Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

I’m honored to deliver the closing keynote today at #HRHealthcare 2017 in La Jolla, California. When I spoke at Mayo Clinic’s Transform Conference a few years ago, innovation was focused only on patient care. Today, with qualified healthcare workers hard to find, innovative minds are wondering how to attract and retain the best employees.

My message to this group:
The most successful healthcare companies are those that liberate and leverage the individual and collective genius of their employees.

This happens only when everyone is invited to contribute fully. The most profound source of motivation, regardless of title or position, is a human being’s quest for significance. People need to feel noticed and valued and to believe they are essential to the organization. This is not ideology; it is biology. The need to matter does not stem from the ego; it stems from our DNA. A company is no longer what the marketing department says it is – it’s what the world says it is.

So how does a healthcare company recruit and retain the best employees? It’s not by handing out chocolate on an appreciation day, or having the best coffee in the break room, or Hallmark-style signs posted in the locker room.
Okay, the best coffee does matter. But when employees write or say favorable things about their employer, there are two words that, in way form or another, show up:

“I matter.”

Employees write “I matter” if:

  • They understand the overall mission of your organization and how they contribute to it. Not just to their unit; they must understand their contribution to the whole organization.
  • You don’t merely tell them what to do; you trust and respect them enough to explain the desired outcome and let them help determine how to achieve it.
  • They understand how their best effort makes a difference.
  • They are recognized when they improve a process, go above and beyond with an effort, or simply come through consistently for an extended period of time.
  • “Recognition” can be as simple as a “thank you” or a pat on the back – anything that conveys that you notice, value and honor their performance and effort.

When employees feel they do not matter, that their contribution is not respected:

  • They disengage.
  • They are less likely to “see something, say something” or suggest a way that something can be improved.
  • Shifts become about “getting by,” rather than making a difference.
  • They realize they are noticed mostly for doing something wrong, so the goal becomes not to be noticed at all.
  • They look for a new job.
  • This verity was vividly demonstrated in a recent article in MedPageToday, about Dr. Peter Pronovost, an intensive care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. A decade ago, he led an effort to drastically reduce the infection rate in his hospital, and then took his learning to other hospitals to make a similar impact. He is well known for creating a new “checklist.”

Yet he recently concluded that something was even more important than a checklist – something he called, “frankly, a social intervention:”

  • Employees had to believe that their efforts could bring about change.
  • They needed someone to believe in them.
  • They needed to feel they belonged to a group that was working together toward the goal.
  • If faced with the diagnosis is that you are struggling to attract and retain the best qualified employees for your healthcare organization, my prescription is this:
  • Make sure that every single employee leaves every shift thinking, “I matter.”