The Google Approach: How Hospitals Can Create Cultures That Drive Employee Engagement, Satisfaction

Industry experts say a deliberate, data-driven approach to employee engagement and satisfactions benefits hospitals, their staff members and their patients.

Lego play stations, Broadway-themed conference rooms, gourmet cafeterias. These are just some of the employee perks that characterize Google's East Coast headquarters in New York City, according to a report from The New York Times.

Google has gotten a reputation for providing its employees with a luxurious work environment, and it seems that approach is paying off. Every year since 2012, Google has topped Fortune's annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, and its stock broke $1,000 per share last year, according to a CNN Money report.

What makes Google great? According to the company's website, it's a research-based, deliberate approach to every aspect of the workplace. "Data is central to everything we do — even when we choose a paint color for a conference room wall or plan a lunch menu," the site declares.

Although Google may not seem to have much in common with hospitals and health systems, experts on employee engagement and satisfaction say healthcare providers can benefit from adopting a similar research-driven approach.

"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," says Britt Berrett, PhD, president of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and co-author of the book "Patients Come Second," which focuses on the link between high employee engagement and satisfaction and high patient engagement and satisfaction. He says a scientific approach like Google's is "absolutely appropriate" for hospitals and health systems.

Paul Spiegelman, chief culture officer for the compliance company Stericycle and Dr. Berrett's co-author, says conducting surveys and gathering data can be critical to increasing workers' engagement and happiness. "Data is a tool to drive action," he says. "The data helps you understand the pulse of the organization, and it helps you then create action plans."

Gathering data: Engagement improvement starts with surveying employees
The foundation of a Google-like approach to employee engagement is taking the organization's temperature with various surveys, Mr. Spiegelman says. Healthcare organizations can conduct more complex, formal surveys through vendors such as Gallup. They can also opt to use smaller-scale "pulse surveys."

"You could take a smaller survey that just asks a few questions and do that on a more informal basis through the course of the year to see if you're making progress," Mr. Spiegelman says.

Healthcare leaders can also take surveys themselves to check their progress and guide plans for improvement. Mr. Spiegelman and Dr. Berrett offer a free, five-minute "culture IQ" test for healthcare providers. It consists of 10 questions that measure to what extent an organization has created a culture of engagement, asking survey-takers to rate themselves based on statements such as "We hire for fit in addition to skill" and "Our employees feel like they are here for a purpose beyond just their job."

Joe McCaffrey, managing director of research and insights at The Advisory Board Company, explains there are four main characteristics of an engaged employee: the organization inspires them to perform their best, they are likely to be working for the organization three years from now, they would recommend the organization to friends as a great place to work and they would go above and beyond to help the company succeed.  These four characteristics are the foundation of how the Advisory Board measures engagement levels for hospitals and health systems.

Gathering data through surveys to back up engagement improvement efforts is critical to getting employees on board, according to Sarah Strumwasser, senior director of research and insights for The Advisory Board.

"Having the data to support where your greatest opportunities are really helps to gain buy-in from the workforce," she says. "Without that data-driven approach, you're often relying on word of mouth or what your managers and directors are hearing from the most vocal individuals."

Kanoe Allen CNO Hoag Orthopedic InstituteKanoe Allen, chief nursing officer at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif., says her organization saw positive results after using a 52-question survey from the Great Place to Work Institute to gauge staff satisfaction.

Based on the survey results, she says the organization addressed concerns about communication and favoritism. Opportunities for advancement are now announced ahead of time and made clear to everyone, she says.

As a result, she says Hoag Orthopedic has received positive feedback from staff and has seen improvement in performance. "Taking care of our employees generates good will for all of us and our patients, and it's evidenced in our HCAHPs scores," she says.

It's important for healthcare organizations to not just gather data but to also take action based on their survey results, says Mr. McCaffrey of The Advisory Board. It can't just be a "check-the-box" activity.

"You want to use the data," he says. "You want to be able to harness it. You've got to have clear goals in mind."

Mr. Spiegelman of Stericycle agrees. "What's most important is doing the work that's required to engage employees," he says.

Forums, huddles and celebrations: The importance of communication and recognition
In addition to surveys, more casual methods of gauging employee satisfaction can benefit healthcare providers. Dr. Berrett of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital says that "a focus on internal communication is imperative." His organization holds regular employee forums, and they have celebrations and recognize achievements both personal and professional.

"We like to say, 'Are we having fun at work?'" he says. "In this day and age, especially with the millennials, it's imperative. People want to work where they feel purpose, satisfaction and joy."

Spreading positivity through employee recognition is key for healthcare providers, says Chris French, vice president of customer success at Globoforce — a company that provides cloud-based software solutions allowing an organization's employees to recognize and reward each other for strong performance.

"There are some unique challenges in healthcare," he says. "People are working really hard. It's a highly emotional, high-stress environment….The ability to counter that environment with points of light and positivity is crucially important for the employee and also for the bottom line."

He says acknowledging and informing everyone in the organization about great performance not only encourages those who are recognized but also serves as an example for others. "If you share it immediately to that person's work circle, it could influence a change toward more positive behavior in others," he says.

Ms. Allen says Hoag Orthopedic works to make sure staff members communicate and connect with each other through employee huddles. For instance, she says everyone knows the number of babies (25 and eight on the way as of late February) staff members at the organization have had during the last three years or are due to have.

"It's bringing the humanity back into the workplace," she says.

Creating a vision: How to establish an intentional culture
Beyond just gathering data, healthcare companies can learn from Google's overall deliberate approach to creating a workplace environment, according to Kristin Baird, RN, president and CEO of Baird Group, a consulting company.

"They create an intentional culture," she says. "In other words, people are really defining, 'This is what we want our culture to be.'"

An intentional culture starts with having a vision for the company environment, similar to the mission statement a company might have to guide its business goals. Once an organization defines their desired work culture, the leaders can strive to achieve and maintain that environment, she says. She recommends hiring only people who fit the desired culture.

"Use behavior-based interview questions," she says. "Be slow to hire and make sure they fit the leadership. It's been said that people don't leave their jobs; they leave their managers."

Overall, she says the nature of the service healthcare organizations provide to patients makes designing a deliberate workplace culture and engaging employees to produce better outcomes especially important.

"It's a sacred relationship that we enter into every single day," she says. "Leaders of healthcare organizations have a responsibility to make sure they're creating an environment very intentionally that's going to engage people so they really feel connected to that greater purpose."

More Articles on Hospital Employee Engagement:
3 Steps to Improve Employee Feedback  
3 Insider Tips for Happier Hospital Employees
11 Hospitals Make Fortune's "Best Companies to Work For" List 


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