During our recent webinar about how senior leaders view employee engagement and talent strategies, we covered several topics. One that caught my attention was a comment by one of our panelists, Donna Katen-Bahensky. Donna served as the President of both the University of Wisconsin and Iowa health systems and remains active, nationally, in professional associations and advocacy groups.
Donna spoke about the importance of helping physicians, nurses, and front-line staff connect, or reconnect, with their passion. Employee engagement can’t just be about “getting everyone on board” but needs to help employees remember why they come to work. Of course, you need to find people who come to work for the right reasons – and then remind them frequently why, and give them opportunities to exercise that passion. The work is hard. There are rules and regulations, new programs, requirements and processes, and frustrations that can’t be avoided. But, you can’t let those things completely drown out each employee’s passion. It was an inspiring message.
I used this story in a presentation about organizational culture recently:
Many years ago, a business consultant was touring the assembly line of a major automobile manufacturer. He came upon a station at which employees were inserting small, metal pistons into the engines of a particular model. Over and over again the pistons went in, and the cars moved down the assembly line. After observing this repetitive task for a while, the consultant asked one of the employees,
“What do you do here?” And the worker responded, “I make cars safe.”
That’s a reflection of a solid culture and an employee connected with his passion.
An example of the exact opposite: Our team was recently running focus groups for a hospital that knew it had a cultural problem. When a nursing assistant was asked what he does, he answered, “I clean up [feces]. All day. Then I go home and come back the next day and clean up more [feces].” This poor soul clearly has lost focus on what he does and the impact he has on patients.
If you ask me what a nursing assistant does, I know that she helps patients get better, helps patients and families through difficult times, provides care to people who are vulnerable, can make or break the patient and family experience, is an important part of the care team and, yes, occasionally, cleans up [feces].
You need to address this issue a few ways:
- That first nursing assistant may never get it. He may not really care about his role in helping patients. He may see this merely as a job. He may as well be washing dishes. Don’t hire him. Make sure you have the ability to screen out guys like this.
- Or, he had that passion but the organization beat it out of him. We never talk about how important he is. We never reinforce his efforts to meet patients’ needs. We don’t make him feel like part of the team. After a while, he learns that we only value him for his ability to clean up [feces].
- We hire managers who appreciate the value of a good nursing assistant, and her role in selecting and developing nursing assistants who do more than just show up for work.
Years ago, I was working in long-term care when their initial prospective payment system came into being. It was a huge disruptor. I was meeting with therapy staff who were struggling to change the way they organize, provide, document, and bill for therapy services. They were frustrated. They were complaining and unhappy and weren’t trying to find solutions.
At one point, I decided to re-frame the discussion. I said, “You are therapists because you want to take care of patients and get them better. This is the new framework in which you have to accomplish that task. The framework is not going to change. If you want to fulfill your professional mission and get patients better, you need to find solutions. You owe that to these patients. Focus on the patients. Find ways to get them better within this new framework.”
They weren’t thrilled but there was a shift. By getting back to their passion, they faced the challenge with a purpose grounded in that passion.
If you missed the webinar, you can rewatch it right now. I’d encourage you to take an hour and listen to the discussion! Here’s the link: