Dr Jenny Guyat

Guest blog from Dr Jenny Guyat BVetMed MRCVS, a former ECC vet, an ICF-accredited professional coach, founder of Vet Harmony, and Trainer and Culture Lead at VetLed. 

Hands up if you’ve ever wanted to create a change at work but felt daunted by how to go about it and doubtful whether it could be done?

Whether that’s arguing the case for everyone getting a lunchbreak, implementing a new patient checklist procedure learned at a CPD event or getting your practice to work out their core values.

The veterinary profession is currently navigating through a turbulent and rapidly changing landscape. From post-pandemic and Brexit effects to the difficult economic climate, changing pet ownership, recruitment challenges, technological/digital innovations and an increasing need to improve flexible working and sustainability. 

We need to adapt to this landscape and fast. 

In addition, the profession still experiences high levels of mental health problems1 and burnout, with one report stating 37 per cent of respondents were thinking of leaving the veterinary profession2.

And yet since I graduated from the Royal Veterinary College over 20 years ago, significant work has been done and evidence-based knowledge gathered by amazing individuals and organisations supporting the veterinary profession on what we could be doing differently and better around these areas. 

But if we know what our challenges are, and we know what some of the solutions could be… why does change frequently still seem so hard?


“Richard, you’ve driven past the house!”

I remember hearing my mother utter these words as I sat in the back of our old Renault 5 as my father drove us home from the rugby club after a few beers over Saturday lunch. 

It was 1979 and people knew that drink-driving impacted safety.   Anti-drink drive laws had been in place since 1966 and yet there were still 31,000 deaths or serious injuries per year occurring due to drink driving3.  Roll the clock forwards to 2020 and that number had dropped to 6500 per year.

The knowledge of the negative effects was not enough alone, what actually shifted people’s behaviour was a change in the cultural norms of society.  By 2020 it was no longer socially acceptable to fall out of the pub after a few pints and put the keys in the ignition of your car.

So, what does this mean for our cultural norms in veterinary practice?  What are the things we experience at work that we just accept as “part of the job” today which we know and have the data and evidence to prove that they really aren’t ok?  

Taking the example of lunchbreaks in practice, there are practices where it simply isn’t possible and nobody takes them.  Conversely there are practices where everyone DOES get a lunchbreak 90% of the time and it’s considered the norm. 

What is the differentiator between these two outcomes if it’s not the knowledge-base as we know a quick break and a bite of lunch will help us feel and work better and more safely?

The culture of the practice.

Culture within the veterinary profession, and how to effect positive, sustainable culture change is the secret weapon that’s going to successfully navigate us into the future. 

What exactly IS culture and whose responsibility is it to change it?

Culture is the web of beliefs, values and behaviours of people within an organisation that connects all the other endeavours and outcomes required. 

It’s “the way we do things around here”. 

It’s defined and measured by the sum total of the behaviours of the team, what people do or don’t do.  And yet these behaviours are not the whole picture, nor is culture change as simple as saying to people, “You must behave in a certain way.”  Sitting in behind these behaviours are the values, systems and leadership within that team.  These are the critical elements that contribute to create the overall culture.

example of web of beliefs to help culture change in veterinary practice

When the team’s behaviours are aligned with very clear values, with systems and processes in place that support these and leadership behaviours to match, you have the ability to generate a specific culture.

Sounds great in theory, right?  But where on earth do you start, as this has the capacity to feel overwhelming at the start, especially if everyone is already in fire-fighting mode and you’re not sure what needs changing for this process to happen or who’s responsible. 

So, is it the team’s job or management’s job to change culture?

There can be a perception that culture is top-down, that it’s something that is done to people by leaders.  In reality, it’s what happens in the team as they interact together that affects culture.

In his 2022 book Change: How to Make Big Things Happen4, Damon Centola’s research suggests that if you can get 25 per cent of the team on board to adopt a new idea, this tipping point can then bring about considerable change. 

As a leader or manager in a team, you have more influence in driving cultural change for sure.  However even the most junior Animal Care Assistant has the power to influence cultural change by working towards that 25 per cent tipping point. 

