When our senior management team was first put together, we did a lot of work looking into our purpose. Of course, implementing the overall business strategy is important but, ultimately, the purpose of our company’s senior management team is to ensure our employees are at the heart of everything we do.
The key ingredient for anyone looking to join VetPartners as a senior manager is the ability to adapt their style to the organisation – because our culture is unique.
At other companies, you need to show what you’re delivering individually. We’re diligent in maintaining the focus on our success as a team. The word ‘staff’ is banned from all our literature because I think it’s quite a derogatory term. We describe people as ‘team members’, ‘colleagues’, or ‘employees’. It’s that attention to detail which makes a difference.
You also need to be able to explain why this culture is important for our organisation.
In other businesses, if something goes wrong there might be a cover-up or a blame culture. In a veterinary practice, if an animal dies under anaesthetic we hold a significant event meeting to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening again.
Until you explain that to somebody, they might not understand why our approach is helpful. It’s just about giving people time.
The biggest challenge in the last few years, I’ve found, has been the structural change in the organisation. We’ve grown so much as the company has grown from 100 employees and a revenue of £1m, to 8,000 employees and £600m in revenue in the space of six and a half years.
Because we’ve grown so quickly, it is important to regularly touch base with people. I have to be disciplined with my diary.
More than anything, it’s important to care about each person as an individual and try to understand what makes them tick.
Always put your team members first and yourself last. Try and understand yourself and who you are as a leader and what someone else’s perception might be.
Learn how to take feedback. Sometimes it’s easy to feel someone’s feedback is a personal dig, or that the person criticising you has misunderstood what you meant. Instead, flip it around and ask yourself why they’ve interpreted it that way.
It requires a mindset shift. Try to stretch yourself; everyone can get better.