Guiding Principles for any Veterinary Practice; Business Lessons From "Letterkenny"
"A Ha" Moments"
I’m a real nerd when it comes to reading business books and articles in search of “a ha” moments that can be used to help our veterinary clients. Usually, I have to wade through the mud of hucksters with their borrowed ideas and theories promising improved productivity, simple solutions to growing a business and hiring the right person as if any of this could ever be easy. Then there are the researchers who quite often have wonderful theories based upon extensive research, but their books are 10 pages of solid information and 200 pages of filler.
And then there is Letterkenny, the brilliant series about the people of the fictional small-town Letterkenny in Ontario, Canada. It is a comedy with some of the cleverest writing I have experienced on TV. It captures the essence of small-town Canada and its global popularity suggests there is a common thread about small-town life globally. What started as a YouTube series has blossomed into a cult favourite show with its own unique language. I was rewatching season 8 the other day in preparation for the new season being released later this month and one of their special phrases resonated. “If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for everything”. Letterkenny delivered my “a ha” moment.
When we meet with clients to talk about staffing problems or their business goals we always ask about their company values and purpose, or their mission. Most state that they have company values, but admit they don’t spend any time thinking about them. It is rare for them to have a purpose, or why they do what they do. The lack of these business core foundations ensures that they don’t have a framework to make decisions or guide their actions. In other words, they don’t have a belief system, so they end up going every which way with their veterinary practice.
Core values are the guiding principles of a business. They are something you have regardless of market demands. In fact, these are something you adhere to even if they lead to a competitive disadvantage. Quality can be a value and there is a cost to that value because you will spend more time with a patient, invest in better medical equipment, and prioritize veterinary and staff training. It begins to add up. When times are tight it is tempting to cut corners to save money but adhering to a true value prevents you from doing that. It is more important to your veterinary practice to adhere to high standards, so if you need to cut costs, quality is not where you look.
Similarly, discovering the purpose of the business is a bedrock of the practice. It is a guiding light that by definition is never achieved. It isn’t a goal or a strategy, rather it’s what is used to help reach that purpose. When we were discovering the purpose of our business, my partner and I started by asking ourselves why we went to veterinary school. What was it that led us to be veterinarians? What we discovered is that both of us hated the way we felt as pet and horse owners when we had experiences with veterinarians that left us confused and apprehensive because we felt like we weren’t getting the whole story. As a result, our business purpose became clear - that we offer pet owners peace of mind in the health care decisions they make with their pets. This is why we do what we do, and veterinary medicine is something that we love that we can use to help create peace of mind.
Having core values and purpose as our foundation helps us make better choices in who we hire, how we compensate staff and what new services we offer. For example, asking questions such as: does this prospective new employee share our values? Can they help us deliver our purpose? Does this new service help us fulfill our purpose?
"If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for everything"
To be fair many practice owners do have their own core values and purpose, but they haven’t taken the extra step to make them living breathing parts of their business. As a result, the owner may know why they are making a certain decision, but the rest of the staff might not always get it. This lack of alignment can be confusing, but more importantly, there isn’t a central guiding light that all staff can use themselves when making decisions or planning for the future. This leads to a lack of follow-through or abandoned initiatives. When we interview staff as part of our Employee Engagement survey, we hear far too often that staff don’t trust leadership and management to follow through. They share too many stories of things started and not finished. In other words, “they don’t believe in something, so they fall for everything”.
None of us have extra time to waste. Having a business with core values and a purpose that is known by all employees is one of the most effective and constructive ways we can make better decisions and plans. These guiding principles minimize the guesswork and the many ‘what ifs” we tend to use that result in bad decisions and so much wasted time.
As they like to say in Letterkenny “Pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er”. Wise words from one of my new business gurus. And don’t get me started on the leadership lessons in Ted Lasso on Apple TV. Brilliant stuff.