Big or small, every company has a culture, whether they know it or not.
Your company’s culture is defined by the way you and your team interact with your patients and potential patients, by the way you equip, design, and decorate your office, and by the services you provide. It’s also impacted by how you obtain new patients and referral sources, how your team interacts with each other, and much, much more (so much more that creating a comprehensive list would be exhausting for both writer and reader).
Really, your company culture is a product of everything you do. And, once you’ve taken the time to establish a culture that works for your practice, everything your business does should be a product of that culture. If you don’t take the steps to define your culture the way you intend it, it will be defined and established for you. And — no surprise here — if that happens, you might not like the result.
It All Starts with Your Core Values
If the organizational structure of your practice is chaotic, if your workplace is stressful, or if it’s hard for you or your employees to find the motivation to come to work each day ready to produce, you may have a company culture problem. The bad news is that it often seems like bad cultures are far more resilient and difficult to change than good ones.
But there are tools that managers can use to boost team morale and restore a devastated or diminishing company culture. That’s where your company’s Core Values… This text opens a new tab to an article about core values… come into play.
Your Core Values can be thought of as your company’s “backstage” — it’s the heartbeat that empowers and inspires your team to perform at its peak while working with your patients (read “onstage”).
When looking to define the culture of your practice, start by drafting your Core Values. They are the non-negotiable philosophical underpinnings of your business and, once you’ve got them down and everyone on your team is living them, you can use them to flesh out other elements of your company culture, including your Mission, Purpose, and Vision.
Core Values are guiding principles that say what is important to your practice. They help business owners, doctors, managers, and employees stay on the same page with regard to the practice’s priorities and intentions, and they serve as guidelines for employees to follow when interacting with patients and/or each other. Simply put, they define how you operate and treat one another.
Words like Honesty, Integrity, Accountability, Empathy, Compassion, Value, and Unequaled Quality are commonly used as anchors for a company’s Core Values. Each anchor term is also usually accompanied by a short sentence clarifying the precise meaning of the word or phrase as it applies to your company.
Generally speaking, we recommend that employers and their employees come up with between three and ten Core Values for their business — enough to be thorough and relatable while also leaving room for employees to memorize them by repetition.
For a list of terms you can use to jumpstart the process of crafting your practice’s Core Values, or to see examples of Core Values from other companies, download CEDR’s new Manager’s Playbook: Your Company Culture as a Management Tool… This text opens a new tab to the playbook….
Your company’s Core Values can also help with a number of day-to-day management tasks. From hiring cultural fits, to having tough conversations with employees, and even deciding when it’s time to let someone go, your Core Values can be the factor that ultimately makes one choice a clear winner amongst a sea of seemingly similar options. We’ll explain what we mean below.
7 Ways to Put Your Company’s Core Values to Work
Lean on your Core Values during the hiring process to help you bring people on board who feel a natural resonance with your company’s priorities. We call such people “cultural fits.” Having Core Values in place can also help you hire what CEDR’s HR Director Michele Bergan calls “cultural adds.”
Managers are often forced to try and retroactively work new hires into the existing fabric of company culture during training. Cultural adds are employees who not only relate to your company’s Core Values upfront (i.e., employees that are cultural fits), but who actually help to expand the company’s understanding of those tenets and/or serve as an example of how the company can continue to adhere to its Values naturally and consistently.
Place your Core Values on a poster in the room where you interview applicants and watch what happens! Doing so can help candidates determine on their own if they are a cultural fit for your company.
Using your Core Values to craft behavioral interview questions… This text opens a new tab to an article about hiring… can also help you cut to the chase when it comes to discovering candidates that might be cultural adds for your practice (Think, “What does ‘accountability’ in the workplace mean to you?” or, “Can you tell me about a time when your focus on accountability served you especially well in a previous position?” or even, “Look over my shoulder and tell me which one of our Core Values on that poster speaks to you and why.”).
2. Corrective Actions / Employee Discipline
When an employee’s behavior fails to meet expectations, it helps to have one or more Core Values you can point to in order to explain objectively why the employee needs to make a change.
For example, if you have an employee who is consistently tardy or absent from work, explaining that the behavior is not in alignment with a Core Value of accountability (or mutual respect, timeliness, support for others, etc.) can help remove the perception of judgment that can accompany such difficult conversations.
