Build a Mission-Driven Culture in Healthcare
For healthcare organizations focused on overcoming industry challenges, a mission-driven culture is paramount. How important is a mission-driven culture in healthcare? In 2015, a Forbes.com article named culture “the hottest topic in business today.” And, according to the Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 survey, culture and engagement are among business managers’ top 10 concerns.
When we talk about building a mission-driven culture within healthcare organizations, we’re describing the underpinnings of a workforce that’s capable of succeeding in today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment. It’s a culture that fosters adaptive staff who are ready for the long-term commitment to ongoing improvement. In short, a mission-driven culture engages the right people, in the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing.
Mission-Driven Culture in Healthcare: Right People, Right Place, Right Time
A healthcare organization’s culture only thrives as a function of the people who deeply believe in its mission and get up every morning committed to act in accordance with it. This culture is built on a shared belief, which doesn’t happen overnight. It’s one thing to say you have a mission statement, but you don’t have a true mission-driven culture until you see sustained evidence of adherence to that mission. Members of your organization won’t buy into your culture until they experience it for themselves and see others acting in accordance with the mission.
Maximizing Return on Investment with an Engaged Workforce
My first role at Health Catalyst was as CFO. I was very focused on our company’s spending and ROI. That mindset may sound contrary to my current focus as Chief People Officer (CPO), but the two are more compatible than you’d expect. In reality, CFOs and CPOs have the same top concern: ROI.
Historically, business leaders have underestimated and, therefore, underinvested in the truly out-sized returns that can be generated by investing in the right people, in the right place, at the right time. The truth is, once you have a viable value proposition in place (the right market, the right business model, and the proper funds to execute), the only element that will make this value proposition grow and mature into a stable and sustainable business are the people executing against the vision every day. Thus, the people in the organization become its greatest asset. This sentiment can sound cliché and overused, but it runs deep and is only sustainable if you do the hard work of building a culture of shared beliefs.
The value of investing in your people and culture isn’t just anecdotal. Studies demonstrate the potential ROI from a culture that actively engages its team members. Research shows that a more engaged workforce—one with a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose—produces significantly better output. In 2013, The Harvard Business Review reported that engaged employees are not only more productive, but also more successful, miss fewer days of work, and are more likely to stay with their organization in the long term. Another study conducted by the Dale Carnegie Institute concluded that engaged team members produce twice as much in their roles as team members who are not engaged. Other studies show an even wider gap between these groups.
From an ROI standpoint, the outcomes justify the work and cost associated with building a mission-driven culture. However, the specific makeup of these costs is frequently misunderstood. Costs associated with offering unlimited paid time off, rebuilding work spaces, and stocking the breakroom with food and drink, certainly contribute to an attractive environment. And even though they require a material investment of time and money to sustain, they aren’t true drivers of a sustainable, mission-driven culture.
True drivers of a mission-driven culture are those that return power and decision making to team members at the lowest organizational levels possible—and then hold them accountable for making principle-based, mission-driven decisions. Doing these things are the drivers of true cost, sustainable performance, and engagement with the corporate mission, vision, and values.
For example, the cost of extending trust to a manager to feel empowered and safe enough to make decisions based on what is best, without fear of the consequences for making a mistake, requires an infrastructure around this manager that is flexible, risk accepting, and much harder to execute. Sustaining a fault-tolerant, flexible, mission-driven infrastructure for managers is far costlier, yet returns far greater ROI than the safe, rigid, policy-driven infrastructure that many companies deploy.
Core Principles of a Mission-Driven Culture
How do you build a more mission-driven organizational culture in healthcare? Not through break rooms and benefits (though these things do help). Shaping culture within the complexities facing modern healthcare requires intense focus. According to Managed Healthcare Executive’s 2015 State of the Industry Survey, healthcare challenges include the transition to value-based payment, leveraging data, rising pharmaceutical costs, healthcare consumerism, and industry consolidation. Meeting these challenges while continuing the work toward a system that delivers higher quality care at lower costs will require a mission-driven culture built around, but not limited to, four core principles:
Principle #1: Engage Lifelong Learners and Great Listeners
Team members with an innate appreciation for learning will bring the necessary mentalities and capabilities to build and sustain a mission-driven organizational culture in healthcare. These individuals have a natural curiosity and genuine interest in others’ opinions and contributions.
