A good friend of mine sent me a video clip the other day. It was an experiment conducted at a train terminal in Stockholm, Sweden. The experiment was to determine if you could change the choices people make by adding fun to the equation. I looked at the website mentioned in the video and apparently, it was an initiative called “The Fun Theory” sponsored by Volkswagen. Another clever effort to capture the viral information phenomenon and capitalize on the publicity and marketing opportunities that are sure to follow.
This particular experiment involved changing a set of stairs in a train terminal into a piano keyboard, complete with sound as people stepped on the keys. The stairs were located right beside an escalator and, as you can imagine, on a normal day most people chose the convenience over the exercise. In this case though, with the musical steps in place, 66% more people than normal chose to use the steps and forgo the escalator.
My mind immediately went to how this simple truth is so often overlooked in veterinary practices. People are willing to work harder, engage more, become more creative, and simply give more when the work they do and the environment they are in is more enjoyable. Leaders like Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines have known this for years and have used this knowledge to transform their companies into places that turn a positive environment into a competitive advantage.
That’s not to say that we need to turn the break room into an arcade, but it does mean that we get more from our team when we create the right environment and the right culture.
I’ve worked with many veterinary practice owners and leaders who have said, “We don’t need to pay attention to those things. That’s why we pay people to do their jobs.” However, the reality is if we ignore the facts associated with human behavior instead of capitalizing on them, our veterinary practices will simply be less successful than they could be. We can spend time wishing humans would act differently than they do, or we can spend our time working to build the kind of environment that helps them accomplish more than they normally would. As leaders, the choice is ours.
Our job as leaders is to help ourselves and others reach their full potential. According to much of the recent research done on employee engagement, most of our hospitals are filled with people who aren’t even close to getting there. It’s easy to think that we can just get new, more productive people. However, that is an expensive proposition, and in the end, the new people behave based on the same laws of human nature that the old ones did. Pretty soon, we will be looking for their replacements as well if we put them in the same environment.
Real leaders spend real time thinking about what needs to happen in their practice. Their team gives more of what they have and get more back in return. It’s about waking up the commitment in others so they embark on something different, something new, and something better than they would have in another environment. Sometimes it’s also about doing that for ourselves.
The bottom line is that we, and others, will always have the choice of how much we are committed to any task, team, or practice. Leaders understand how to build an environment where people make the right choice. The one that gets everyone closer to what they are capable of – even if it means having a little fun occasionally.