When you think about a storyteller, you think entertainment first. But a veterinary conference focused, by name, on getting sh*t done (the Get Sh*t Done conference) this week in Greenville, South Carolina, really showed that stories are especially powerful for those in business and veterinary medicine too.
That might be a surprise, because many sessions centered on goal-setting, time management, focusing on the work you need to do and delegating the rest. But some speakers started with stories and values before getting down to the work of productivity. That will come as no surprise to those who know the GSD conference is put on by Uncharted, a veterinary community masterminded by Andy Roark, DVM, who has himself made a speaking career over the past few years partly on the strength of sad, funny, instructive stories he tells veterinary audiences.
Those inspired by him, his simpatico mates, couldn't help sharing elements of storytelling that could inspire your own veterinary practice's stories. Here are three examples from the conference that capture a taste of what it looks like to tell good stories to clients, inspire team members with good stories, and self-reflect to understand exactly what inspires you.
Getting to know your team members: Who's in your story?
How do you inspire team members? They should feel proud of where they work and who they work with. Senani Ratnayake, consultant and educator with the P3 Veterinary Partners hospital chain in Canada, conducted a workshop on hospital branding. She says she's disappointed if she ever hears team members, when asked where they work, "whisper the hospital name and seem ashamed." Ratyanake says veterinary professionals should be proud to say about their coworkers, "These are cool people, and I'm with them."
If your practice lacks such inspired pride, Ratnayake says it's time for some personal or group introspection. Why do you work in veterinary medicine? Why here? It's true—for some employees it may be just the paycheck, but Ratnayake says that doesn't often work in veterinary medicine, which draws team members with a strong purpose.
"If you're here to clock in and clock out, we probably won't like you," she says.
Here's the exercise Ratyanake encouraged workshop attendees to try: Arrange a lengthy group meeting for everyone to share their answer to the question, "What is the memory or inspiration driving you to be present for this job, these animals, this team?” Perhaps ask team members to bring in pictures or objects that express these answers. Build a bulletin board in the practice to share these stories and take a picture to put on the board of the big meeting. Show off the board to new hires: This is why we’re here. This is your practice's story.
And this is what inspires team members about their work, Ratnayake says—connecting the day-to-day job to these powerful purposes. The job of leaders in veterinary hospitals is to help team members "teach people how to make these connections," she says.
Getting to know your shared values: What's your story really about?
How do you know what your story is? It's your brand. But you don’t control that, said speaker Odie Marcovici, a VCA recruiting and professional relations director, in his session. Your actions over time dictate that.
"You cannot create your brand," he told attendees. "You release it to the world, and people will tell you what you are."
Your brand is a combination of service and actions over time, and your own serious focus on exactly what your hospital does best. "You've got to kill some of your darlings," Marcovici told attendees, as he explained that every veterinary practice says it excels at medical care, client care and staff care, and great leaders and practice owners must choose which of those will be the focus.
Want to figure out the brand with a team? Marcovici demonstrated a fun team meeting approach to the exercise during his session. Ask each person on your team to answer this question on a piece of paper: What's one thing we do well, one thing we can most be proud of? Tally those answers in the "medical" or "client" or "team" categories. Often, there's an overwhelming winner in one of the three categories, and that tells you where your focus lies.
To compete in today's veterinary marketplace, for clients and job applicants, Marcovici's advice is you need to know your story, tell it to everyone, and live it.
"Brands only get successful with time," he says.
Finding new team members: Who gets written into your story?
Unless you're opening a brand-new practice, your hospital has a story that's been written over the years, and the team members there today have their own emotional tales that guide them and bind them to the big veterinary adventure that is your hospital. What happens when new characters show up? Do they fit in or ruin the tale?
Dave Nicol, BVMS, Cert. Mgmt MRCVS, a frequent Fetch dvm360 speaker with a veterinary podcast and a veterinary consulting company, says the success of your journey hinges on your hiring. And you need to know who you are, what your practice needs, and how to make sure your hire is a good fit.
Using what he describes as "Jedi mind tricks," ideas out of so-called neurolinguistic programming, Dr. Nicol has devised questions he uses to see where people fall on a particular spectrum for such traits as:
> goal-oriented vs. problem-solving
> option-focused vs. procedure-following
> change-loving vs. change-averse.
Questions like "What's important to you about your work?," "Why did you choose your current (or previous) job?" and "How do you know you've done a good job?" can help a smart interviewer figure out whether a potential hire is a good fit. But only if the practice manager or owner has a handle on what the practice is like and the best fit for a particular role in that practice.
Before you know who you want to join you in your story, folks, you first need to know who you are already.