automatically tell that the team works together and that there's just a calm feeling of competency and of people taking care of each other and they're going to take good care of you.

One of the most important things about having to go culture is that people are happy to come to work. And I think number two, especially, is that the team knows what behavior to expect from each other. So what's really tough is that you have an employee, let's say, has a little bit of a headache and so-and-so works up front or there's a doctor on that day that just constantly is mean to the employees or the technicians.

You get a little bit of a headache, what are you going to do? You're like, "Ah, just not going in. I cannot deal with those two people today." In a good culture and in a strong culture, the behavior expectations are pretty clear. We expect you to come in, do your job and leave your other stuff at home. If you have a headache and you feel really crummy, you still came in any way, it's okay to tell us that and we're going to do our best to make sure you're feeling good. Maybe leave you out of the tough work for a while, let you see if you can get over that headache or not.

If you really are not feeling well, figure out a way we can get you home and thank you for showing up and at least help out and get the morning started. And if everyone sees that that's how we treat people like that and that's what our expectations are, then everybody knows that's how everyone will be dealt with.

The expectation is clear of how you behave in our hospital. Everyone feels secure in their jobs and with their peers so they don't have to worry about people whispering about them and going around them and doing things weird because so-and-so's working today or whatever. People enjoy engaging in their work. There's way less time wasted on dysfunction. That's what I just find in so many veterinary hospitals. There's lots of dysfunction.

It quite often starts at the top and that's why it's always so easy just to point the finger at ourself and see how we play a role in modeling good behavior to begin with. Maybe we haven't been and maybe we can change that. And I think everyone in our lives will be happy if we do, so with hiring also, it's super easy because we know who's a good fit in our practice.

I think let's just really another key take home is that either you guys decide what your culture is or someone else will decide it for you. So you cannot choose to not have a culture. It's happening in your practice no matter what. And quite often what happens if you haven't put the effort into tell everyone what it is and get everyone to buy in or not tell them. But if everyone's buy in on, "How do we want to play in our sandbox?" Then what happens is there's a bunch of subcultures in the hospital.

Sometimes they're nice subcultures, but quite often they're not. They're a group of individuals who maybe has some poor life skills or some dysfunctional behaviors and everyone else has to work around them, or they're just not nice to work with. And you will have a nice employee that shows up, hangs out with you for three to six months and is like, "I just don't want to do this anymore." And they leave.

Whether you choose your culture or someone else decides it for you, I would encourage you to choose your culture and make sure it's well understood and to have everyone know what the expectations are and to live by that every day.

What are the benefits?

What are the benefits? This is just some information from outside agencies. This is from Glassdoor, a study of 600,000 employees. The number one most important workplace factor in workplace satisfaction is how well they fit the values and the mission and the culture of the company. So not money, so not some huge recruitment bonus, but what's the most important is that they like where they work and they feel like they fit in.

One thing I will say is you can quite often hire someone that you may think is on the border of what your culture is. And I always try to watch these employees especially close and I say either they're going to let their walls of vulnerability come down a little bit and see that this is actually a good place and they're going to join our culture, or they're going to keep riding that fence and maybe stay outside. And that person, I'll try to coach them, but if they don't come to join us, then they have to leave the practice.

Companies with a strong company culture have a way lower turnover rate 13.9 compared with 48.4. We all know how hard it is to find good employees, to train them, especially, is tough. Training I think is one of the toughest things we all deal with on a regular basis. So here's numbers and how much does it cost you to hire an employee to train them? Yeah, I don't know what the numbers are, but I know they're pretty high per employee for every time you have to go through a transition. And much less sick days so employees are much more likely to show up if they have just a little headache or something because they know their other teammates are relying on them and they respect their other teammates and they want to make sure that the mission stays secure and strong in our hospital. So they're going to have fewer sick days.

This is huge. Having two employees out in a small business that are sick, that really are not sick but probably could come to work is so tough on the business. So having a strong culture will alleviate a lot of this.

Culture Makes a Great Team

So this is my team just before Christmas, this the whole... We have a Christmas party with the whole staff every year as well. And actually everyone does like each other and has a lot of fun together. So it just really makes it a great place to work.

A healthy organization is good medicine

It's also good medicine. I think the communication that goes along with the strong culture allows itself to much better stronger medicine when there's no nonsense that we have to deal with, especially if we have one doctor who's just not nice. I recently coached a big practice that had a couple doctors, they call them, "The Mean Doctors" or "The Mean Girls." And I went out and I did a exercise with the whole team and they said that one of them has come along exceptionally well. Another one has not come along so well. So they're trying to decide whether or not it's worth it to let that one go at this point.

