Are You Heartwiring Service Behaviors to Ensure Exceptional Patient Experiences?

There’s a lot of talk in management circles, including in the healthcare industry, holding employees accountable for certain service behaviors to ensure that they happen consistently—that they simply become so engrained that employees exhibit these behaviors or perform these tasks almost without thinking about them. The term hardwiring has become industry jargon. There is a lot of merit in hardwiring behaviors, but it’s equally important to instill certain behaviors in the hearts of your employees.I like to think about this as heartwiring because, as I’ve worked with people in various settings over the years as a clinician, a leader, and now as a consultant, I’ve found that without a personal connection to purpose, service tactics can just feel like more work for employees. There are two key operating assumptions at work here:

  1. Everyone wants to matter; every employee wants to make a difference. I don’t believe I’ve ever met an employee who got up in the morning and thought, “Gee, I sure hope I can tick off some patients and co-workers today.” Employees want to succeed—they need our help in doing so.
  2. Everyone wants to be a member of a winning team. Your employees want to work for the best healthcare organization in their community—in fact, they’d love to work for the best healthcare organization in the nation. Wouldn’t we all? And, as part of that organization, they want to know that what they do, whether it’s taking care of patients or taking care of the people who take care of patients, is contributing to the organization’s success. Healthcare leaders’ abilities to heartwire behaviors and actions are part of an ongoing process.

There are three key leadership skills that will help heartwire behaviors:

  1. Hiring—Heartwiring starts during the hiring process. It, of course, involves careful selection of employees who mesh with the organization’s culture. Find out what draws the candidate to healthcare and how he/she makes a difference in the lives of patients. But the hiring process also involves individual conversations that explore employees’ unique interests, hopes, and desires for the work they do and the career they aspire to. It involves conversations about how what they will do will drive high-quality care and an exceptional service experience for every patient. It involves clearly conveying to each employee what the mission and vision of the organization is and how what they will do each and every day contributes to the mission and vision.
  2. Coaching—Once hired, it is the ongoing coaching and feedback employees receive (They do receive that ongoing coaching and feedback don’t they?) that helps cement desired behaviors and actions throughout their employment. Coaching provides a series of continual reminders of the connection between your mission and vision and the work being performed. Coaching helps employees see that what they do and what the patients experience are intertwined.
  3. Recognition & Accountability—We all like to get an “atta boy” every now and then. Recognize the behaviors you want to see more of. Employees (particularly the Millennials on the team) need to be recognized when their behaviors match mission, vision, and expectations; employees also need to be reminded when their behaviors do not match mission, vision, and expectations. Keep employees in the loop in terms of how their department or team is doing and how the organization is doing overall. Keeping score is a continual reminder of how the team is doing and a reinforcement of how their individual contributions are making a difference.

Tactics alone won’t engage the heart. In fact, they can sometimes fuel resentment that more and more tasks are being layered on an already over-stretched team. Help your employees make the connection between the tactics and the patient experience so they see how they matter. That’s heartwiring—ensuring that each and every one of your employees not only knows what is expected of them but believes down to their very core that these expectations matter and make a difference to patients. Through their actions and behaviors, employees are impacting the patient experience. For additional thoughts on heartwiring, see this week’s good read.

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