Too often I’ve seen executives not engaging in the “soft skills” of leadership, and missing the importance of leading by example. They expect company managers to “know” how to do what they’re being directed to do. How is your company helping to build leadership?
3 must-do strategies for executive leaders to permanently improve employee engagement
Every executive leader in healthcare has a vested interest in improving employee engagement – whether he or she acknowledges it or not.
Unfortunately, many senior leaders think HR should manage engagement or they are looking for a magic formula when it comes to sustained improvement. Of course one doesn’t exist.
First, the problem. Here’s what I typically hear in my conversations with hospitals and health systems across the country. Employee engagement survey results come in and senior leaders talk about how important engagement is with their manager group. They share their desire for front line leaders to create department level action plans to transform engagement.
The action plans are created and quite often recorded in online monitoring systems for “accountability”. Most leaders – at all levels – understand that engagement is a key lever for productivity, creativity, safety and patient satisfaction so these actions make sense. Too often, the actions center around what the organization and leader need to do to impact engagement and they leave off the personal responsibility of the employees – but that’s another article.
For a month or two, there’s a focus on improving engagement. Then a new priority comes along and the front line leader’s attention is drawn to a new concern. The front line leader’s “one-up” manager stops asking about engagement. It moves to the back burner and all of the sudden it’s 9 months later and time for a new survey and whole cycle starts again.
If you want to stop this vicious cycle, try these 3 strategies.
Have an Engagement Champion at the executive level
Ideally, everyone on the senior leadership team would feel completely committed to engagement, but I know that’s not always going to happen. To quote Peter Drucker, “Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.” This doesn’t mean that some leaders can let engagement slide off their dashboards; it does mean that you need a champion.
Who is yours? Who on your senior leadership team feels most passionately about employee engagement and is willing to lead a consistent, well thought out campaign to keep engagement on the front burner? Without this level of commitment, engagement might improve in some departments but won’t improve overall. Ideally, the president or CEO is driving the conversations and actions over time. Having a senior level person championing engagement makes a strategic difference.
Provide tools for improvement that are distributed on a regular basis
When a system or process improves it’s usually because of a consistent focus with tools to back it up over time…think Lean Daily Management or traditional Performance Improvement practices. Because employee engagement is often seen as a “soft skill” with hard to measure results, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that leaders will just know what to do.
In my work with clients, I have found the opposite of this to be true. Front line leaders are hungry for high impact, easy to implement ideas and tools to use. From one-on-one meeting agendas to rounding questions to team meeting ideas, many leaders struggle to know what to say and do. Having a working process to “drip” tools and strategies over time makes a difference. How are you providing consistent, realistic tools for your front line leaders to positively impact engagement?
Build in an accountability system starting with executive leaders
Traditional engagement action plans place the accountability on the front line leader. In many nursing settings, these leaders have upwards of 50 direct reports and many other priorities. How do you keep the accountability alive for engagement?
One idea goes back to involvement from the executive leadership team. When senior leaders are interested in the engagement level of their direct reports, they show a level of concern that models what directors and managers should offer to the supervisors who report to them, etc. Think about this. If you are a front line manager and your boss never asks about your own level of engagement, how important are you going to think it is?
Having a system with routine reminders including prompted questions for senior leaders helps to keep the focus present over time. Your Engagement Champion can also make sure that engagement shows up on meeting agendas and strategic planning conversations.
In our world of healthcare, uncertain times lie ahead. Uncertainty breeds disengagement when unchecked. Disengagement leads to turnover which leads to time and money spent on re-hiring…and the cycle continues. A revolving door of staff leads to patient dissatisfaction which leads to poor financial performance. None of it is what you want.
The only way to deliver on the promises you are making to your customers & stakeholders is to continually provide an environment where employees are engaged. Now is the time for your senior leadership team to adopt these 3 must do strategies so you can improve engagement for good.
Vicki Hess, RN, is your go-to resource for transforming employee engagement at the individual, department or organization-wide level. As the author of four books, creator of the Engagement Excelerator Virtual Coaching Program, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), trainer and consultant; Vicki inspires healthcare leaders to take action in a real-world, relatable way. Organizations that implement Vicki’s ideas experience increased engagement, productivity, safety, quality, retention, patient satisfaction, creativity and more. Access free tools and resources when you visit www.EngagementExcelerator.com.