Editor’s Note: Guest post by Julianna Davies, a writer and researcher for the MBA resource, discusses how although companies in the healthcare industry can benefit from strong corporate cultures as much as any other industry, the way in which healthcare companies create this culture will differ, simply given the nature of the work.
Creating a strong corporate culture is important for most businesses. An ambiance of positivity, support, and innovation typically leads to better job satisfaction, which in turn often translates into greater profits, happier clients, and improved overall workplace rankings.
Particularly in the healthcare sector, where patients’ health and lives are constantly on the line, the benefits of a positive and palpable workplace culture cannot be understated. Creating camaraderie and respect in the medical field often requires a slightly different approach than might be used for an office-based team or a small business. Getting started is rarely complicated, however—all that is usually needed is a shared vision, strong communication, and committed leadership.
Corporate Culture Basics
Broadly speaking, “corporate culture” is the general vibe, or feel, of a workplace based on how employees interact with each other and with clients. It can be easy for executives to overlook corporate culture, focusing energy instead on more tangible concerns like profits, goal-setting, or employee assessment. To some, corporate culture is something that simply happens or it doesn’t. To a certain extent the quality of workplace ambiance is dependent on the personalities of individual employees, but there are a number of things managers and executives can do to encourage affirmation and satisfaction on the job.
- Communication is usually the most important part of a corporate culture plan. Employees need to know not only what the company’s cultural goals are, but also why they matter.
- Teamwork is essential to encouraging camaraderie and an environment of trust. Sometimes teamwork is built through targeted activities or retreats, but it can also be a matter of simple collaboration.
- Recognition of top performers and regular praise for a job well done often ingrains a culture of respect, while at the same time motivating employees to strive for excellence. Workers who feel that they are undervalued or unnoticed are less likely to perform to the best of their abilities, which can act as a drain on corporate energy.
- Customer Service should always be emphasized as part of corporate culture, particularly in healthcare. “A strong internal culture is great—but don’t forget that your organization’s purpose is to serve your customers,” Ragan’s HR Communication says on its corporate blog. “Tie teamwork, recognition, and training together in ways that support doing the best possible job for the customer.”
Special Concerns for Healthcare Companies
“Healthcare is an industry where employee satisfaction is closely linked to patient satisfaction,” the Lexington Medical Center says on its official blog. The Medical Center, which is both a hospital and an administrative annex, espouses a corporate culture that places an emphasis on teamwork in order to best serve patients—and ultimately save lives. Most health-related companies view the patient connection as one of the primary reasons to establish a strong internal culture.
Most of the time, positive corporate culture leads to job satisfaction. When health workers are satisfied, they tend to do a better job, and invest more of themselves in their work. In many healthcare fields, such as nursing, there is a high turnover rate—nurses who are dissatisfied tend to leave, finding work elsewhere. This can be very disruptive to continuity in patient care, as well as being a negative influence on other workers. “Job satisfaction has been associated with nurses who perceive their managers as supportive and caring,” researchers from Taiwan’s Chung Shan Medical University said in a 2010 study. “A supportive manager shares values, believes in a balance of power, and provides opportunities for open dialogue with nurses, which in turn reduces the chances of internal conflicts.”
Not All Strategies Are as Effective as They Seem
As with many things, some culture-building tactics work better than others. “An organization’s norms and values aren’t formed through speeches but through actions and team learning,” James Heskett and Earl Sasser, professors at the Harvard Business School, wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog. At some companies, Heskett and Sasser said, the culture is so staunchly enforced that non-compliers are terminated. They called this tactic unnecessarily harsh. Simply drilling, then retaliating often creates a culture of fear more than anything else—even if other perks are involved.
In many parts of medicine, a “shame approach” has long been a part of the corporate culture. “Because medicine was often viewed as the work of a sole physician (or other professional) working with an individual patient, when something did not go well the automatic reaction was to try to determine who was at fault and, often, to discipline them,” the Duke University Medical Center said in an article on creating a “culture of safety.” Shaming healthcare providers may be effective in preventing repeat errors, Duke said, but can also lead to pervasive hiding, lying, and blame-shifting. “Recent efforts have tried to change this—to encourage people to report problems rather than hide them, so they can be addressed,” Duke said. “Forward-thinking healthcare organizations remember that their primary reason for existence is to take care of patients, and they want to keep them as safe and healthy as possible.”
One way to embrace positive culture while still emphasizing safety is to focus on employee contributions, rather than mistakes. The Review highlighted the Florida-based Baptist Health Care as an exemplar of positive culture-building. “BHC rewards individual accomplishments through such things as ‘WOW (Workers becoming Owners and Winners) Super Service Certificates,’ appreciation cards for 90-day employees that list their contributions to their team, one-year appreciation awards, multi-year service awards, employee of the month awards, and recognition of workers as ‘Champions’ or ‘Legends’ for extraordinary achievements or service,” the Review noted. “Those who aren’t living up to BHC’s values soon get the point.”
Why Standard Culture-Building Techniques May Not Work in Healthcare Settings
The healthcare industry has a number of unique attributes that can make culture-planning something of a challenge. The focus on patients, the frequently odd working hours, and the often pervasive shifts in team composition necessitate a certain flexibility not always found in more traditional office set-ups. Healthcare executives can take cues from more mainstream businesses, but ultimately must rely on a more subjective read of their staff and workplace needs.
Creating a strong workplace culture is rarely a complex endeavor. It does take time, though, and patience: executives must usually spend a great deal of time outlining their goals, then finding ways to communicate those goals to their employees. The initial investment may seem hard to justify, but the benefits—both in short-term client and patient gains and in long-term employee satisfaction—are usually well worth it.