culture

How to Cherish Vulnerability & Honesty in Veterinary Practices

3 min read
FYI: This article is part of the veterinary culture manifesto — a set of guiding principles to create better culture in vet med.
Read & sign the veterinary culture manifesto here.
0%
100%

Less than 50% of veterinary professionals think their practice has a strong sense of belonging and trust.

The foundation of belonging and trust?

Vulnerability and honesty. 

When managers and leaders show up as their authentic selves and are transparent to their staff, they get transparency and vulnerability in return. The same goes for every team member working together in our practices. The behavior must be modeled top-down, and it must radiate throughout our entire practice.

From mistakes to questions and opportunities for coaching — our people must be met with compassion to feel comfortable opening up and flourishing. We must encourage vulnerability,  the ready sharing of knowledge, and unabashed support of one another to build deeply connected and ever-growing teams.

So how can we foster vulnerability and honesty in practices?

3 Steps to Cherishing Vulnerability & Honesty in Veterinary Practices

1. Care personally & challenge directly

“Leaders who lean into the discomfort of vulnerability cultivate environments of trust in which teams connect,” says Josh Vaisman, CEO of Flourish Veterinary Consulting. “Connected teams build the psychological safety that welcomes candor. Candor drives learning, innovation, and resilience.

The above graph comes straight from one of our favorite books, Radical Candor.

In Kim’s own words, it is through radical candor that we can create “bullshit-free zones.”

To truly exemplify radical candor:

  • You care personally for each individual on your team by recognizing and rewarding their accomplishments.
  • You challenge directly by giving clear, honest, and direct feedback.

2. Encourage open & honest feedback

“I’ve found that in difficult situations,” says Kristi Crow, better known as ‘dogtorkristi’ on Instagram, “when I’m honest and open with others, they are able to see where I’m coming from and how they can help.”

“There are times when I don’t have an answer for an owner and I have to tell them, ‘I don’t know the answer at this time, but I’m working to find it for you.’ Or when trying to help understand a case or get more details from an owner, I often share my own stories/experiences to let them know they aren’t alone. I’ve found that being relatable and understanding can go a long way in this profession.

When you are in a position of power, the best thing you can do is lead by example and give your team, clients, and peers open feedback and answers. They will then feel comfortable giving you the same.

3. Recognize & reward publicly

Pump the tires of your team! When a difficult case goes well. When someone completes some CE. When everyone survives a tough week. 

The accomplishment doesn’t need to be exceptional to warrant recognition. Something seemingly small may have been a big deal to the individual. 

What does this look like in practice?

  • Team huddles at the start of the day, thank everyone for their commitment to the day ahead
  • Write shoutouts for each other for awesome work on a public recognition board (whiteboard in the treatment area, corkboard in the lunchroom, etc.)
  • Read shoutouts at staff meetings
  • DVMs surprise their support staff with coffee or lunch
  • Employee of the month/MVP gifts
  • Print and display positive client reviews
  • Catered lunch, a potluck, a day off, or some gift to mark work anniversaries and other life accomplishments

It’s not hard, it just takes intention — to show up every day and choose to care personally for your team.

Want to explore more practical tips?

Check out the section on vulnerability in The Ultimate Guide for Awesome Culture in Veterinary Medicine.

Want to share some of your favorite practical tips?

Collaborate on an article with us! (Email sara@hound.vet for details.)

From the Experts

From Josh Vaisman, CEO @ Flourish Veterinary Consulting:

Workplace culture is, first and foremost, about people coalescing together around a common purpose. The kind of cohesion that fuels the fire of workplace wellbeing, contributes to learning, innovation, and resilience, and drives the kind of outcomes and successes we can be proud of simply doesn't happen if the people can't connect. Trust is the fertilizer of connection.

The science here is clear - trust is built on a foundation of vulnerability. Leaders who lean into the discomfort of vulnerability cultivate environments of trust in which teams connect. Connected teams build the psychological safety that welcomes candor. Candor drives learning, innovation, and resilience. Teams that learn, innovate, evolve, and respond productively to the inevitable challenges of their work simply do better, together. They thrive.

If you want a thriving culture of wellbeing and proud performance, you must learn to cherish vulnerability & honesty.

From Kristi Crow, Veterinarian @ Animal Care Clinic:

"It starts by building trust. Every day this profession presents us with different challenges and we are expected to have all the answers. I’ve found that in difficult situations, when I’m honest and open with others, they are able to see where I’m coming from and how they can help. There are times when I don’t have an answer for an owner and I have to tell them, “ I don’t know the  answer at this time, but I’m working to find it for you”. Or when trying to help understand a case or get more details from an owner, I often share my own stories/experiences to let them know they aren’t alone. I’ve found that being relatable and understanding can go a long way in this profession.

When those around you know what your intentions are & where you’re coming from, they can build a sense of trust and mutual respect. From my time as a veterinarian, I find that when I’m honest and open with my team and clients, it allows more transparency and trust in our relationship. When you lead others and show them that vulnerability and honesty are strengths, it can help build a stronger foundation with the entire team."

From Melissa Stedman, Practice Manager @ Brandywine Valley Veterinary Hospital:

"I always preach putting your relationships with each member of your team FIRST in everything you do. The way team members feel about leadership directly impacts the hospital's culture. No relationship can thrive without cherishing vulnerability and honestly. 

It is so important to always maintain honestly with our team on every level. This includes opening up about the financial health of the practice, salary transparency, future plans, hiring needs, etc. It’s also vital to share in both our struggles and successes. We are human and all mess up sometimes. Being vulnerable in your relationships is not easy, but the benefits are many. You will cultivate team-wide trust and maintain a culture of accountability. A culture full of secrets just leads to team anxiety and turnover. Let's put our team's first vet med!"