3 Reasons You Need to Include Employee Engagement in Your Lean Improvement Efforts

Done well, the Lean quality improvement philosophy can transform a healthcare organization when it comes to safety, quality, patient satisfaction and overall efficiency. So why aren't healthcare leaders including employee engagement in the Lean mix? Here are three reasons you should.

1. Employee engagement needs to be on your radar screen daily.
Now more than ever, employee engagement is a game changer in healthcare. Every commitment we're making to patients, our communities, the board, etc. depends on having engaged employees to deliver the services we are promising; therefore, engagement needs to be a recurring thought — not an afterthought.

Evidence indicates that increased employee engagement drives improved patient satisfaction, quality, safety, productivity and efficiency, as well as virtually every other metric that we track in healthcare. Everything ties back to engagement, because ultimately, it always comes down to how well people do their job and how willing they are to do their job with passion, energy and effort over time. Janet Blank, a nurse manager at a community hospital in Maryland said it well. "Employees who are satisfied, energized and productive [my definition for engagement] are the engine to get things done and the engine to meet all desired outcomes."

Yet, most organizations measure engagement biannually or annually at best. There may be the occasional "pulse check," but how do you really know if engagement is where you want it to be if you're not using a daily process to stay on track? Adding elements of engagement to your daily Lean process improvement keeps it on your radar screen.

2. Using your current Lean process saves time.
Healthcare leaders are too busy to add another "flavor of the month" engagement tactic to their plates. Using current Lean daily management processes (regardless of which system you use) saves time. You're not starting from scratch. Integrating employee engagement into Lean daily management provides real-time measuring and monitoring of engagement that will provide insights into your team's progress between annual/biannual surveys and support your efforts to sustain momentum so that everyone stays engaged. The idea is to layer an engagement component onto areas you're already measuring and monitoring so that it's realistic to add to your routine.

Creative leaders add employee engagement to their performance improvement/quality improvement/Lean daily management boards and measures. Having a real-time method for tracking engagement gives leaders and their teams a distinctive edge, especially in times of rapid change or crisis management.

3. Combining Lean processes and engagement promotes shared responsibility.
In a previous article I wrote for Becker’s Hospital Review entitled "3 Must-Haves for Sustainable Employee Engagement," I discussed the importance of shared responsibility for engagement. To improve, the organization needs a strategic level focus, the leaders need a tactical focus and the employees need a personal focus on engagement. It takes all three for sustained success. Using Lean processes promotes shared responsibility because staff are directly involved in identifying root causes and possible solutions for disengagement.

Since disengagement can be caused by internal and external conditions, team members need to be involved in finding solutions. Making employee engagement measures visual promotes shared responsibility. For example, an IT manager could keep track of the responses to engagement questions with a Pareto chart on the wall along with other metrics the team measures (e.g., help desk call response time and system down time.). This not only highlights trends, patterns and themes, but also keeps employees focused on being satisfied, energized and productive. And when problems do arise that affect engagement, employees will be more likely to get involved in solving those problems.

It just makes good sense to make employee engagement one area of focus (if it's an issue, of course) because you've got a proven process in your Lean systems This is a no-brainer. Every healthcare organization is entering a new world order and using something that is tried and true provides familiarity and comfort. Your strategic goals around your people (however they are defined) will improve and so will all other outcomes you are seeking.

Vicki Hess, RN, MS, CSP, author, consultant and professional speaker, works with healthcare organizations across the country to create sustainable cultures of engagement. Read more in her third book for healthcare leaders, "Six Shortcuts to Employee Engagement: Lead & Succeed in a Do-More-with-Less World," due out August 2013. Vicki can be reached at vicki@vickihess.com or www.VickiHess.com.

More Articles on Employee Engagement:

5 Mistakes Hospitals Make in Employee Relations
11 Drivers of Employee Engagement

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