A setting where managers meet regularly to share ideas and experiences about empowering their teams. Where staff members actively seek out supervisors for feedback. Picture a place where co-workers hold each other accountable to the highest standards of service and where they are committed to the organization.
This is a place where employees ask for help when they do not know what to do rather than hide until the problem becomes too large. This is a place that leverages the power of working relationships to enhance effectiveness throughout each aspect of the organization. Employees in these organizations come to work with their motivations and attitudes aligned toward doing what is right for the organization and the customers they serve.
Over the past 8 years, we have studied over 50 Health, Human, and Community service (HHC) organizations and identified the cultural differences between the highly successful and the typical cultures.
We found that the highly successful HHC organizations cultivated a workplace culture that was focused on learning, accountability, and interpersonal effectiveness. Perhaps more striking is what happened when these factors were not attended to: front line managers were in a constant state of frustration which often lead to a victim mentality; front line staff attitudes were more negative, they don’t show up, and they didn’t respect the organization; lastly, the people being cared for were under-served and their reported quality of life was lower.
The bottom line: culture matters. Your culture impacts every aspect of your organization, including your financial performance. Employee engagement, retention, productivity, resident satisfaction and quality of life—all of these key metrics are directly connected to and driven by workplace culture. Culture is the connective tissue that bonds all of these measures of success together. Here’s more about what we learned:
1) Foster a learning mentality. Within our rapidly changing and highly regulated industry, an organization’s ability to learn and respond quickly to challenges and changes is necessary for sustainability and growth. Undoubtedly, there is a direct link between employee engagement and an organization’s ability to learn: organizations that commit to and deliver on the individual development of their employees see higher levels of engagement in return.
Creating a culture of learning involves much more than offering monthly in-services and annual HIPAA training. There are two types of organizational learning: formal and informal. Formal learning refers to in-service trainings, going to an off-site workshop, and attending conferencing-–to name a few. These are important, necessary, and a significant means of how an organization acquires expertise. Most organizations do formal learning well.
Informal learning happens in the context of relationships; it’s an attitude, a commitment, and when practiced we become good at it. It is through informal learning that substantial individual growth and development occurs—which in turn has a profound impact on the organization as a whole. It occurs from getting feedback from a supervisor or peer. It occurs when an employee realizes they do not know how to do something and they ask for help. Informal learning happens when a team fails on a project and they reflect together about what they can do differently next time.
Creating of culture of learning is creating an environment where people are not afraid to fail. It is creating a space where saying “I don’t know” and “I need help” is seen as a strength and is admirable. A culture of learning is one in which people are not only open to feedback, they yearn for it—and they get it.
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2) Increase accountability while decreasing blame and compliance. Running an organization requires that things get done, and that they get done right. In Health and Human Services it is essential that regulations are followed. When working with vulnerable populations, great care must be taken to account for the safety of the individuals we serve. A culture of accountability is one in which every employee, regardless of their role, takes responsibility for things getting done right.
Creating such a culture requires a multifaceted approach; data shows that the two primary drivers of true accountability are: how problems and failures are approachedand how information is communicated. Highly accountable organizations analyze and determine root causes of problems through diagnosing and understanding while organizations lacking in true accountability single people out and blame. This leads to misunderstandings, isolation, resentment, and disengagement.
Once the problem has been identified, diagnosed, and understood, organizations that value accountability communicate that through explaining and involving, rather than threatening and punishing. Involving people in accountability is connecting the objectives to their values and personal goals, it is achieving buy-in and commitment rather than compliance. It is performing to achieve rather than doing to avoid getting punished—the root of this is, just like a culture of learning, is respectful relationships.
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3) Foster effective relationships throughout the organization. Effectively creating cultures of learning and accountability hinges on the relationships across the organization. Relationships in the context of work are alliances; aligned towards doing what is right for the organization. When these alliances are healthy and strong, it is easy to see how learning and accountability thrives.
There are two primary relationships in health and human services organizations: Supervisor to staff and staff to residents/clients/individuals served.
The goal of any health, human, or community service organization is to provide high quality services to the people they are serving. Ultimately, when the relationship between the staff member and the resident or client is positive the organization is rewarded, both financially and missionally—it is indeed this relationship that is at the core of what makes health and human services unique. Not surprisingly, the relationship between a staff member and clients is impacted by the quality of the alliance between the staff member and supervisor.
Effective supervisor-staff working alliances also affect other areas of work performance such as task completion, task focus, and timeliness. Additionally, strong alliances have a greater effect on employee engagement and overall performance than pay. When an employee’s supervisor is focused on helping the staff member become more effective in their job, the supervisor ignites a drive within the employee to accomplish and perform the right way for the organization.
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When Health and Human Services organizations focus their people strategy on developing a workplace culture of learning, accountability, and relationships they experience a business that is agile and ready to adjust to the changing demands of the industry, an engaged workforce committed to the mission, and residents/clients who are enjoying true quality of life.