Your mission — should you choose to accept it
When we first opened our doors in 2009, the reputation of the American Vein & Vascular Institute (AVVI) was completely dependent upon word-of-mouth. Our business grew entirely through the use of referrals – not by marketing, social media, or even web searches.
Our clinic schedule was packed – and during the startup years, our team was small enough that we organically shared a vision, values and a mission without those things needing to be written down. If someone’s behavior started to go off track, it was easy to correct the problem because we were in such small quarters – and we shared the common goal of superior patient care paired with patient experience. If there had been anything to criticize about our culture, it was that we let the bad apples hang on too long – believing we could change them (or that they could change) to fit our culture.
In 2012, we went through a major growth spurt that required the hiring of new people in five new locations in two states – and also moving the business management team off-site – and our culture shifted as a result. No longer did we sit next to each other, and we didn’t yet have our relationship-based training program to teach new staff the culture or the expectations with which we began. In fact, we didn’t even have those concepts written down.
The newly expanded culture eventually took on a life of its own – and we finally came full-circle to a point where we were able to write, teach and live a workday based on our established Mission, Vision and Values.
Introducing this now, to staff who have worked for us for years, is undeniably tough. We recognize that we are asking for a behavior change and conscious living, rather than perfunctory work. When an expectation is written down and an employee is held to it, there is dramatic change.
So a few months ago, we asked our staff to vote on the top 10 values statements – which we then whittled down to six, through a democratic process. By using the actual words and agreed-upon values of our staff, we were able to better engage each member and come to a real understanding of our company purpose – thereby creating a real sense of an AVVI “team.”
I love to use Zappos as the best example of “intentional company culture.” Their ability to maintain focus on employee care and great culture while also running a business devoted to customer service has really raised the bar for customer loyalty – and, of course, referrals (which is still the most meaningful way to grow a business.) We often tell our staff to treat our patients “like family,” or as if they were caring for their own mother. “Family” is one of our core values, and we don’t just mean personal family – we mean the family of clients/patients and their family as well.
It’s not our desire to build a business on hardline rules. We have simple expectations – like that our staff come to work on time, dressed for success, and with a mind clear and ready to focus on the job of healing people with vein and vascular disease. With a happy attitude, it’s amazing what can be accomplished in a day.
And since we work hard to nurture a staff that understands company culture and expectations, we are able to trust our employees to do the right thing. This behavior is peer-rewarded, leadership-recognized and privy to some pretty unique benefits. If (on the other hand) employees don’t live up to these expectations, then we need to recognize that and take action: We need to decide whether they have the right seat on the bus or whether they are on the wrong bus altogether. If the latter, then that person needs to be let go (something that has been historically hard for us).
I must admit that theory is easier than practice. The fact that our staff voted on the values lays a strong foundation for self-governance and inspiration to rally around a shared mission. But if the behavior we expect isn’t modeled, this teamwork and success simply won’t happen.
So we hold our leadership team to the highest standards: We expect them to live the company’s Mission, Vision and Values while providing examples of what our culture is – with every interaction and every site visit.
This is a challenge because our business headquarters are geographically separate from patient care facilities and the front lines of our business. It’s easy to be “out of sight and out of mind.” So the expectation needs to be that we are dropping in on the clinics, often and unannounced. Staff members across all departments need to see us “living the values.”
Because our established Mission, Vision, Values is a new effort and a concept that isn’t common in everyday medical offices, we are rolling it out according to a strategic plan that will hopefully maximize buy-in, engagement, behavior change and success. We want to see our company on the Best To Work For lists, and that starts with a culture of supportive coworkers who hold each other accountable.