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You Can’t “Policy” People’s Hearts

Posted By Kristin Baird, Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013

Staff texting at work? There needs to be a policy. Employees parking in prime patient areas? Make a policy. People walking past trash? Create a policy. The problem is, policies are only as effective as their enforcement and do nothing to engage the heart.

I was recently talking with a group of senior leaders about their current culture. They were clearly frustrated and felt they had come to a standstill. Things were not where they needed to be with regards to both patient satisfaction and employee engagement. They all agreed that accountability was their biggest issue. 

The group talked openly about specific behaviors that were problematic. As I probed into their frustrations, a clear picture began to emerge. Each time one of them would identify a problem, someone would declare the need for a policy. And each time, the rest of the group would agree that a policy was the way to go. I observed this happen five times during the first hour. I was curious to see if the suggestion of a policy was an isolated incident or a pattern. It was clearly a pattern.

Indeed, accountability was a problem, but the leaders’ accepted solution was always to create a policy rather than address the behaviors directly when proved to be misaligned with values or standards.

Let me be clear. There is a place for policies. Without them, we would have havoc. But when striving for a culture of excellence, leaders need more than policies. You can’t "policy” people’s hearts. I, personally, would rather foster a culture where people take ownership and do things because it’s the right thing to do rather than because it’s the policy. 

Transformational leadership is a style that engages people’s hearts and helps them feel part of the cause. To me, this is what is often missing in the quest for service excellence. A lot of time is put into establishing policies and executing tactics from a checklist of best practices, but not enough effort is put into engaging people’s hearts.

Healthcare is a service industry. The work that happens each and every day is perfect for cultivating a link to the heart. People working in healthcare are typically caring individuals with a desire to make a difference. The leader’s role is to harness this passion and help make the connection between the "job” and the individual’s sense of purpose. Tell stories. Review the history of the organization and the vision. Talk regularly about the mission, vision, and values, and help leaders at all levels learn to speak the language of these mission, vision, and values.

When the leader’s focus is on doing the right things for the right reasons, the heart of the organization swells with pride and purpose. It’s not the policies that will resonate with people’s hearts, it’s the passion. Remember that creating and sustaining a culture of excellence takes vision, structure, and, above all, a heart for service.

Kristin BairdKristin Baird is President/CEO of the Baird Group, a healthcare consulting and mystery shopping firm. The Baird Group works to improve healthcare organizations’ patient experiences from start to finish, providing a thorough assessment, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, training, and strategies to help bridge the gap between brand promise and the current reality. For more information on today’s guest blogger, visit

Tags:  accountability  culture  employee engagement  leadership  patient experience  policy  service 

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