Healthcare Coaching

Top 3 ways coaching can support healthcare employee engagement

Increasing employee engagement has been suggested as a powerful resource for decreasing employee turnover and reducing burnout. In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “How companies can improve employee engagement right now”, the authors state that research supports the belief that “engaged employees perform better, experience less burnout, and stay in organizations longer.”  

Further, the authors share that employee engagement has four elements, which can be thought of as the degree to which an employee:

  • Feels committed to an organization
  • Identifies with an organization
  • Feels satisfied with their job
  • Feels energized at work.

These characteristics are usually evaluated through an employee engagement survey and the results analyzed on an aggregated basis. There is currently a wide mix of employee engagement tools, practices and solutions available to leaders who wish to create and sustain an employee’s commitment to the mission of their organization. 

In this paper I will focus on those top 3 coaching behaviors that healthcare leaders can use to support engagement within their team. This top 3 list was developed through insights gained from recent conversations with chief nursing officers, healthcare executives and healthcare leaders who had completed coaching certification training. 

#1 Link to mission 

Per the Gallup Organization “understanding a company’s purpose helps employees answer yes to the question “Do I belong here?”  When it comes to the healthcare community, one executive I interviewed stated “…during times of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) keeping employees aware of how they support our mission is critical.”  

Try this one proven technique to help your team understand their link to the organization’s mission. 

Several executive leaders who lead global, geographically dispersed teams supporting large scale healthcare initiatives believed they were able to increase their employees’ link to mission through team meetings that included peer executives from other departments within their enterprise.  

Best practice suggests you should engage your peers prior to the meeting and share mutual expectations, to include the meeting’s purpose, the team’s expectations and related insights. For example, one executive stated

“I proactively partner with peers from other departments and invite them to participate in my team meetings. I encourage them to sit and actively listen to my team’s thoughts and feelings about where we are at, especially when it comes to patient safety… often I will remind them before our meeting not to ‘jump to a solution’ but to remain in the moment and truly engage to understand both the facts and underlying emotions being shared during the meeting”.  

How does this technique impact employee engagement?

Feedback from leaders who practice this technique shared the belief that:

  • Employees feel they were being heard by other leaders outside their chain of command. One employee stated: ”…I felt that there are other leaders and teams who are facing the same issues… and I have a clearer understanding of how my work supports the entire community…”
  • Opportunity to engage with leaders on a personal level. An early career employee stated “having the senior executive (from another department) sit next to us and share their passion for their work was fun… and I appreciate the fact that now when I see them in the cafeteria or in the halls they stop to say hello and spend a few minutes with me…” 

#2 Engaging to retain

This technique requires the leader to ‘flip’ the feedback process. It can be used at the individual and sometimes team level to help ensure participants in the feedback session are present and open to each other’s current reality. 

In the executive coaching domain this is often called “clearing”, where the coach opens the coaching session by asking the client to provide an overview of the client’s current circumstances, to include such topics as stressors, insights and expectations. This then informs subsequent discussions where participants have a deeper appreciation for each other’s frame of mind. Per one former Chief Nursing Officer

“In a healthcare setting, engaging employees to better understand how to provide them more effective support is a key to retention.”

Try this one proven technique to engage with your employee to better understand “where they are at”

Healthcare leaders who recently completed coaching certification training felt that using a stay interview was an effective technique for reinforcing employee satisfaction with work. Stay  interviews are conducted to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave. Per a recent online Forbes article by Kevin Kruse a stay interview  “…can be enough to reignite employees’ fire for their role and the organization…” 

Stay interviews should be done at least every six months, and best practice suggest leaders should:

  • Keep the stay interview separate from the performance management process
  • Provide the employee with the questions prior to the interview
  • Ensure there is more than enough time to complete the interview.

A recent article from Society of Human Resource Management on this topic suggests the following questions should be used during the interview:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn here?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do ‘more of’ or ‘less of’ as your manager?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

How does this technique impact employee engagement?

