Case Studies in Creating a Thriving Culture Driven by Embracing Change

Did you know that creating a culture driven by embracing change is arguably one of the most important business capabilities determining whether a business thrives or fails? If you are familiar with the survival of the fittest theory, aka Darwinism, you understand that you must constantly evolve to survive, much less succeed. According to change management industry consultants, approximately 70% of all small business change initiatives fail; 30% fail due to negative employee attitudes, while 31% fail as a result of unproductive management behavior, including poor communication, failing to focus on benefits, lack of transparency, not involving or listening to employees, ignoring resistance and not removing barriers. So, creating a positive culture for employees and owner / management leadership is critical to success.

Since culture is such an important key success factor, here are some high-level thoughts on culture including the following definitions and ideas from Organizational Development Consultant Torben Rick. “Culture is how organizations do things. The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique and psychological environment of an organization. Culture defines a jointly shared description of a firm from within. Culture is driven by leadership, and how leaders behave, what they say, and what they value drives culture. The most important thing about culture is that it’s the only sustainable point of difference for any organization. Anyone can copy a company’s strategy, but nobody can capture their culture.”

As you already know, in this day and age competition for employees and clients in pet care services is fierce and only getting stronger. To stay ahead of your local competitors, you must constantly be evolving and improving your offering. To help boil down the “formula” for creating a culture to embrace change and drive success, I spoke with four very different pet care services businesses from around the USA. At a high level, and to summarize their success factors, it is all about culture, communication, and process. Here are the summaries of the four interviews:

Laura Koch Executive Manager of Meadowlake Pet Resorts in Houston, TX

Success Stories
Both the Owner and Executive Manager “work on” the business, as opposed to “work in” the business, which every growth-oriented facility should aspire to achieving to make their business model scalable. Meadowlake has been open for over 10 years, and continues to grow, including opening a second facility recently. They are community role models who appear on local television many times each year, including with the local non-profit partner Houston Humane Society. Employee retention is strong, and continues to improve.

Change Management Formula
Creating a culture that thrives on change is a top priority. To retain and develop employees and clients it is critical to define the marketing messages, involve staff in the process, script the communications, and keep them ahead of the competitive curve by keeping the message consistent. Investing in a research process up front is a key for success, which involves asking employees, clients, and others their input to determine what your change priorities should be. Constant communication is imperative so that all employees know what to expect and when. Some of the key elements of their culture is leadership is all about being positive, creating a fun environment, and always proactively explain WHY they do things a certain way. Laura strongly recommends that ALL employees read “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, MD.

Learning Opportunities for You:
Culture is not just for big companies, rather it is critical for all companies. If you are not delighted with your current culture, make it a priority to collaborate with your team to change it, and make change management an important, sustainable advantage. Ensure your team uses research to develop the marketing messages and services you offer, and involve all key players early on in and throughout the process.

Maggie Easterly Marketing and Operations Manager at Viva La Paw in Las Vegas, NV

Success Stories
Owner “works on” the business and delegates much of the operational management to Maggie. They have been open well over 10 years, and the average employee tenure is around 10 years. Viva La Paw is heavily involved in the community, including some great work with local pet non-profit partners. They have a thriving retail section to supplement their boarding and daycare business. Employees are cross-trained to work with dogs and cats, as well as with clients.

Change Management Formula
Viva La Paw’s success is almost entirely due to creating a culture that is “family” where everyone treats one another with respect and support. “Any idea can be a great idea,” describes their approach to constantly soliciting new ideas from everyone on their team. Everyone goes through a 2-week training process to ensure they are comfortable working with dogs and clients. They are extremely careful with their hiring process, and focus on people who will make this job their second career or a second job, so they most often have “nothing to prove” and fit in the culture. There is a tremendous focus on making everything fun! Maggie pointed out that their pet guests notice and enjoy the positive energy of their culture, and that they will notice any negative vibes. Their team stays ahead of competition as they are always out in the community discovering new trends and learning, e.g. how to better care for the growing number of dog guests with allergies.

Learning Opportunities for You
10 years average employee tenure should speak volumes about the financial and brand advantages of cultivating a cultural truly focused on treating everyone like family and hiring people who embrace change. If your business is not yet open or new, you may not appreciate what a huge challenge employee retention is for many pet care services businesses. For you seasoned pet care professionals, you will appreciate that this level of staff retention is stellar, and that your pet guests will also have a better experience in a facility with a positive culture. What could be more important than starting to do the same at your business today? Also, if your team is not getting involved with your local community, why not start today?

