The Top Three Ways Culture Can Help the Healthcare Industry

Driving retention and results while delivering a better patient experience is possible. Dustin Staley, Managing Director of Healthcare at Culture Partners, walks you through how.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry has faced an unprecedented shortage of nurses. With many leaving the field due to burnout, safety concerns, or low pay, retention issues run deep. 

While attrition is top of mind for these organizations lately, they still face multiple and varied challenges leftover from pre-pandemic. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with several healthcare executives during a panel webinar: Jarret Houser, RN, BSN, Chief Operating Officer at Cascade Living Group; Rina Bansal, MD, MBA, Senior Vice President of Inova Health System; Wendy Armendariz, MBA, Chief Executive Officer of Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH); and Janell Pittman, MBA, Vice President of Marketing and Digital Strategy Officer of MercyOne. 

During our conversation, we discussed the ways in which culture can help healthcare organizations work through their challenges. Here are the top three ways culture can revivify the healthcare industry, and how to build a culture that helps you reach your goals.

Centering the Patient Experience

Jarret Houser places his whole focus on the patients he and his team care for. In a human-centric role, such as any healthcare profession, empathy and culture go hand-in-hand. His organization, Cascade Living Group, supports senior living, and he believes that the patient always comes first. 

“‘Do the right thing;’ it drives our culture,” says Houser, referring to his organization’s unwritten mantra. “If we do the right thing on a daily basis…ultimately we take care of our business.” For Cascade Living Group, that can mean sometimes writing off bills for patients who can’t afford care otherwise, but don’t qualify for government assistance. “Is it the right business decision? We’d probably say no…But it’s the right thing to do. It’s what our culture is about, and it’s the example we want to set.”

While doing the right thing is a mantra we should all live by, it’s especially beneficial to patients on the receiving end of care. 


Fostering Innovation

In organizations where operations run smoothly and culture is a priority, employees are retained more easily and for longer periods of time. When retention rates are high, deep experience and knowledge are also retained within the organization, leaving more time and opportunity to innovate. 

“Culture can play an incredibly important role in setting you up to succeed when it comes to innovation,” says Janell Pittman of MercyOne. “If you haven’t set up – intentionally – a culture for innovation, the likelihood that it succeeds is diminished.” 

As one of the initiatives that her organization, MercyOne, was targeting, innovation played a huge role in the desire for a culture shift. During meetings, wins and successes were always a topic of conversation, until one provider asked, “‘if we say we want to be innovative, why are we only talking about successes during these meetings?’” Pittman recalls. She acknowledges that only celebrating what is done right, rather than discussing and learning from mistakes, paves the way for a culture of “we’ve always done it this way” to flourish once again, limiting the possibility of innovation. Without progress and new processes, organizations become stuck and are unable to embrace upward mobility, thereby hindering the higher levels of care patients have come to expect.  

Building Trust Through Experiences

Throughout my 10 years at Culture Partners, I have leveraged The Results Pyramid® to help clients build trust within their organizations. The Results Pyramid explains how experiences shape our beliefs, which drive actions and results. In order to influence new, positive beliefs, you must first intentionally create new, positive experiences. 

But what about the experiences you unintentionally create that can have a negative impact? Wendy Armendariz of Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health relies on “lots of self-reflection” when bringing her authentic self to work and learning from the experiences she creates, whether intentional or not. She recounts a situation with her staff where there was confusion around a directive she had given. “I thought I shared this message really clearly,” she remembers. “I gave my team an experience that wasn’t intentional that way, and now I have to go back and give them a different experience and make it more relatable. And that vulnerability as a leader with a team also builds that trust, that lasting relationship with our teams.” 

Being intentional about the experiences you create, and being willing to recreate experiences that may have been negative for the person on the receiving end, helps build trust within your organization. While culture is the binding ingredient in any organization, when done right, trust is one of the results, which perpetuates more positivity within the organization.

Creating Intentional Culture Change

Dr. Rina Bansal of of Inova Health System believes that the number one way to ensure a lasting culture change is for leaders to model the culture they wish to see. “If you see something happening that is contrary to your culture, instead of just letting that slide by, you have to acknowledge it,” says Dr. Bansal. “If you’re going to create a true shift in your culture, you have to recognize what is not consistent with your culture and shift that mindset.”

To shift your organization from its current state, you must make changes. This can often mean being mindful about creating new experiences for your people. Many healthcare organizations are having difficulty retaining their top talent, citing reasons such as feeling burned out, not feeling appreciated by leadership, and being overworked. One way to combat these negative experiences is to focus on recognition. 

Employees who are consistently recognized for a job well-done are more likely to stay in their roles for longer periods of time. Conversely, those who only receive recognition a few times a year are more likely to be disengaged. Regularly taking time to recognize team members formally and publicly is a good retention strategy that also serves to increase employee engagement. 

Thriving in healthcare isn’t dependent on whether or not you achieve your results — it’s dependent on how well your teams acclimate, perform, and understand how their roles relate to the overall success of the organization. Your teams are ultimately the ones who will lead you to the results you need to achieve, so make sure you’re supporting them by building the best culture you can. 

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