Recently I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a dialogue with a group of top executives who lead senor care organizations. Our topic was ‘workforce challenges’, and the discussion revolved around engaging and retaining committed employees. I felt so appreciative of the insights and actions that these leaders generously shared… actions they have taken to shape an engaging workplace for their employees.

Here are just a few of the leadership practices that were discussed:

Define, communicate and ACT on what’s important

One leader spoke about becoming really clear on organizational values and using them as a roadmap for defining the behaviors that are most important. Interestingly, her organization’s values aren’t the oversimplified, commonplace ones that most companies tout (integrity, teamwork, customer service). Rather, they were generated by asking provocative questions, listening, and reflecting to understand the deepest needs of customers and employees. The values they espouse reflect what is important to and unique about her organization.

Of course visibly expressing these values through explicit actions is what counts. Acknowledging that often it’s the little things that, when done consistently, can make a big difference, her leadership team identified several low effort, high impact actions that leaders take to reinforce their values and to demonstrate care for employees. From finding a variety of ways to build fun into the work day, to being diligent about making sure every employee has the tools and resources they need to care for residents, she and her leadership team are intentional about creating a caring environment for employees.

Personally connect with employees

Although senior leaders may not be able to connect with every employee in their company, these executives agreed that finding a consistent and routine way to stay visible within the facilities is worth the effort. Whether by presenting organizational updates at an all staff meeting, doing employee rounding, or meeting with small groups of employees to hear their perspectives and ideas… all agreed that visibility is important.

One CEO shared that he has an informal measure he uses to determine how well connected he is with employees. When he visits facilities and makes rounds, he notes how many employees feel comfortable greeting him by name. This same CEO established a CNA Council in which a nursing assistant from each of the facilities in the organization meets with him via a web conference each month so that he can stay in touch with the people closest to the residents.

Knowing that at some point many employees experience some really tough life challenges (severe illness, death in the family, personal crisis, etc.) these senior executives spoke of reaching out to employees and extending words of compassion and support. This reminds me of a communication system that former Cisco CEO, John Chambers set up in his organization. He was notified of any serious event impacting an employee within 48 hours, at which time he would write a personal note to that employee extending empathy and care for that person.

Make sure all leadership team members are aligned and accountable

One of the biggest reasons organizations fail to effectively advance priorities is lack of senior leader alignment. To overcome this barrier, one COO spoke of the intentional actions he has taken to get all of his executive team members united and cohesive in delivering on their strategic goals, one of which is employee engagement. To reinforce alignment, the leadership team has together read some of the landmark books on leadership (e.g., Good to Great), they’ve established a systematic review of strategic goals, and have put in place robust measures to continuously monitor advancement of goals.

What are your senior leader engagement practices?

Harvesting the gold from my dialogue with these executives, here are the key leadership practices that these leaders use to generate momentum and fortify commitment to shaping an engaging workplace:

  • They declared and have consistently affirmed employee engagement as a strategic priority for their organization
  • They provide the economic and logistical resources to support the employee engagement strategy
  • They’ve defined an organizational employee engagement goal, identified metrics, and established a process for routinely monitoring progress on achieving the goal
  • They continuously evaluate and revise their workforce systems/processes to support their engagement goal
  • They are willing to hold people accountable for executing the engagement strategy.

Impacting employee engagement and retention starts with senior leaders.

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.