Steve Ronstrom: Hardwiring Mission and Values Into the Hospital Culture

For an organization to succeed, it is important that everyone accepts its mission and values, from frontline caregivers to leaders in the C-suite. Motivated and engaged people make for a healthy organization, and when that happens, patient and physician satisfaction increase, turnover decreases, employee satisfaction rises and the patient census stays strong.

But how do we ensure our staff is engaged? What motivates people to look beyond themselves and value their work? Put another way: What makes them come into work every day? Because they want to get paid? Sure, money is important, but it is actually not one of the top motivators of staff. Rather, studies have shown that people need to find meaning in their work and need to have work that intrinsically fulfills their humanity.

Healthcare already has a mission built in

Caring for others is a powerful way to find meaning in work. Healthcare is lucky here, because our central mission is our patients, whom we care for every day, every hour. By focusing on the reason we exist — our mission — we can find our greatest reward: serving those who are most in need.

As a Catholic institution, Sacred Heart can point to the value the church places on the dignity of the workplace and the church's legacy of serving the poor and the sick. Our nurses, physicians and other clinicians tell us time and again that their work fills them with meaning. In addition, we receive countless acknowledgements and letters of appreciation from our patients and their families.

Our goal is to help make our colleagues aware of the interconnectedness among all the people on staff and to help each person understand the importance of his or her role in the institution. We make sure to provide information to help all colleagues connect the dots, so that they understand this interrelatedness. People regularly meet with their leaders to learn more about their own work as well as what is going on in other parts of the hospital.

Our COO holds sessions every quarter to give all colleagues the opportunity to hear about our successes and our challenges. She also helps them with a regular feature we call "Connect to Purpose" through letters from patients or families, which is also done at monthly leader meetings. Sometimes patients come back to the hospital to talk about someone who saved their life or helped them in a life-changing way. At our monthly reward and recognition "Super Celebration" we highlight teams and individuals who have positively impacted the lives of those around us.

Leader plays a key role

The leader of the institution needs to imprint the views and goals of the organization onto the people who work there. The leader spreads the vision and motivates people. Dwight Eisenhower said: "Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it."

Being a leader involves role-modeling and being aware that wherever leaders go and whatever they do, they are delivering a message about our institution. Leaders have to be approachable and be good listeners. We have to be engaged with people as we interact. The role modeling I do is to be mindful, to be completely in the present moment whether I'm out and about in the hospital or I am in a meeting at an external location.

One of our service standards is to greet people in the hallway — to make eye contact, say hello and offer to help if it appears that is what is needed. As leaders we need to make sure we do this every time with every person. The consistency of our behavior tells everyone in the organization that our standards are important and supported at every level. In a similar way, we expect consistent leader role-modeling on patient units with patients, families, physicians and colleagues.

Colleagues need to hear their leaders repeatedly state the mission and values of the organization like a mantra. St. Francis of Assisi said: "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." While what we do is not exactly preaching, there are similarities. We continually create programs and practices to integrate those values into the practical, daily aspects of organizational life.

Stephen F. Ronstrom has more than 25 years of hospital leadership experience, having served for the past 11 years as an executive in the Hospital Sisters Health System. He is currently president and CEO of the Hospital Sisters' Western Wisconsin division, which includes 344-bed Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wis. Learn more about Hospital Sisters Health System.

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