Guest Columns

Hardwiring the invisible: Culture is a choice

David Baumgarter
David Baumgarter

When my oldest daughter was 15, she and I were having a discussion similar to an intervention. Our discussion concluded with something like, I can be flexible on some items as long as we work toward full implementation of the four rules: trust, respect, balance and grades. The entire conversation lasted only 15 to 20 minutes but resulted in the birth of the “4 Rules” in our household.

Fast forward a decade, a team at Signature HealthCare completes a survey with almost 20,000 frontline employees and the Signature service values were born: Compassion, Teamwork, Respect, Integrity, Patience and Positivity.  These service values ultimately became known as the Sacred Six.

Whether we are talking about the 4 Rules or the Sacred Six, they are just words on a piece of paper unless we do something to operationalize them. At home when one of my four kids would do something that wasn't as expected, we would talk about the event and discuss how the action complimented or conflicted with one of the 4 Rules.  

It's no different in our facilities! We can't use ambiguous statements like: be respectful, show compassion or do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In this competitive environment would we want to trust our business model to vague guidance? No, we need to be intentional.

At Signature we have been on a long term project helping leaders to learn to recognize actions that support and/or conflict the Sacred Six. Believe it or not, this is not as intuitive as first imagined. It takes practice to become really good at it. Below are a few tips for operationalizing organizational service values:

  1. Identify the service values that are important to your organization; there are various methods to get frontline participation which makes it more impactful

  2. Once identified, be intentional to look and listen around you making an intellectual connection between an employee's action and the way it compliments or conflicts with your service value

  3. Create a culture of gratitude.  Set an expectation that members of the leadership team are intentionally identifying specific actions employees do that compliment your service values, share compliments multiplying the thank you employees get for their effort

  4. When a customer compliments or has a grievance about one of the employees it is important to tie the employee discussion back to the service value

Research tells us that high performance team members know what is expected of them because they hear positive reinforcement 5.6 to 1. It's really that simple. Look for employee actions you want more of and say thanks.

I've seen dramatic changes in facility culture in just a few weeks, but don't expect it to be sustainable unless the process becomes as important to the organization as an effective lab process. Zig Ziglar said “People often say motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing – that is why we recommend it daily.”

It may take an extended period of time to have sustainable culture. At Signature we have the advantage of chaplains leading the effort, but with intentional focus, leadership teams can improve employee and customer experience as well as potentially improve the lives of those around them.

David Baumgartner is the Vice President of Spirituality & Sacred Six for Signature HealthCare.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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