Niki Chimberg Head of Product and Megan Bailey Head of Human Resources at Skipper in Charlotte NC, Austin TX, and Dallas TX

Success Stories
Skipper has successful pet care services businesses in 3 different metropolitan areas. They have a strong management team with great backgrounds, including their original Founder Meggie Williams as CEO. Looking forward, they have investment support to continue to improve their proprietary technologies in existing services and expand to new services in 2020 and beyond. Employee tenure continues to improve significantly as they further refine their hiring processes. Training programs are constantly evolving to move the business ahead.

Change Management Formula
Focus on hiring employees who prove up front they are comfortable with technology and driving change by taking a self-assessment on their mobile phones. One of their key values is “head to weather,” which is about constant course correction and embracing change. Product evangelism starting at the top focuses on getting everyone on board, and involving them in defining the services. In terms of how to do this, they take an iterative, research-based approach asking for continuous feedback. Management is keenly aware of “knowing what you don’t know” to insure that on the ground experts drive as much of the change as possible. Communication consistency is critical and begins as soon as possible in the process, focusing always on WHY they are doing a change, and WHO will be impacted. Constant evolution means continuous learning on when you involve others in defining change vs. when to tell them about the plans. They have also learned that as you scale your business that these changes may produce some attrition particularly related to changing roles, and that it is OK with some people moving on who are no longer a great fit.

Learning Opportunities for You
As part of your interview process, have candidates take self-assessments to prove they enjoy creating and implementing change. Consider making “embrace change” as one of your company’s core values. Always communicate why you are making a change and get input as early in the process as you can. Have you ever considered adding dog walking or pet sitting services to your offerings to accommodate certain pets that don’t fit well with lodging or daycare?

Kendall Duncan Co-Owner Canine Cabana in Riverview, FL

Success Stories
Co-owners “work on” the business as opposed to “working in.” Open for 11 years. The owners are thought leaders in the pet care services world, who support IBPSA, PACCC, and The Dog Gurus. As constant innovators their facility is the only one in their region offering Daycare 2.0 enrichment programs, which has grown tremendously over the past two years. The co-owners are heavily involved in their communities and are industry speakers.

Change Management Formula
Consistent messaging and branding for their company are critical for success with both employees and clients. Honesty and transparency drives everything they do. Scripting messaging and then “living/enforcing it” is important for all communications. They focus on WHY a change is being made, the benefits associated with the change, and HOW it will improve dogs’ and employees’ lives. Their culture is founded on the principle that change is going to happen every day, so they hire people comfortable with change, and especially people who want to create the change and implement the programs too. Management asks everyone regularly what needs to change. They also encourage risk tasking, and failure is not punished, just viewed as an experiment. As the Owners are aware of being only as strong as their weakest link, they involve all in the creative process so that all understand they have a voice and will be heard. This means their staff engagement is strong and continues to improve. Kendall stressed that their value of “lead by example” is key, and everyone must always be positive. This includes constantly asking employees for solutions, instead of excuses. When the employee doesn’t have a solution, they may try management’s idea, and if it doesn’t work, then keeping working on the challenge.

Learning Opportunities for You
Revisit everything important your team does to build on and take advantage of the opportunities constant change brings. This starts by hiring people who like to be involved in change, both to create and implement the improvements. Update your processes so that the marketing messaging for both employees and clients supports the changes, including why your company is making the moves to benefit all. All of this needs to start with you the owner, and means you must lead by example while always being positive as you set the tone for culture and the overall business.

Summary / Additional Insights

Based on additional research with small business change management, here are some additional best practices key steps to ensure more success with your change initiatives:
1. Owners / Management must fully support change and goals regardless of source of ideas
2. Make an honest case for change and communicate the benefits to all
3. Ongoing employee involvement and input
4. Communicating the changes early and ongoing, while listening for feedback
5. Develop and communicate implementation timeline and plans
6. Constant follow-up, adjustments, and evaluation
7. Ongoing help for employees to remove barriers to change
8. Celebrate success at key milestones
9. Bake all of the above into your constantly improving company culture, communications and processes

In closing, all the amazing pet care pros interviewed for this article have agreed you can reach out to them to ask for more input on this topic.