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Have a Cup of Coffee
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
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What drives the “Always” response on the annual HCAHPS survey? The first answer that probably comes to mind is “patient care.” After all, the HCAHPS survey reflects the patient’s perception of care. Next question: What is a driver of exceptional patient care? Here, the answer is typically “quality,” “safety,” and “state of the art technology.” No doubt, all three of these factors are crucial, but you must look at the face of healthcare to find the real answer. What’s more, that face is made up of every employee in your organization, not just the bedside caregivers.

Case in point: a member of the housekeeping staff enters a patient’s room to perform daily cleaning. How that staff member interacts with that patient has an impact on the patient’s experience at your healthcare facility. For another example, consider what happens when a patient contacts billing with a question. How that staff member interacts with that patient also affects the patient experience.

Bottom line: the real face of healthcare is the entire team. This means that the facility’s culture plays such a huge role in success. There’s a tendency to focus patient experience initiatives on bedside caregivers, but these efforts fail to include everyone else. The facility’s overall culture—or personality—creates the healing, caring environment our patients crave. 

The Challenge

Enhancing culture is not a one step process, nor is it for the faint of heart. It requires a concentrated, cohesive effort from every member of leadership before it will bear fruit. If you’ve been fortunate enough to work somewhere with a positive and supportive culture, you know the benefits. The team is engaged, proactive, and collaborative—all with an eye for success. The team can accomplish the impossible.

Now, consider the alternative. How about a workplace with a weak or poor culture? You see disengagement, high absenteeism, high turnover, increase in errors, and a lack of team ownership in the success of the organization. Remember: If your employees don’t want to be there, then it’s likely that patients don’t either!

Once senior leadership determines it’s time to invest in enhancing culture, you’re ready to get to work. But there are several challenges to overcome. Fir starts, you have current employees entrenched in an existing culture. Add to that, there is always a steady stream of new employees. Another challenge is being able to send a consistent message throughout the organization. 

The Solution

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Traditional training isn’t the answer. All the roleplay in the world isn’t going to make a lasting impact. At Floyd Healthcare, we found a way to address these challenges: have a cup of coffee and join in an informal conversation.

What better way to bring leaders and the frontline together, while reinforcing our culture? At Floyd, the Culture Conversations program began as a way for each leader to spend quality team time while delivering a culture related message. The leaders receive their message and talking points monthly, with the expectation that they will have their team conversation within the month.

There are three elements: 1) celebrate, 2) educate, and 3) motivate. Celebrate the good things happening with the team. Educate on the culture message. Motivate the team to embrace the behaviors associated with the culture message. All of this happens in about five minutes, and many leaders have their conversations within team meetings. The key is that these conversations are meant to be informal, not read from a script.

To help leaders craft their monthly conversations, they receive a one-page message that includes the education points, along with ideas for discussion and motivation. In addition, they have the option to attend a monthly webinar that presents additional information and tips they can use in their talks with team members. The webinar follows the model of celebrate, educate, and motivate. 

We celebrate the good things happening around the organization connected with the Culture Conversations program. This tactic not only provides positive reinforcement, it also is a great way to share ideas across the organization. Education about Culture Conversations is an important component too, because it puts the topic into context. The Motivate piece provides ideas leaders can use to motivate their team to adopt the behaviors.

This initiative alone won’t create a dynamic culture. But as a part of a bigger effort, it’s an effective way to spread a consistent message and encourage leaders to engage with their team. 

The Success Factors

As I wrote earlier, there is no silver bullet for culture enhancement, but there three keys can help. First, anything you do needs to be engaging so that it sparks creative energy that takes on a life of its own. A traditional training class won’t achieve that, no matter how well it’s designed.

Second, have a clear vision. Avoid the temptation to start a bunch of different initiatives at once in the hope that change happens overnight. Plan, and execute. Everything you do must adhere to the vision.

Third, always keep in mind the notion of accountability. I hate the word mandatory. That said, every leader must be on board with the vision to be successful. This might be the most difficult component, but leader buy-in is crucial. Without it, your culture won’t thrive.

About the Author
Denise Hicken, M.Ed., CPLP, is a senior learning consultant with Floyd Healthcare in Rome, Georgia. Floyd Healthcare includes a 304-bed medical center, a critical access hospital, a primary care network, hospice, and a medical residency program. Her overall focus is leadership development, with a special emphasis on culture enhancement. In 2016, Denise worked to launch a new culture initiative at Floyd titled “Culture Conversations.” This successful program unites the healthcare system through monthly conversations and activities with an eye on improved HCAHPS scores and employee engagement. Denise holds a master’s degree in Learning Technology from the University of Missouri, and recently earned her CPLP designation.
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