The Value of Leading with Values & Purpose During the Covid-19 Lockdown



Last week was a milestone of sorts for my veterinary practice. We are a three-location equine veterinary practice in the Toronto, Ontario area. Each location has its own manager and my role is that of the overall leader for the practices. I help set the vision and strategy of the company along with my two partners. What made last week so unique is that it was the first time I had seen anyone at any of our practices face to face in ten weeks. During that time, I’ve been working from home practicing social distancing. Restrictions are slowly being lifted in Ontario so I thought I could venture out to see how everyone is doing.

As I met some of my team members for the first time in months I asked myself what is it about our practice that has allowed me to be away for 10 weeks, along with our operations manager who handles the day to day management of the company who has been at home for 8 weeks, and the manager for one of the clinics that had been home for a month when this all started, yet amidst the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic our practices have been working phenomenally well. So much so that we began joking that I really wasn’t needed after all. I could have been hurt by these jokes, but I was actually very pleased because when a crisis like CV-19 hits and our business still runs well without direct managerial oversite we must be doing something right.

A measure of any organizations managerial and leadership strength is how they respond in times of crisis. I’ve been thinking a lot since last week of what is it that we have done that has allowed us to slide into this new reality with minimal bumps and bruises. I think it comes down to that we have built a company based upon values and purpose and that we trust the people we work with. Let me explains how this works.

At McKee-Pownall Equine Services we have 4 Values:

  1. Take Ownership – “Own It”

  2. Evolve – “Push It”

  3. Deliver Excellence – “Elevate it”

  4. Collaborate – “Share it”

and a Core Purpose: We give horse people peace of mind with their horse health care by helping them make informed decisions. Whether it is dentistry, vaccines, a lameness exam, or a euthanasia, we want our clients to feel that they have made the best decision they could with their circumstances.

We use our values and purpose as the foundations for how we hire people, how we compensate them and to guide us on any decision we take in the practice, big or small. We want to work with people that share our values. You can’t make someone change their values to accommodate a job so better to choose people that share your values. When we interview people, we make sure that many of our questions are related to our values in action. We only hire people that demonstrate that have or would act in a way that is aligned with our values.

Similarly, you want people that are inspired and motivated by your company’s purpose. If our goal was to make as much money as possible there would be very few employees that would rush out of bed to go to work. When we ask people to give people peace of mind about the health of their pet that is more inspiring. People can rally about that. We begin every meeting discussing our purpose. When we have client complaints, we discuss them in the context of how we didn’t fulfill our purpose.

Finally, 50% of our 360-degree annual staff evaluation is based upon how people demonstrate our values. We then use their review score to help us determine their raises. The higher the score the higher the raise and you can only get a high score if you demonstrate our values consistently. Nothing shows your staff that values are important than basing their compensation on how well they live them. They aren’t just words on a poster on a wall. They are essential to our everyday discussions.

Living our values and purpose is key, but if we didn’t have a culture of mutual trust, we wouldn’t have had the success over the past few months. I see too many vet practice leaders and managers who micro-manage. They think that if they don’t oversee every part of what others do that it won’t get done right. They don’t have any sort of employee training system and they freak out when someone makes a mistake. Over time a culture is created that is afraid to make a decision on their own and looks to their manager for guidance before d