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How Much Does Culture Matter in Today’s Healthcare Environment?

Posted By Katie Owens, Monday, April 17, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What is culture? Culture can consist of many different elements in healthcare. From the way things are done in the organization. The shared relationships among people which dictate how they behave. To a set of shared beliefs and values. Each belief (while uniquely described by many) universally acknowledges that culture is an important part of the fabric of their organization.

Despite the fact that many people have conviction that organizational culture will either enable an organization’s success or serve as a barrier to achieving outcomes, sometimes broaching the subject of Culture can cause leaders or front line team members to shy away. Culture can feel messy, hard and inconvenient. We may be proud of some aspects of our culture but disappointed in others. Our team sought to find evidence outside of anecdote and theory to help leaders understand the role culture plays in creating excellence. That query led us to conduct our recent study demonstrated that culture does impact outcomes. The two big learnings we had conducting our study published in the Journal of Healthcare Leadership is that:

First, high performing cultures are more likely to do better than low performing cultures on key balanced scorecard metrics: Employee and Physician Engagement, Patient Experience, Value-Based Purchasing and Turnover. These cultures did not outperform by a small margin but a margin of magnitude and statistical significance (see Video on Culture Imperative). In other words, our team found that culture is not “nice to have” but critical to create demonstrable outcomes.

Second, engaging your employees in your culture is the most powerful step to create positive results. Your workforce is the lifeblood of your organizational culture: their engagement, relationships with leadership and each other and commitment to your mission. We found four key levers that are more likely to support achievement of outcomes:

  • The extent to which patients are treated as valued customers.
  • You find that your values are very similar to the values of this organization.
  • You feel that being a member of this organization is very rewarding.
  • You are proud to be a part of this organization.

There is no question healthcare leaders, staff and physicians are perservering day in and day out to provide the very best care to patients despite a myriad of challenges. Our teams are craving cultures that give them a sense of purpose and joy. As we work to create a “new normal” that equips our organization to provide person-centered excellence across the continuum of care, our findings indicate that leaders should pay attention to culture and actively steer workforce engagement to create employee pride, a focus on the customer and shared values.

Katie Owens, MHA is Vice President of HealthStream Engagement Institute, a HealthStream Company. Katie is a highly regarded thought leader in the healthcare industry who is a national speaker, executive coach and facilitator of leadership. Katie is founder of Lumen, a monthly podcast dedicated to shining a light on the bright spots where excellence happens in healthcare. KatieOwens.org

Tags:  culture  employee engagement  improving patient experience  metrics  physician engagement 

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