“Smart” is one of the cultural attributes we strive for at Health Catalyst. By smart, we’re not talking about intellectual capacity (test scores or IQs); we’re talking about a willingness to try something new and learn from the experience. Smart team members are skilled learners with the intellectual and emotional courage to think outside of their own experience.
Great listeners uphold your mission by offering more than just their attention. They seek to understand, not to be understood, and genuinely listen with more intent than to merely formulate a response.
Principle #2: Assume Positive Intent
When you gather a group of hard working individuals around a complex issue, such as healthcare improvement, there will always be differences of opinion. Therefore, it’s critical that you assume positive intent to:
- Trust in a shared commitment.
- Believe in the intrinsic worth of everyone.
- Trust that everyone in the room shares the same goal—even if they have a different approach.
It may feel unnatural to refrain from challenging someone who disagrees with you. Assuming positive intent in instances of conflict helps keep the mission in focus (even if it feels uncomfortable at first). Proceed with a strong belief that everyone in your organization is intrinsically worthy and trust that they’re positively focused on solving problems. Positive intent requires conscious effort to trust others and commit to asking yourself a key question during disagreements: “If I assume positive intent, how do I approach this?”
Principle #3: Avoid Entitlement
At times, we may be prone to entitlement, but we don’t have to let it negatively impact our relationships or experiences in the workplace. This doesn’t mean we can’t strive to improve or desire good things (e.g., promotions, raises, success); it means we shouldn’t feel that because we did “A,” that we deserve “B.” Fundamentally, entitlement is a selfish act—it is the manifestation of the notion that “I am better than you” or “I deserve special treatment in this case because….” These behaviors erode the shared mission of the company. Organizations can keep entitlement in check by establishing and adhering to compensation programs that reward high quality, sustained work.
It’s also important to reiterate that we all exhibit entitled behaviors from time to time. Through frequent introspection, we must strive to cull entitled behaviors from our own conduct so we can be an example to those around us through our deeds and words. Ultimately, these examples will become contagious and the company will benefit.
Principle #4: Aim for Long-Term Commitment
Foster a long-term commitment to success within your organization by establishing an understanding throughout your organization that great ideas take time—there are no shortcuts. The reality of a successful, sustained business is continuous improvement and innovation. Therefore, organizational management must do the groundwork for a mission-driven culture that can sustain output over a long period and make the organization successful.
Long-term commitment is a formidable challenge. In fact, it’s likely why more companies aren’t recognized for a mission-driven culture—it requires sustained effort, every day, and much more investment from leadership than paying a salary and giving direction. Instead, leadership must work to make every team member feel like they’re an essential part of something and not just another cog in a giant machine.
I see this sense of belonging and ownership at Health Catalyst when I hear team members talking about “my” company. This proves a long-term commitment to the organization’s growth and success, regardless of an individual’s role.
A Mission-Driven Culture Is No Longer a Choice
A mission-driven culture isn’t a discretionary choice in today’s healthcare environment. As social and professional networks make information increasingly ubiquitous, culture has become an essential in today’s business landscape. There’s nowhere to hide in this information age—if you have a weakness in your culture or practices that undermine your workforce, you will be exposed.
When I meet with new team members, one of the questions I always ask is, “How many of you used Glassdoor [a recruiting site] in your research on Health Catalyst?” Invariably, about 95 percent raise their hand. When I ask why they used Glassdoor, they generally say because they wanted the “real scoop” on the company by way of anonymous employee reviews. Glassdoor has been an exceptional tool in recruiting and exposing what it’s like to work at Health Catalyst. Health Catalyst takes every team member’s comments very seriously—especially when it comes to culture.
Given the ability to so easily uncover the reality that exists within a corporate culture, healthcare organizations must build a culture that attracts the right people. To build and protect our culture at Health Catalyst, we’re highly selective in our hiring. Health Catalyst only hires about 3 percent of applicants. For comparison, in 2016, Harvard Business School accepted four times that number of MBA applicants.
All organizations (particularly, health systems) face complex challenges, changing priorities, a shifting regulatory environment, and increasing economic pressures. Leaders who continue to underinvest in culture—the very engine that drives success and maximizes ROI—do so at their peril. We believe that focusing on the core principles of a mission-driven culture is critical for long-term success.
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