6 Steps for Improving Employee Engagement

Written By: Kristin Baird, RN, BSN, MHA

There is no doubt that employee and patient engagement are inextricably linked. That’s just common sense. After all, if employees are engaged they will be motivated and driven to fulfill the mission of the organization for which they work. In healthcare, that mission is all about providing exceptional patient experiences.

But the link between employee engagement and outcomes goes beyond common sense. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study demonstrated the real difference between organizations that took engagement seriously, and those that simply asserted they were concerned with employee engagement. They were able to measure clear, irrefutable results.

There’s a definite business case for employee engagement. It’s not fluff; it’s not just “a nice thing to do.” It’s an essential area of focus for healthcare organizations hoping to stay in business by continuing to attract and retain both providers and patients through their doors.

But, achieving a high level of employee engagement is not always easy. Over and over again, we’ve seen healthcare leaders with very good intentions, but who lack the skillsets for the coaching and communication needed to ensure engagement. Senior leaders must be able to articulate a clear vision for a culture that promotes engagement, and then ensure that leadership practices are aligned with that vision. Mid-level leaders must be adept at spotting levels of engagement, and coaching to improve engagement. Too often, coachable moments are lost when leaders choose to ignore, or fail to respond to, situations where employees show signs of slipping engagement.

At the Baird Group we hold engagement workshops to help healthcare leaders boost employee engagement. We teach how to spot the levels of engagement and how to coach individuals based on that level of engagement. We find that most leaders are eager to learn and practice the coaching essentials needed. They are often surprised to realize that the majority of their time and energy is being spent on the wrong people, leaving them vulnerable to turnover.

In addition to the engagement workshop, our Baird Model focuses on a four-phase pathway to a high-performing, engaged culture that includes: assessment, strategy, mobilization and reinforcement. The Baird Model uses specific strategies to improve engagement as part of a comprehensive culture-shifting approach. We examine baseline engagement data, and measure the impact of specific strategies and tactics.   

Achieving a high level of engagement is a process, not a philosophy, and that’s an important distinction. Engaging employees doesn’t happen because you want to engage employees, or because you believe it’s important. Saying it’s so, doesn’t make it so. What is required is a methodical focus on actions designed to achieve results.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece on the link between employee engagement and the patient experience for Becker’s Hospital Review. In it, I covered six important steps in mapping the course for improving engagement and patient satisfaction. The steps are:

  • Create a common vision and burning platform for change. Answer the question, “Where is our culture now, and where do we want it to be?”
  • Set expectations across the organization for specific standards of behavior.
  • Align resources to support expectations and priorities. Don’t just say the patient experience is important. Devote necessary resources. (This is an important connection to engagement.)
  • Establish systems to hold people accountable. In addition to performance reviews, expect ongoing employee rounding, coaching and one-to-one discussions.
  • Build service targets and behaviors into an evaluation system.
  • Position organizational leaders as the “keepers of the vision.”

I said then, and I’ll say now: “No, it’s not easy.” But we can help. When we work with an organization, we’ll start with a baseline of the current state.  Then we’ll roll out leadership development including coaching and communication needed to strengthen engagement. Finally, we’ll help measure results to see where improvements have been made and where work still needs to be done.

It’s important to understand that improving employee engagement—and the patient experience—is not an event; it’s a journey. A journey that is built upon data, targeted strategies, measurement and continuous improvement. If you’re ready to start down the pathway to engaged employees and patients, get in touch.

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