Remember that mission statement you worked so hard to develop a few years back? Why exactly did you do that? Let's review.
The role of a mission statement
While most veterinary team members have a pretty solid idea of their mission statement, I have found that, when asked to recite it, most tag on a caveat such as "or something like that" to the end. And while they might know what the mission is, they aren't really sure of its purpose—which is, of course, the very purpose of the practice.
Where is your mission statement displayed? I believe it should be visible in several locations in your practice as well as a prominent part of your Web and social media presence so that clients and also staff can see just what you're pledging to them and they to each other.
Unfortunately, personnel changes are frequent in veterinary practice, and a good number of employees and associates most likely were not part of the process of developing your mission statement. That means you need to familiarize every team member with the statement and ask him or her to memorize it. After all, if they're not totally familiar with the mission of the practice, how can they live up to it?
Before you do that, though, consider whether it's time to revisit your mission. Many mission statements were developed 15 or more years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Make your mission statement—and its possible revision—a topic for a team meeting or even a retreat.
Keep in mind that mission statements should clearly state your higher callings. What do you provide? How do you deliver patient care and client service? What work environment do you create? Your mission statement should reflect a true commitment, not just a good idea or something you try once in a while to accomplish. It's a statement of what you do, how you provide it, and how you serve your patients, your clients, your team and your community. When you're in doubt on any decision, refer to your mission statement for guidance.
The difference between mission and vision
While a mission is constant, a vision changes as things evolve in and around the practice. A vision statement should be modified as practice and societal demands dictate. Our vision should be pretty specific about what we hope to achieve and accomplish as well as what we want to become. Words that end in -est and imply greatness and achievement are generally part of a vision statement. Your vision statement implies continuing focus on improvement and aspiration.
How core values fit in
Even more deeply seated are the core values of the practice leaders and the team. Core values reflect the essence of who we are as individuals. And unfortunately, sometimes one individual's core values are out of sync with the vision for the practice or with the mission as stated. The most well-articulated mission statement and the most farsighted vision will fail to be realized if the core values of the team and the practice leaders are not supported.
A few months back I shared that a key gauge of success is your answer to the question "Are you happy?" (see the February issue). Look at your personal values—those traits you hold most dear. Can you be happy if your core values are at risk? Are your core values consistent with how you operate your business? If not, conflict and internal turmoil will recur. Personal values must always come first. Not sometimes. Not usually. Every time. If we fail to live out our core values, we will not have personal integrity. Trying to adopt someone else's values will result in tension, conflict and resentment, which will affect not only work interactions but our personal experience of every day.
For instance, if one of your core values is prioritizing your family and being involved in your children's lives and your practice leaders don't agree that family comes first, someone will find themselves on the wrong side of a choice. If providing service to those who cannot afford it is a core value and this jeopardizes the financial success of the practice, one or more practice leaders may force the issue. The result? Someone's values are compromised.
Core values are not situational. If a core value is honesty, it means we never lie. If a core value is respect, it means we treat others with respect—not usually, but always. When core values and practice culture are out of alignment, we face difficult choices. One path is to stay in the situation and make your best effort to maintain the integrity of your own core values. A second choice is to continually confront the inevitable conflicts and try to find a way to please everyone. Not likely to work, is it? The final choice is to leave your position, which can result in bad feelings and burned bridges all around. When you are deciding on a major step in your career, remember that neither you, nor your practice, nor your business partners should be expected to sacrifice who you are. The answer? Know yourself and your core values. They are not for sale.
Together, our mission, our vision and our core values determine our experience of practice and our life's results. Mission statements are a roadmap we can refer to often and use to illustrate our goals. Vision statements are a destination—never far away from our mission, they are a picture of where we want to go. Core values are the moral compass by which we steer. All we need to do is follow the needle.
Dr. Michael Paul, @mikepauldvm on Twitter, is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.