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John Marvin

It Is Never Too Late to Change or Reinforce Your Practice Culture

In a small business, the owner, or individual responsible for leading employees, creates it.




VALUES ARE LIKE fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.” – Elvis Presley


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as being “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” This definition states what organizational culture is, but how is it formed? Is it intentional or organic? Does an organization or practice have a culture without someone making an effort in its creation? In a small business, the owner, or individual responsible for leading employees, creates the culture.

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After all, shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices are attributes of behavior, the behavior of the owner. A practice’s culture is as much a part of the organization as its physical location, compensation, and employee benefits; in fact these things reflect the organization’s culture. It communicates to employees their value to the practice. Here are some critical characteristics for owners to understand about their practice culture.

Values Set the Table. The culture of a practice starts with the values that the owner embodies and demonstrates day to day. As people, our beliefs and values are formed from experiences throughout our life and particularly formative years. Today, those attitudes and beliefs manifest themselves in our home and work life. For example, suppose an owner believes that people cannot be trusted. This personally held belief is reflected in the way employees and customers are treated.

Culture is Organic. A practice’s culture is not the result of policy decisions. Policy decisions reflect the practice culture. It is defined for both employees and customers without being written down. However, if allowed to exist organically, it may, in fact, not be based on shared values and beliefs. This disconnect between the owner’s attitudes and beliefs results in staff turnover. Only one individual in a private practice cannot leave and that is the owner. If employees do not share the values demonstrated in the practice, they will leave. A lack of shared values is more likely to cause staff turnover than what they are paid. No one wants to work in an environment in which they have a dissonance with the culture or values.


Culture Needs Congruence. A positive organizational culture can be a tremendous asset to building a successful business. An attractive culture starts with the owner or leader identifying the values on which they will build their business. An example might be that the owner considers honesty, fairness, respect for others, and relationships to be their core set of values. These values are the foundation for the practice culture. By demonstrating these values daily with both employees and customers, the practice attracts those who share these values. Employees who place importance on these values will want to work for an organization that shares them. They may do so for less money than a practice that does not demonstrate them. Customers are treated respectfully, fairly and honestly and are loyal to the practice. They refer their friends who also share these values.

Culture is Consistency. A practice culture is determined by what is demonstrated daily. A four-color brochure or wall poster that lists a practice’s values means nothing if those values are not lived out by leadership. It does not matter what is printed or displayed, what defines a practice culture is what is experienced by both employees and customers.

You can begin today to change or reinforce your practice culture. First, decide the attitudes, values, goals, and practices you want to characterize your business. Second, live them every day in your interactions and relationships with both employees and customers.

John D. Marvin has more than 25 years of experience in the ophthalmic and optometric practice industry. He is the president of Texas State Optical and writes about marketing, management and education at the blog. You can email him at [email protected]


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