Working from a place of objective observation about adherence to Core Values rather than shaming an employee for subpar performance will make the information less emotional and therefore easier to digest. That, in turn, can help prevent the employee from feeling “called out” and might help with their willingness to self-correct the problem behavior moving forward. Do not weaponize your Core Values, however — they are a standard to live up to, not a stick to be used to berate others.
3. Inspiring Cultural Change
Declaring the need to revisit your Core Values is often the first step toward improving a compromised company culture. Going through the process of drafting Core Values with your team can also be a great way to communicate that things are going to need to change for the positive and that the old ways are no longer acceptable.
When you involve your team in the process of creating Core Values, your employees feel more connected to those Values and it gives them a sense of ownership in your business. It helps them to see their contribution to your practice clearly and allows them to feel heard. This produces a different result than simply ordering your employees to live up to a new set of seemingly arbitrary company standards.
And, where creating your Core Values as a team allows your more engaged employees to see their contribution to your business firsthand, the bad apples, toxic personalities, and drama kings and queens will get an up-close and objective look at where they stand during that process, as well.
4. Pointing Out the Good
All too often, we focus on the systems and people that need improvement at the expense of recognizing the things that are going well. But one of the best ways to support those we manage is to point out the good things they do.
Taking the opportunity during a morning huddle to point out how an employee exhibited unwavering adherence to one of your Core Values while interacting with a patient or another employee is easy to do. It’s also the right thing to do, and it serves as reinforcement that your Values matter.
5. Creating Your Purpose and Mission Statements
Creating your Core Values provides a solid foundation on which to build your company’s Purpose and Mission Statements (for more on this, check out our new Manager’s Playbook on Company Culture… This text opens a new tab to the playbook…).
Not everyone in the world is going to share your company’s Core Values, and that’s okay. But, when it comes time to set Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals for your business, successfully completing your mission on time and under budget is simply not going to happen unless your team shares the same work values.
6. Deciding on Employee Benefits
In addition to helping you make determinations about basic benefit offerings like healthcare and paid time off, your Core Values can also help you decide on the non-monetary, or “cultural,” benefits… This text opens a new tab to an article about benefits… you choose to provide for your team.
If you have a Core Value of “Supporting the general health and wellbeing” of your employees and patients, for example, you might think about providing a healthy lunch to your team on Fridays instead of stopping for donuts on the way to the office.
7. Determining Patient Giveaways
Look to your Core Values when deciding on goodies to put in giveaway bags for new or returning patients, as well as when coming up with incentives for new patient referrals.
A practice that puts a premium on the general health and wellbeing of its patients might think about handing out a travel toothbrush or hygiene kit that patients can leave at work. They could also offer gift cards to healthy restaurants when someone refers a new patient, or partner with a local gym to provide new patients with a free short-term membership.
An employee with a bad attitude can have a toxic effect on your company culture, even if they’re a great producer. When this is the case, your Core Values can also help you determine when it’s time to let someone go.
A failure to live up to your company’s Core Values might be all you need to justify termination. Examine your Core Values to determine if you think that the employee in question can be brought back into alignment with a basic corrective action or an open and honest conversation about what is going on and the impact it is having on others. If not, it might be time to go your separate ways.
Your company’s Core Values are more than just fluff to put on posters around your office or to tack onto job ads for added flavor. They are management tools that help keep your team in alignment and working toward the same goals. Those tools can also be utilized when you have to make decisions that will affect your practice as a whole.
Further, the process of developing your Values should not be thought of as a marketing exercise. Your Core Values are not marketing material.
We often get this question: Should our Core Values be posted where our patients can see them? Our answer to that is that it’s okay if people outside of your organization catch a glimpse of your Values, but it’s important to remember that your Core Values are not intended for marketing purposes. First and foremost, they are internal documents meant to keep the individuals in your organization focused on the same goals and methods of achieving those goals by painting a picture of who you are as a team and a company.
If you haven’t started crafting Core Values for your practice yet, now is the time. Otherwise, there’s a chance that the counterculture builders in your office and beyond will do so on your behalf, for better or worse.
For more information on Core Values and other elements of Company Culture, and for exercises to help you draft Core Values, Mission, and Purpose Statements for your practice, download The Manager’s Playbook: Your Company Culture as a Management Tool… This text opens a new tab to the playbook….