How to Build a Culture That Prioritizes Development in Healthcare Organizations

Healthcare is no stranger to change. As a fluid, dynamic and evolving industry, healthcare leaders are keen on optimizing employee performance to boost effectiveness and patient outcomes.

Yet, despite their best intentions, Gallup reports that only one in five US employees strongly agree that the ways in which they are managed encourages them to do outstanding work. Moreover, the cost of lost productivity due to poor management translates to an estimated range between $960billion and $1.2trillion per year in the U.S. alone.

With unmet needs, the changing nature of work will continue to overwhelm employees belonging to organizations with lagging cultures, especially as the issues grow in depth and complexity. More than ever, employees are looking for a mentor - not just a boss - who can provide continuous feedback, a sense of purpose and ongoing professional (and personal) development.

Needless to say, aligning performance management with changing workplace demands remains an ongoing challenge for healthcare leadership. Before we can begin to establish what that looks like, we first have to define what a culture of development means:

What is a development culture?

Simply put, a development culture is one in which employees are awarded continuous opportunities for growth and learning. Within this context, managers regularly offer meaningful performance conversations that define expectations, maintain accountability, recognize barriers and celebrate success.

Though the benefits of having independent thinkers within an organization are obvious, building and maintaining such a culture is often difficult. Placing learning at the epicenter of organizational efforts means that a culture has to condone failure; so the question then becomes, how does one afford room for growth while mitigating risk?

Moreover, for healthcare managers overseeing large, interdisciplinary teams, performance coaching at the individual level can seem near impossible.

To address these issues, here are three strategies organizations can employ to start building a development culture.

Tips to building an effective development culture

1. Delegate responsibilities to clinical coordinators

Facilitating monthly or even quarterly conversations with individual employees often proves to be a logistical nightmare for managers with large spans of control.

In clinical settings, appointing coordinators who can facilitate ongoing developmental discussions with assigned groups of nurses while still continuing front-line nursing duties can help to individualize developmental coaching while still reaching every employee.

In addition to providing trusted consultation, clinical coordinators can help set quarterly goals and prepare a subsequent line of future nurse managers and mentors. What makes these groups particularly effective in communicating goals, expectations and progress is their credibility from their own front-line responsibilities, helping them relate other nurses and provide better insight.

To position this role for success, healthcare leaders should look towards nurses who possess leadership qualities, amiability and a deep knowledge of their practice.

2. Hold conversations where they naturally make sense to be held.

Rather than reserving open time slots for one-on-one office meetings, developmental discussions should be held where problems or opportunities for growth occur. When infused in normal, day-to-day meetings and discussions, performance-related topics garner more value because they can address more closely to when they happen.

For instance, spontaneous hallway discussions, morning huddles and communal lunch days are all opportunities to discuss challenges, confusions and unmet needs employees are having. Regardless of length, simply asking employees communicates a level of consideration that otherwise feels lost or reserved for inauthentic meetings behind closed doors.

Such conversations have the added benefit of alloting more time to actual work because they stop borrowing time from an employee’s workday. At the same time, they build deeper relationships with employees, such that they feel they can initiate performance-related discussions with you themselves.

In seizing these seemingly micro-opportunities to converse, healthcare managers can structure work environments in which such conversations are relevant, productive and motivating.

3. Foster employee ownership and an atmosphere of development.

From task prioritization to learning new skills, employees should feel comfortable asking for guidance from their managers. As such, healthcare leaders should actively work on creating an environment that not only promotes learning, but encourages asking questions when stuck.

To create such an atmosphere, managers should be challenging their teams to recognize each other’s accomplishments, actively share their own learnings and foster a sense of shared accountability. To do so, its critical that the competencies that define excellence within each role are identified, and that each team member is taught to apply their unique strengths in accordance with these standards of performance. As a collective, the celebration of one another’s skills unifies teams, thereby deepening employee engagement and performing at higher levels.

Additionally, leaders should advocate for continuing education both academically and in the for of on-the-job training. By articulating how specific learnings can directly advance an employee’s career and help them contribute in a way they currently cannot, employees are able to curate opportunities in accordance with their own long-term goals and that of the organization.

Changing Culture Is an Ongoing Process

For most employees, performance is directly proportional to job satisfaction. According to HealthLeaders Media, physicians involved in decision-making within workplace environments that encourage collegiality, learning and respect report significantly lower levels of burnout. Therefore, proactively meeting the needs of employees is an essential element for fostering growth and meeting high standards in the workplace.

Still, it’s important to recognize that cultural transformation takes time to develop. And, while pursing these dynamics in the workplace requires patience and experimentation, overall quality of care and business outcomes benefit as a result.

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