Secrets to Building an Amazing Healthcare Workplace

Jennifer Munkner

Jennifer Munkner , MBA

Chief Talent Officer
Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington

CEO, Practice Management

Published June 13, 2014

A fantastic workplace reputation makes it easier to attract and retain top talent. But how do you create the kind of environment that fosters loyalty and motivates your employees to go that extra mile?

In today's post, Mike Harrington, CEO of Vituity, and Jennifer Munkner, vice president of talent management, share tips for nurturing a standout workplace culture. Vituity was recently recognized among Becker's Healthcare's 150 Great Places to Work in Healthcare. It's also been honored nine years in a row among the Best Places to Work in the Bay Area.

Perspectives: Mike, Jennifer, welcome. In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers healthcare organizations face when it comes to cultivating great workplaces?

Jennifer Munkner: I think the first barrier is often recognizing the importance of a positive culture as a driver of organizational performance. The impact of culture is usually intangible, and there's a human tendency to focus on what we can observe and measure. So companies often don't grasp culture's importance or make the connection between seemingly small cracks in the system, such as declining productivity or dips in client satisfaction. It's not until companies are losing people or seeing frequent turnover in their leadership that the impact of culture is recognized.

Perspectives: Is there a way to assess the health of a workplace culture so you can intervene before that point?

Mike Harrington: There are various ways to take an organization's cultural "temperature." At Vituity, turnover is a number we watch very closely, because it reflects the satisfaction of our employees. We also measure staff satisfaction through internal and external surveys, as well as monitoring engagement. Are our employees participating in activities and volunteering for projects and committees?

Jennifer Munkner: We try to gather objective data when we can. But I think an equally valuable form of assessment happens when leaders talk to people, attend meetings and really get to know the people in the organization. For example, when I'm attending a committee meeting and someone asks for volunteers, I watch closely. Do I see hesitation or lots of hands waving? Either way, it says something about peoples' engagement in the organization.

Mike Harrington: Definitely. We really make an effort to solicit informal feedback from our employees. Our leadership has an open door policy and encourages employees to bring suggestions.

The assessments really are meaningful. When our cultural indicators are strong, we find it correlates pretty closely with our overall performance as an organization, which translates into positive outcomes for our clients, physicians and patients.

Perspectives: When an organization wants to improve its culture, where should leaders focus first?

Jennifer Munkner: First, I think every organization needs to have absolute clarity in defining and communicating the company's purpose to employees. People want to know the organization's goals and their individual or team contribution to achieving this purpose. Leaders also need to spend time defining the core values. Who are we? What's important to us? How do we believe our business should be conducted?

Mike Harrington: An example from Vituity is our "culture of caring." As a service organization, there's a natural disconnect between our work behind the scenes and the patient care happening on the front lines. So we bridge that gap by intentionally connecting what we do to the patient experience. We take pride in helping the physicians deliver great patient care, even if we're in marketing, billing or another nonclinical role.

Jennifer Munkner: And I truly believe that culture is defined by the leadership. They create the culture by modeling the core values. So it's important to engage leaders at all levels in the process.

Mike Harrington: If you're starting from ground zero, it can be a long, difficult process. Culture change takes a lot of commitment from the leadership. Employees don't want lip service. They want to see the values in action, starting at the top. You have to deliver or you're sunk.

Jennifer Munkner: So true. Some organizations make the mistake of allowing the culture to develop organically — to just be what it is. But as leaders, we need to guide the organization if we want it to represent our core values. We need to be ambassadors of our culture. And when we do that honestly, and we have the right people in place, strong performance will follow.

Perspectives: You've both mentioned the importance of engaging with employees. How do you personally do this as leaders?

Mike Harrington: Part of creating a positive culture is really letting people know how important they are. They're not just a cog in the machine or another warm body. We actually care about them. When they feel that, they tend to be more productive and contribute more.

One of my favorite monthly activities at Vituity is the new employee orientation. We bring all the new hires in the organization together on a Friday morning, and I spend some time with them. It's really exciting to welcome them and talk about our culture, the culture of caring and how important our patients and physicians are.

I emphasize the open door policy and invite people to stop by my office. And they really do. They put that policy to the test.

Perspectives: Once you've achieved a positive culture, how do you sustain it?

Jennifer Munkner: The good news is that if you're diligent about it, it eventually becomes a way of thinking. You come to a point where you're able to really live the culture without stopping to think about it.

Mike Harrington: It's true. There's still effort, and you're conscious of it, but it no longer feels like rolling a boulder uphill. It creates its own energy.

I really think a good culture should be comfortable. And when I say comfortable, I don't mean complacent or easy. I mean comfortable in terms of the values and desires of the employees. For example, our Vituity employees are very ambitious and motivated. And when they're in an environment that affirms this, they're more likely to stretch and challenge themselves.

Perspectives: We talked earlier about signs of trouble. How do you know when you're on the right track with your organizational culture?

Jennifer Munkner: I think I see it best in the new employees. Many are experienced and have worked for fantastic companies. But our culture is something they always comment on. They'll say, "I'm overwhelmed by how friendly and collaborative it is." Or, "I fell in love with it the moment I walked in." So it's kind of exciting to see the culture evoke that kind of an emotion.

Mike Harrington: It's really pretty amazing. One afternoon, I was waiting for the elevator and a new hire from IT introduced herself. Then she said flat out, "I love working here. It's been two weeks, and I already know it's the best place I've ever worked." And this was a seasoned professional — not a kid fresh out of college. So coming from her, it meant a lot.

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