But you really can't have doctors especially that are having their own little set of rules and their own little set of way of practicing, and their own little way of managing staff and treating people. Everyone does need to have the good basic culture fit that works for your practice.

A healthy organization is good business

It's also good business too, as I've mentioned before.

Recrutement Fundamentals

Some of the recruitment fundamentals we use at our practice, I'm going to suggest to you is having your culture and your brand right before you spend serious money on ads and recruiters. Your digital presence is huge. And David Hall, one of my partners has a great webinar on this as well, that compliments tremendously what you're doing in practice to help you get out into the world so that people can see who you are, what you're about? And hopefully come join your practice too if you're looking for them.

What I Look For

What I look for in our employees is a good culture fit. We want them to be good humans, good communicators in that they really are excited to work in a veterinary hospital and we have such a great place to work. I think there are still maybe not a million employees out there looking, but we still... and we're in a tough area because although San Diego's beautiful, San Diego's now considered one of the most expensive places to live. So wage inflation's really tough for us and our employees cannot live anywhere near our practice. So they really have to want to come work at the Drake Center in order to drive long ways to get to us. And compliments to us on that.

Regardless, we want employees that are excited to work in a veterinary hospital and they have a desire to learn. So these are the things that we look for and then we train for the rest of it.

Steps to Improve Recruitment

Steps to improve your recruitment. Obviously work on strengthening your practice culture. Decide who you are and who you want to be, write it down through your leadership team and then watch the video that we're going to offer to you guys so you guys can get some other ways of either using my video for your whole staff meeting or just somebody work on their own presentation skills. And you guys can do this exercise without the video yourself and it's basically white boarding with your team how to create, what kind of culture do we want to have and that video goes into it quite a bit.

Managing your stronger culture, retaining, improving your team and your workplace environment. These do require that the leadership team works together constantly to find areas that they need to strengthen, employees that are going to need some coaching. Also using your website and social media to communicate your improved culture that will attract better people. Just be authentic who you are and what you're about and put that out into your digital presence. And then continue to educate yourself. I read the Wall Street Journal every day. I read a fair amount of management books that I'm going to share with you that I recommend as well. And I'm constantly learning and teaching myself, and I've been doing this a long time.

Here's the video we're going to share with you guys. That's the link that you can use to get the video. And if you have any problems with this link for any reason, then just reach out to us at GeniusVets.

My Approach and My Sources

Where does this all come from? So lots of things. Again, I've been reading the Wall Street forever, but in addition, I'm constantly reading other things. The Traction book is the method that we use to manage issues and opportunities in our practice. My leadership team, we work with this constantly. This is how we do our monthly meetings.

We also, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is great on strengthening that team and communication skills. Emotional intelligence, I think is important for everyone in a leadership role. And Servant Leadership, is also another great book that I think is awesome. But there's tons of books out there. Find one that really speaks to you and just keep reading. And that's what I have for today. So hopefully it was helpful. I have lots more on these topics and feel free to reach out if there's anything particularly you'd be interested in and I'd be happy to share the knowledge that I have.

Wow, that was just fantastic, Michelle. I know that everybody in the audience just got so much value out of hearing exactly how and why you have not only built the systems and processes that you have, but why they've been so successful for you over the years. So on behalf of everybody, thanks so much for sharing.

You're welcome, David. I hope a little bit of wisdom sinks in and if you guys have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Awesome. So hey, we're going to be putting up a replay to today's presentation and also remember that if you are a veterinary practice owner or manager, you already, right now, have a full page profile live on It's true. Have you seen it? One way to find it is if you actually type in the name of your veterinary practice into Google, type in the name of your practice, plus the city and state, and you're likely to see your GeniusVets profile pop up right there on page one of Google. Click on it, you can claim it for free. It's 100% free.

Just one of the many things that we do to put our best foot forward and show that we are really trying to lift up the veterinary profession, lift up independent veterinary practice owners and make sure that all roads point to veterinarians when people go looking for pet care information online.

Go claim your profile right now. Once you claim that it's going to give you access to a bunch of other really valuable tools as well, such as our job board, our HR toolkit. Dr. Drake has an incredible Practice Culture workshop that she talked about in today's presentation. We're going to get you that too and a whole lot more.

So go to or just go to Google, type in the name your practice, plus the city and state, and you're likely to see that thing pop right up at the top. So that's it for today's episode. Please join us again next week and every week. We just have a long line of incredible industry leaders that are lined up. We're going to be bringing you fantastic interviews every week. And for GeniusVets, I'm David Hall. Thanks so much. See you next time.


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