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InFocus

VetGDP – an opportunity for cultural reflection

Leaders have an ethical responsibility to address any workplace cultural façades if our industry is to benefit from the transformative potential of the RCVS Veterinary Graduate Development Programme

This article is a call to action among leaders integrating the VetGDP into their workplace to first explore their culture with honest curiosity. The arrival of the VetGDP has accelerated the urgency to drop any cultural façades and for leaders to be more accountable for their people’s workplace experiences.

To workplaces already using mentoring as part of their normal behaviour: fantastic! Can you think of new creative ways in which to support your team? To workplaces that view the VetGDP as a new initiative, I would encourage you to reflect on your culture. How are you intending to incorporate this mentoring practice into your culture for it to be effective (Garvey et al., 2008)?

The VetGDP is not a box-ticking exercise for employers to simply access veterinary graduates. The VetGDP strives to kickstart the careers of tomorrow’s talent, improve early career fulfilment and reduce the transitional stress felt by new graduates (Halliwell et al., 2016; Moir and Van den Brink, 2019). At its core, the initiative exists to provide an individualised, structured learning and development programme to provide a better workplace experience for new graduates. By accelerating job resource and personal resource development, improved well-being, engagement and performance is expected (Mastenbroek, 2017).

A more engaged graduate will be more productive and more likely to stay, helping drive your business growth. Integrating the mentoring and VetGDP principles more holistically in your workplace is therefore a great way to take charge of your recruitment, enhance your employer reputation and ignite your business success. More leaders that embrace exploring how to offer a better workplace experience is how we can all help be part of the solution and stop tomorrow’s talent from disappearing.

The journey begins with cultural awareness of your status quo. There is little benefit to introducing an empowering initiative into a toxic culture plagued by apathetic leadership. This only brews the same moral injury and moral disengagement that drives the current retention crisis. When our flowers do not bloom, we need to improve the environment in which they grow. Awareness of the environment in which your VetGDP operates is essential to avoid it being an ineffective, busy activity that offers little value in developing our future talent. The VetGDP cannot be a plaster to help our future talent survive in a poor culture. The VetGDP exists to help our future talent thrive.

Working in clinical practice, most of us work in small, interdependent collaborative teams. Sadly, not everyone feels a connection with their team. Only 20 percent of vets ranked “relationship with colleagues” as one of the best things about the profession (Robinson et al., 2019). This is unfortunate when working in a great team was the top weighted reason why vets choose to stay in their roles (Weller et al., 2019). If interpersonal conflict exists in your culture on top of low morale and low engagement, how effective do you think building your VetGDP on these rocky foundations will be?

If we are serious about addressing our shared industry retention challenge, I would encourage investing in your business identity and intentionally building a great workplace culture. Curious, humble, empathetic leadership that actively listens to understand the needs of their people is imperative. With 40 percent of vets reporting unmet career expectations and low career satisfaction (Vet Futures, 2015; Robinson et al., 2019), what understanding do you have of the needs of your team? How satisfied are your people in their role? How valued do your team feel? Do you know if you are helping your team advance their career or life ambitions? How fulfilled are your people? Your greatest fear as a leader should be not knowing what your people think of you.

The commitment to build a great culture requires a transparent approach to organisational learning. This requires leadership to seek answers to uncomfortable questions. For example, is business performance coming at a cost to the health and well-being of my team? Am I putting my employees under extra pressure? Am I creating a culture where I am in fact harming my people? Am I supporting my team enough in moving towards their ambitions? Be open and be willing to sit with some uncomfortable learning, then aspire to be that leader you wish you had. Believe in the person you want to become, then be that leader others are proud to follow.

Unmasking our (hopefully) unintentional hypocritical ethical fading and self-deception (Tenbrunsel and Messick, 2004) to shine a light on our cultural blind spots allows us to refocus on what our people need us to be. This avoids leadership drift, shifts our attention to the present and inspires action on what we need to do to selflessly unleash the potential of our teams. In doing so, opportunities to empower your people will suddenly appear everywhere. By putting your team at the heart of everything you do, you will also start seeding the trust and respect that is the heartbeat of a great culture.

Knowing the truth is far better than operating from an inaccurate perspective. So, choose to be part of the solution. Choose to raise your awareness. Choose to be more honest. Choose to measure and improve your engagement so that you can be more ethical every day. In seeking out the truth you avoid trundling along blinkered to your cognitive bias and narratives that serve your needs but not those of whom you are there to serve.

I encourage everyone to work towards defining their workplace culture. Aspire to make a meaningful difference to the people in your workplace. Seek to offer a great employee experience so that your people can flourish and ensure your VetGDP is more than simply another busy activity. I guarantee the business success will follow.

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