Workforce Engagement: Building a Sustainable Improvement Culture

Added on Sep 4, 2018

By Joseph Cabral, Chief Human Resources Officer, and David Shinsel, Consultant

connect-20333_1920 (1)We know that workforce alignment and a robust process improvement system are critical to achieving sustainable and transformational change across an organization. Press Ganey research cited in a recent Strategic Insights report found that improvement efforts can only take root and thrive in an organizational culture that aligns purpose, people and processes.

To be effective and sustainable, improvement efforts require multidisciplinary partnerships that bridge operational silos; oversight; and consistent follow-up. Without these, teams may view these as “flavor-of-the-month” efforts, and a track record of failures or half-measures may erode their confidence that improvement is attainable. This means that some organizations—despite efforts to encourage survey participation, develop timelines for major activities and train staff on key concepts—don’t see the improvements they expect year after year.

Disappointed and confused, some leaders reach for a reset button, seeking out shiny new strategies and practices in hopes of unlocking the “secret” to engaging and aligning their teams. In many cases, however, stagnant improvement can be attributed to the absence of key internal structures and processes needed to execute on improvement plans. If an organization assigns due dates for “action plans” without outlining a process for monitoring their progress or determining their effectiveness, caregivers may feel like they’re completing check-the-box exercises rather than creating processes for sustainable improvement.

The ability to achieve strategic success and deliver on the promise of safe, high-quality, patient-centered care depends on the engagement of the workforce in that mission, which is a function of organizational culture. Building a sustainable culture of improvement is an ongoing effort that requires commitment, engagement and ownership from the executive team to the front-line caregiver. The following actions can help guide the journey.

1. Identify executive sponsors.
Visible sponsorship from senior leaders sends a clear message that these improvement efforts are an organizational priority. Leaders can model and continuously reinforce accountability and execution while fostering engagement through rounding. By regularly visiting units, they can receive progress updates, share success stories, offer encouragement and identify which teams need additional support.

2. Set clear expectations.
All levels of leadership should understand their own goals and objectives as well as those of their units and the enterprise. Teams should meet routinely to discuss and modify their plans—and their respective roles and responsibilities. The most important expectation to set is that sustainable improvement is not another task to complete; it is the foundation of a transformational culture. Leaders and their teams must continually identify areas of improvement and understand how their specific expectations, goals and actions align with organizational goals.

3. Integrate ownership and execution into the existing organizational structure.
Existing channels within the organization’s reporting structures provide a real-time feedback loop, ensuring that individual action step owners are in place to assess the progress and effectiveness of improvement plans. By maintaining the chain of accountability, leaders at all levels can regularly review tactics and make recommendations for improvement.

4. Establish a cadence for follow-up.
Maximize the oversight, communication and unit support for continuous improvement efforts by leveraging existing leadership forums or creating engagement councils composed of senior leaders and content experts. These and other leaders should be using routine follow-up meetings as opportunities not only to offer support and guidance, but also to recognize excellence and share other units’ success stories. Every person should understand how their actions support organizational goals and expectations, as well as the overall mission.

A ​strong culture that lays the foundation for an engaged workforce has never been more important. Ensuring strategic success, and the ability to deliver on the patient promise of safe, high-quality, patient-centered care, depends on the health of an organization's culture.