A global healthcare executive who has used this technique for several years summarized the following feedback from her employees:

  • From high performing employees – they felt appreciated and felt their leadership gave them an opportunity to share what work barriers they needed to have removed to be more successful.
  • From new hires – many shared they had never experienced a stay interview and appreciated the opportunity to review the questions beforehand. They also felt this “no surprises” approach allowed them to think through their responses and increased their satisfaction with the process.
  • From senior staff – overall, this was a chance to recalibrate and re-engage at a personal level on barriers to individual success that required a thoughtful (preferably co-created) approach to cross-functional collaboration across organizational boundaries. The opportunity to work through perceived “political” roadblocks was also highly valued. 

#3 Personal growth aligned to mission

Professional growth has long been known to be an effective retention attribute. Recent research suggested that 94% of surveyed employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. According to Gallup, career growth opportunities are among the most common reasons people change jobs. 

Within the healthcare community, operational executives are finding that personal growth linked to an organization’s mission has been an effective way to help employees: 

  • Expand their critical thinking skills, 
  • Build stronger networks and 
  • Increase their self-efficacy 

All of which contribute to higher employee job satisfaction and engagement. One executive shared her insight that

“…I routinely partner with my employees to explore what developmental opportunities are available and how I and their immediate co-workers can help support their learning”. 

Try this one approach to providing personal growth aligned to mission

Leaders with coaching training shared the belief that creating and implementing a team-centered personal development plan can have a positive impact on job satisfaction. Traditionally, professional development discussions have occurred between the employee and their leadership. By shifting these discussions to team-centered approach, there is opportunity to explore professional growth linked to team development. 

In several pilot programs, leaders guided the team through a short exercise by asking the following questions:

  • What are the team’s strengths, and what are the opportunities for growth?
  • What are the most important development needs of the team based on the above question?
  • How do we address these needs – 
    • What training/learning experiences do we need to pursue?
    • Who should attend training?
    • How do we provide the participant(s) a safe space to ensure they have the time and focus to complete the training? 
    • What additional resources do we need from our leadership team to meet our goals?
  • How do we partner with each other to integrate the learning within the team?
  • How do we evaluate success?

Through responses to these questions, the team co-creates a team-centered plan for each participant. The team leader acts as a coach, staying present and asking questions that clarify intent, ensure alignment to mission and support an inclusive discussion. 

How does this technique impact employee engagement?

Feedback from pilot participants share their beliefs that:

“…this was a great experience, for the first time I was made aware of what was available to support my personal growth…and more importantly, my co-workers were excited for me to take the training”

“It took all the mystery out of understanding who got to go to what training…I felt that I had a better understanding of how my personal growth could impact the team’s success…”

“By working through this as a team we were more ready to support a co-workers off-site learning…we knew well in advance when they were going to be off the schedule, why they were going, and what they were going to bring back to the team…”

Taking the first step

These techniques and others relating to being a more coach-like leader can be learned through participation in a coaching skill-building program. If you would like to learn more about an initial coaching certification program or coaching in healthcare, please take a look at ACT’s Leader as Coach and Leader as Coach for Healthcare offerings. ACT Leadership and Performance Coaching, LLC has a great deal of experience partnering with the healthcare community to develop and deliver coach training and coach training certification programs.

In addition, if you are curious about how other organizations have benefited from organization-wide coaching programs, ACT has the expertise to guide you through a review of best-in-class case studies and the option to speak to Erin Hutchins or Mike Hutchins (ACT’s co-founders) regarding your specific needs.

Learn more about ACT’s Leadership Coaching for Healthcare Professional’s Program, in partnership with Brown School of Professional Studies as well as related professional development programs through their website at: 

The author

Mike Beckmann is an experienced workforce development strategist with human capital executive leadership experience in both the public and private sectors. He has a Ph.D. in Human Development from Virginia Tech and is an active executive and career coach.

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