Baptist Health System

An Alabama hospital meets the challenges of healthcare with recognition

When snow hit Birmingham, Alabama recently, people were told to stay off the roads. While schools and businesses shut down, area hospitals were busier than ever. For employees working in Baptist Health System hospitals, it meant around the clock shifts to ensure patient needs were met—an above and beyond effort that did not go unnoticed.

“Use of ‘because I care’ went through the roof,” says Jason Blackstock, Nurse Manager, Medical Intensive Care Unit, Princeton Baptist Medical Center, talking about their recognition platform. “Everybody was recognizing everybody else for their efforts in keeping things running.” Special t-shirts were made, hundreds of thank you cards were sent, and 109 nominations for Above and Beyond awards were submitted. With a recent survey reporting 90 percent of Baptist employees feel recognition is a strong part of the hospital systems’ culture (up 39 percent from the previous year), it’s obvious the ‘because I care’ program has made an impact.

Giving Meaning to Mission

In 2007, when President and CEO Shane Spees came on board, he was facing multiple challenges, including employee engagement, retention, and customer service. Spees believed the answer could be found within the faith-based organization’s culture.

To help with the turnaround, he chose to use its mission and values as a way to engage employees, improve quality indicators, and deliver the best care to patients. And it’s paying off. Engagement has increased and retention has gone from around 67 percent to 90 percent.

“For about 30 years, Baptist had a mission statement and a set of values that spell out ‘ICARE’: integrity, compassion, advocacy, resourcefulness, and excellence,” says Don Stuckey, Director, Talent Management, “But, we wanted to understand what these values really meant. We hosted focus groups with a cross-section of employees, asking them, ‘What does integrity mean to you?’ And they told us integrity meant trustworthiness, honesty, accountability. So we made their input the behavior anchors underneath each value—and then started rewarding people for living them.”

Running four hospitals, over 40 physician practices, and nine senior housing facilities, in a state where 60-70 percent of the hospital income comes from the government, means having to come up with innovative ways to create a positive work environment for employees.

“Our world is changing so fast in terms of what’s happening in healthcare,” explains Stuckey. “We’re always going to worry about the retention of nurses and we’re facing increasing competition for patients. We felt if we could make a point of difference with our employees, then that would help us in delivering the highest quality of care to our patients.”

“We’re in a market where organic growth equals one percent,” says Alan Bradford, Vice President and Human Resources Officer. “We have to learn how to do things more efficiently. We have to be more effective. We have to be more innovative, and to do that, we have to have this engaged workforce and be able to recognize the behavior that we see will create this culture that gets us to where we need to be.”

After reading research in The Carrot Principle on recognition being a key driver of engagement, Stuckey and Bradford invited Scott Christopher of the O.C. Tanner Learning Group in to train, educate, and inspire leaders.

“Everyone loved the training,” explains Stuckey. “The leadership left the presentation saying, ‘We need a better tool to live these principles at Baptist.’ It just built toward a crescendo of us realizing we need a better way of recognizing people.”

A visit by Bradford to O.C. Tanner’s annual Executive Recognition Summit solidified the motivation to pursue appreciation as a strategic priority. Soon after, O.C. Tanner’s solution designers partnered with Baptist to create and launch the ‘because I care’ program.

Creating a tool that focuses on the appreciation of the actions that mirror the mission of Baptist has impacted individual and team performance. Everyone is being motivated to do great work. It seems that the simple act of appreciating the great work is, in fact, driving more great work.

Chloe Philips, one of the ‘because I care’ trainers and Director of Health Information points out, “When I was recognized, it not only made me feel appreciated, it inspired me to do better. So the next training session, I wanted to prove that I could do it better than the first time and get better every time after that. My goal became to always exceed expectations. And then I saw that happening to the employees that I nominated and showed appreciation towards. In my team, I have noticed an increase in productivity. I have employees bringing ideas for improvement, and I’m seeing more collaborative teamwork. They each want to exceed my expectations again.”

For Blackstock, a manager of nurses in the ICU, recognition is a positive way to help his team deal with the harder realities of their jobs, “Nurses come to work every day, needing something to deal with the stress. I have nurses having a bad month because every time they come to work, something bad has happened to their patients. When you give them this positive feedback, you see how much they’ve needed it.”

Creating a Culture of Care

Unwilling to put adoption of ‘because I care’ at risk, Baptist sent four key leaders to Salt Lake City to attend O.C. Tanner’s Learning Group certification workshop.

“We came back and went to every hospital and trained all the managers and leaders on the importance of appreciation, how to use the website, and why this effort mattered to them and their people,” says Stuckey. “Now we’re continuing the training through our leadership essentials class. We stress the importance of frequency, timeliness and specificity of recognition. The training is a way we actively care for our culture.”

The ‘because I care’ program adoption is high. Since its launch, 5,132 thank you cards have been sent out, with 394 people being nominated for Above and Beyond awards. Participation is something that is being tracked closely, with weekly monitoring of who is recognizing, and who is not. And every Monday, Stuckey faithfully sends out a reminder on the importance of timely recognition.

“With Don sending frequent reminders out that say, ‘Hey, tell your employees that they matter today,’ explains Wellness Manager, Schinley Land, “It keeps it fresh in my mind that I do have this appreciation tool, and need to be looking for sincere opportunities to continually provide that positive feedback that drives our culture.”

Unity and teamwork are important goals for any healthcare organization, something the program seems to be helping with. For Matt Monk, part of a department of employees who work from home, the program creates a tangible way to connect with his co-workers, “Being able to have a recognition system that allows us to feel appreciated and connected gives us a little stake in the game.” Or, as Paige Biddle, Director of Benefits explains, “I don’t know that we really thanked each other outside of our department before. Now, people from other locations have sent me thank you notes, which help us to feel more like a team.”

Blackstock sums it up, “When your company recognizes the work you do, it makes you more passionate about it. That’s what I like about the ‘because I care’ program. Our customer service tagline says, ‘I’m here for you’ and this program is one of the ways Baptist shows they are here for us so we can be here for our patients.”

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