How to implement cultural change in your workplace

1.Take stock and work out what needs to change.  What are the niggles at work? Or if it’s an idea you’ve generated from a CPD event, how does it currently work or not work at your practice?  These answers will be unique to each team and workplace.  Exploring areas for change could come from talking to people, safety culture surveys, observation days or audits to get an idea of the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of the team. 

2. If you have an idea or process you’d like to implement, find your allies within the team.  Don’t try and shift the most resistant person first, aim to gather your 25 per cent most likely to adopt the idea

3. If you’re going to have ten minutes at the team meeting to share your ideas for change, gather your evidence first.  This may mean printing information off the practice management system, laminating something, downloading a report etc.

4. Suggest starting small with a pilot trial of the initiative in one area or branch of the practice then gather data on the results and impact before rolling it out elsewhere

5. If the team have had any psychometric profiling done, think about how different members of the team or leaders might need the information presented to them, or ask them!  “Would you prefer to have a chat or me send you an email?”

6. Make sure you include thought-leaders or managers if you are not in a management role yourself

7. Don’t feel alone!  Find or build your allies both within the practice and outside it as well, joining forums or regular groups that meet to discuss the topics you’re wanting to change

8. Seek external support from expert organisations outside your workplace who understand change and culture management.  They can help diagnose what could be positively changed and assist you in developing a practical roadmap to guide your team.

Overcoming barriers to change

If you have a great idea but are too busy to action it yourself, could you delegate it to others within the team to research or create the idea or process?

If your practice is multi-site then forming cross-functional smaller teams with an ally in each site who can represent that site’s perspective can work well.

If you meet obstruction to your proposed change, don’t give up!

Not everyone will be on board and that’s fine.  You’re aiming to engage enough people to reach that 25 per cent tipping point where it’s likely the new idea will take hold in the practice.

If someone objects, get curious as to their (sometimes valid) reasons, then take time to gather the data they may not be aware of in order to potentially shift their point of view.

Lasting cultural change is not a quick fix; it’s often complex and multi-layered and requires the combined effort of many within the team.  But as Huw Griffiths the outgoing BEVA president highlighted in his opening address at BEVA Congress in 2022, the veterinary industry needs to “make the work fit the workforce and not the workforce fit the work”.5

The better fit we can create between the work and the workforce in the veterinary profession, the more we can create the cultural shifts needed.  You have the power to be a catalyst for this change, no matter what your position in your workplace is.

So, don’t sit back and just hope things get better, be proactive.  Take messy imperfect action i.e. don’t wait to act until you think you have a perfect plan or know exactly what to do as this may never happen… and go for it! 


Dr Jenny Guyat BVetMed MRCVS is a former ECC vet, an ICF-accredited professional coach, founder of Vet Harmony, and Trainer and Culture Lead at VetLed. 

 After 7 years in clinical practice, Jenny began her diversification journey.   She helped establish Pet Blood Bank UK before project managing the opening of 17 new Vets Now clinics in her role as Business Development Manager.  After a year as Head of Customer Development at Vets Now, she joined Vet Dynamics and spent 4 years coaching and mentoring independent practice owners before setting up Vet Harmony in 2017.  

In April 2023 Jenny joined the VetLed team.  Vetled provide knowledge, training and consultancy in both Human Factors and Performance Science to veterinary teams and practices to develop skills, systems and a culture that helps individuals and teams reliably deliver their clinical and/or technical skills.  Find out more at www.vetled.co.uk

References:

  1. Mairesse L. Mental health in the veterinary profession – solutions to a crisis. Vet Times Volume 53, Issue 8, Page 12, March 06 2023 https://www.vettimes.co.uk/article/mental-health-in-the-veterinary-profession-solutions-to-a-crisis/
  2. Begeny C et al (2018). Motivation, satisfaction, and retention: understanding the importance of vets’ day-to-day work experiences. Click to access motivation-satisfaction-and-retention-bva-workforce-report-nov-2018-1.pdf
  3. Reported drink-drive collisions and casualties in Great Britain (n.d.) https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/reported-drinking-and-driving-ras51#reported-drink-and-drive-excel-data-tables
  4. Centola.D. (2022). Change: How to Make Big Things Happen. John Murray (Publishers)
  5. Webb A (2022) “Look to the future” urges outgoing BEVA president. https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/look-to-the-future-urges-outgoing-beva-president/

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