The “Why” of Practice Culture and How to Create an Effective One

TED Talks are chock-full of motivational pearls on how to create effective company culture and teams, including the mega-popular, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” and Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” philosophy.1 But when it comes to an optometric practice, how can eye care professionals (ECPs) create a positive workplace culture that epitomizes shared values, beliefs, and attitudes amongst all employees, and in turn, project that image to patients?

For ECPs, it all starts and ends with you, says optometrist Bethany Fishbein, CEO of the Power Practice and owner of two private practices in New Jersey. One primary reason why culture is important is because it reflects how an ECP feels about going to work every day, Dr. Fishbein explains.

“Nobody opens a practice because they want to be miserable,” she adds. “Doctors have a vision of wanting to own their own business so they can be happy, so they can be satisfied, and so they can feel good about where they work. If culture is off, that’s not how it feels. From the perspective of a business owner, that’s critical reason number one. It’s what makes it fun to go to work so you’re not sitting in the parking lot, wishing you didn’t have to go inside and thinking about who you can sell your practice to and how quickly.”



No matter your practice setting or role within the practice, Dr. Fishbein shares why fostering a positive workplace culture is vital to every member of the optometric team.

What’s on Paper Doesn’t Matter if You Don’t Live It

Whether an ECP writes a practice’s formal mission statement or not, you need to communicate your practice’s workplace culture to the team and be its constant example, she suggests.

 “One of the main areas where I see workforce culture fall apart is when the ECP doesn’t walk the talk. You can’t say, ‘I want an office culture where people treat each other with respect,’ and then be disrespectful to a staff member. Likewise, you can’t say, ‘I want a culture where patients’ needs come first,’ but then do something that’s completely the opposite,” Dr. Fishbein continues.

Staff Follow Your Cues

If an ECP is unhappy, that mindset is going to permeate to the entire staff, she says, as employees are sensitive and in-tune to the mindset of the leader. For example, the work environment may be fun one day, resulting in employees feeling positive and empowered to take on any challenge. However, if the next day the mood changes, and the ECP doesn’t seem to want to be at the practice, the team won’t want to be there either, Dr. Fishbein adds.

“This scenario creates an uncomfortable work environment. Staff won’t know what they’re going to get from day-to-day, and that can create enough uncertainty where they will want to get off the ride,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Use Examples that Illustrate Your Workplace Culture When Offering Feedback

Workplace culture should be a continuous part of the conversation, and that includes when the ECP gives positive feedback to a team member. At her practice, Dr. Fishbein will tie in an employee compliment to one of her practice’s core values.

“One of our core values is adaptability. So instead of telling a staff member, ‘Thanks for getting that patient in,’ we’ll say, ‘I know the patient called and said they were on their way, but then they wound up being an hour-and-a-half late, but you figured it out, and we appreciate your adaptability,’” Dr. Fishbein explains.  

Mirror Your Culture with External Messaging

Your practice’s culture should reflect your outside communication to patients and the community, she adds. If a practice has a “fun, casual environment,” its staff wouldn’t send an email stating, “Dear Mrs. Smith, it has come to our attention that your eye exam is 377 days past due.” Instead, the message could read, “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you, with an eyeball emoji,” Dr. Fishbein suggests.

“Eager to learn” is another core value at Dr. Fishbein’s practice, which she illustrated in a recent practice Facebook post, which included a picture of staff training on a new piece of equipment. “Our message was, ‘One of our values is eager to learn, and here, our staff is learning how to take better care of dry eye patients,’” she says.  

Current Workplace Culture May Necessitate an Updated Mindset

Fostering a positive workforce culture can also help in recruiting and retaining staff, Dr. Fishbein says, but

sometimes that may mean a change of thinking for the ECP, who may still harbor an old-fashioned mindset of how a prospective employee should communicate, or even dress.

“I’m aware that my own perceptions evolved over time,” she says. “There was a time when someone coming in for an interview with brightly colored hair, piercings, or tattoos might not have gotten a second interview. But you need to get beyond that 30-year-old construct,” Dr. Fishbein says.  

ECPs also shouldn’t expect a job candidate to send a thank you e-mail following an interview, or even expect a young person to check their e-mail, she adds.  

“Young people don’t communicate that way,” Dr. Fishbein says. “If you feel that someone who doesn’t respond to an email after three days is clearly not a good fit for your practice, another employer is likely texting the candidate and asking them if they’re available to come in for another interview. Someone else is speaking their language.”

Understand, It’s Okay to Miss the Mark Sometimes

Give yourself and your staff some grace if your workforce culture isn’t 100% on track each day, Dr. Fishbein continues.

“You can’t have a group of 10 or 15 or 25 people who are on the same wavelength and in the same mood the entire day. It doesn’t happen. Employers need to remember how much is going on with employees outside of the office,” Dr. Fishbein says. “If you’re workplace culture isn’t where you want it to be, it’s not that you failed. Just think of small ways you can get it back on the right path.”


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