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Does your culture make people cry? The impact of allowing the default culture in veterinary and animal care workplaces.

When I accepted my second major leadership role for a significant animal welfare organisation, I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed about making the transition from a slow, frustrating government job to one where I knew all the staff must be so passionate and engaged and proud to work in such a fabulous place.

In my first week, I saw three different people in tears. By my third week, I was yelled at by a colleague until I was in tears. The turnover of staff was above 25%, and people were going on stress leave on a weekly basis. More shocking than all the statistics though, was how people treated each other.

People said out loud that other members of staff enjoyed murdering animals. Long term staff members rated how long they expected new ones to last. When a euthansia decision was made, at least 5 different people tried different mechanisms, leaders, tantrums, threats or even social media blackmail, to have the decision overturned. This included senior leaders in the organisation who, at best enabled these sorts of behaviours by regularly acquiescing to the demands or, fairly commonly, being part of the problem.

I nearly left a few times, seeing that it was NOT what I expected. From the industry, from the organisation, or frankly, even from human beings.

But I didn’t. I decided that if no one had wanted / managed to change this before me, then the next person who took the role was equally unlikely to. If I wanted it different, it was going to have to be me. So that’s what I did.

We built trust, we build processes that supported trust, we built working groups and panels, we stamped out toxic behaviours, called leaders on their leadership gaps, we rewarded the values and behaviours that we wanted in ways that were meaningful to them, not to how it looked on paper. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t quick, and it sure wasn’t pretty. But we did it.

18 months later with a staff turnover of less than 8%, negligible personal leave, leadership succession plans, collaborative decision-making processes and genuine reward and recognition, I was asked to go and achieve the same thing in a sister organisation. Because it wasn’t just the people who changed, the culture that lifted, and the tears that stopped – it was our success as an organisation. The animal outcomes reaped the rewards of our new culture, and adoptions more than doubled in that same period.

And that is how my journey into culture began, over a decade ago as a naive young leader who genuinely thought that caring, passionate people would naturally create a warm, positive culture. But culture doesn’t happen, it is created.

Since then, I’ve transformed the teams of many organisations, large and small. I’ve shown time and time again that the success of an organisation, both financial and impact, is not only related to the culture of the team; it’s 100% dependent on it. And that’s why I don’t offer culture support as a side-project or a component of other business development training. I don’t offer a module in culture as a step on the way to high performance, or a side note in generic leadership training.

I believe, and have the science and experience to prove, that building a good culture IS the roadmap to business success, not just a step on the ladder, a tool to be leveraged.

That’s why I’ve created the Clinic Culture Collective, to share the tools, hurdles, successes and failures that I’ve learned in over a decade of transforming cultures, with other veterinary leaders. Leaders like you who can see that there MUST be a better way than this. That there should be a way to keep our teams positive, resilient and well. That business success and a nice place to work are not mutually exclusive.

If that sounds like you, then be a part of our Collective. Learn from people who have done it, are doing it, believe in it, are know what works (and what doesn’t). Commiserate with others who are in those same trenches, fighting the same good fight, who believe what you believe and have struggled with the same struggles.

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