Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Consider this truism: Your facility outcomes will never outperform the effectiveness of how your leadership team leads.

As you focus on 5-Star ratings, clinical indicators, resident satisfaction, workforce engagement and financial outcomes, keep in mind that it is the individual and collective capabilities of your leadership team that drive your ability to stay competitive and to achieve operational excellence. To sustain high-quality outcomes, an administrator or executive director must be able to:

•  Establish a unified commitment to facility goals, and

•  Build a cohesive team among facility leaders to advance those goals.

Leaders are ultimately responsible for establishing a system of leadership that drives high levels of performance. A system of leadership may sound a bit obscure, but think of it as a combination of your formal leadership structures and processes (how you set and deploy your vision and values, how you make decisions and communicate with employees, how you select and develop leaders and managers) as well as your day-to-day leadership presence, such as how you personally demonstrate and role model the values of your organization.

In the senior care business, we are deeply dependent on a motivated workforce capable of providing high-quality care and service. Therefore, it’s imperative that facility leaders recognize that they set the tone for their organization through their system of leadership. Leadership processes, and the personal actions and behaviors of leaders, provide visible and tangible messaging to employees about organizational priorities.

Here are a few real life examples of concrete practices that leaders use to convey what’s most important:

•  An administrator addresses new employees during orientation and speaks from his heart about what compassionate, person-centered care feels like to residents. He describes the significant role these new employees will play in directly impacting each residents’ quality of life.

•  At the conclusion of department manager meetings, leaders in a home care agency identify and note any information that needs to be cascaded and communicated to staff (key decisions, upcoming changes, industry information, etc.). Managers are held accountable for communicating this information to their teams. Employees feel well-informed and in-the-know about what’s happening in their organization.

•  The department managers in a skilled nursing facility present the facility’s strategic plan to their respective departments and engage their employees in defining department-specific goals and actions that align with the facility plan. Employees feel ownership for the goals and accountability for the specific actions they will take to achieve the goals.

•  A routine, consistent practice of employee rounding enables the leaders of an assisted living community to regularly see and hear from direct care and service providers. Leaders use this process as one of their key methods to encourage frank, two-way communication with employees to learn about what’s going well and what is concerning to employees.]•  A department manager discusses her facility’s values with employees in every team meeting. In each monthly meeting, one of the five values is highlighted. Employees discuss the behaviors that visibly express the value and share stories about when and how they’ve seen the value demonstrated.

•  Recognizing that employees feel more enthusiastic about improvement when they can see the relationship between their actions and operational results, leaders in a skilled facility use a performance visibility board to communicate the status of key performance indicators so employees can see how improvement is progressing.

To create a work environment in which employees are positioned to BE and DO their best, effective leaders articulate a compelling vision, set clear direction, create and deploy action plans, measure results and continuously learn and improve. When an organization does not fulfill its mission, achieve its objectives, and/or behave in alignment with its values, it can almost always be traced back to failure of leadership.

So how do you create an effective leadership system that results in a high-performing, sustainable organization? Focus on setting high expectations for performance and align your formal leadership processes and practices with your day-to-day actions and behaviors in support of those expectations.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.