About Norton Healthcare

For 127 years, Norton Healthcare’s faith heritage has guided its mission to provide quality health care to all those it serves. The Louisville– based not–for–profit system includes five Louisville hospitals; seven outpatient centers; 12 Norton Immediate Care Centers; and more than 12,000 employees.
“I feel like I can get any kid to laugh,” says DeShaun Grant, a transportation care associate at Norton Healthcare. “The best medication a kid can have is having someone to talk to, especially if they’re nervous or scared. Somehow it helps out.”

An oncology nurse leaving the hospital comes upon a woman giving birth in the backseat of her car. She stops to help and ends up delivering the baby. The intensive care unit that made certain a young mother and her family experienced Christmas for the last time. The remarkable stories are countless–each one representing the great work happening daily throughout Norton Healthcare.

“People come into healthcare wanting fulfillment through meaningful work. It’s part of who we are. In fact‚ many times‚ our employees would say ‘It’s just what we do‚’” explains Jacinta Nelson, Associate Vice President of Human Resources. “But that’s why it’s so imperative that we show our appreciation.”

Above, Deshaun Grant, Transportation Care Associate at Norton Healthcare

“DeShaun Grant transported our little two-year-old bone marrow transplant patient to MRI. This little guy was terrified of the MRI machine. DeShaun had him laughing and giving high fives. The tech actually said he would not even require sedation— all because of DeShaun.”

“N Recognition of You” nomination notes.

Celebrating these moments, providing formal and informal recognition at multiple touch points is a mainstay of Norton Healthcare’s culture. It has led to an impressive nursing retention rate of 91 percent. With engagement dimensions far above the national norm‚ Norton Healthcare has received among the best Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey results in the region.

“If you want to be a successful organization and have excellence as your hallmark, you need to go beyond pay and benefits. If you want to be excellent, you must have an engaged workforce,” explains Stephen Williams, President and CEO of Norton Healthcare. “Recognizing employees who are striving to make the organization the very best it can be helps us in our quest for continual improvement.”


This Louisville, Kentucky-based network of five hospitals and 12,000 employees is known as a place where people are personally invested in providing the highest levels of care for patients and their families.

“Our culture is really about service to others. We have only two roles in the organization: those who take care of patients and those who support those who take care of patients,” says Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Russell Cox. “Recognition becomes so important because people give of themselves 100 percent on a daily basis. We want people to feel like this is more than just a place they come to work–that it truly is a place they come to make a difference for themselves and for the community.”

“Our philosophy around people is to grow owners in our organization,” adds Tony Bohn, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. “That means bringing the right talent in, building ownership, building an engaged environment, and continuing to invest in people for the future.”

That also means systemically and intentionally creating ways to recognize and reward success. It means putting in place programs that celebrate career achievement–from day one all the way through retirement. It means investing in someone’s career development opportunities. And it means supporting these efforts with continual training, communication, and supportive leader tools.

Journey To Recognition

Elements of recognition have always been a part of the culture at Norton Healthcare. But the organization was missing a formal, system-wide performance recognition solution. Following a series of surveys and focus groups, employees’ ideas were put into action. This led to the creation of an Employee Experience team to evaluate effectiveness of existing offerings. What could be done to align closer with the values of the organization? How could employees better connect to what they do while being fully engaged in their roles?

To find a solution, engagement team members looked across industries to glean best practices from the most successful companies. Their findings influenced changes at all levels. Enhancements to the service award program came first, expanding to include recognizing employees in that critical first year. Custom buttons, eCards, and appreciation stations for peer-to-peer shout-outs were rolled out, and then the “N Recognition of You” performance platform was launched. A complete revamping of the entire onboarding process, beginning to end, soon followed. The key: throughout all efforts a clear alignment was made to Norton Healthcare’s mission and values. This, in turn, was supported by broad communication branding campaigns and outreach.

"You put a smile on somebody's face when you recognize them."
–Lydia Mendez, RN

“It’s given us a central repository to bring lots of disparate programs together,” Bohn says. “We now have insight into the remarkable things going on in the organization and the remarkable people we want to recognize.”

Building an intentional culture of recognition has been a journey. What stands out is the systematic way in which leaders and teams solicited feedback from employees, adopted innovative ideas, measured the results, and made continual improvements. In fact‚ continually “searching for ways to improve” is a theme you hear from CEO Williams and throughout the organization.

Providing Quality Care

Having a centralized system that rewards–and then reports on–great work gives leadership teams visibility into the daily victories happening throughout the organization. Go one step further and correlate recognition data and tangible results and an even more powerful story of its impact can be told.

Specifically, those hospitals that have a higher percentage of their employees being recognized also show higher responsiveness by hospital staff and faster response to call lights. In essence: recognition is directly impacting patient care. From an engagement standpoint, leaders who actively recognize their employees have higher departmental engagement scores, higher leadership, and higher employee retention index scores. Wow!

So, how do these powerful messages get out? How are these stories brought to life, inspiring additional cycles of excellence?

  • Engaged to Deliver at Norton Healthcare

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  • 91 percent nursing retention rate, first-year turnover down by 51 percent–see the tangible impact of appreciation on this Louisville, Kentucky-based organization

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Hospitals that have a higher percentage of their employees being recognized also show higher responsiveness by hospital staff and faster response to call lights.

It’s no surprise that Norton Healthcare’s Human Resources’ deep partnership with the leadership team extends to its Communication teams. Video testimonials are featured on “N Recognition of You.” Daily e-blasts, monthly newsletters, and a yearly report to employees all feature remarkable employee stories and messages from leadership.

“Employees appreciate seeing their co-workers in those publications,” explains Angela Jette, Program Coordinator, Employee Experience. “They’ll point to a picture and say, ‘I work with this person.’ That’s important because this shows that everyone can be recognized.”

To help connect employees to what they can do personally in the midst of evolving healthcare legislative changes, communiqués are also sent out. These explain what it means to the big picture and what, at the individual level, each employee can do to make a difference.

“What are the five things that you can do to make a difference, regardless of what your job is?” asks Tom Johnson, Chief CommunicationOfficer. “If you’re in Environmental Services and your job is to clean a room after a patient leaves, what can you do? Is there a way to help, turning that room around faster and be more efficient? This means someone’s not sitting in the ER waiting for a room that much longer. You are providing better service to that person. You are impacting the care of that individual.”

Why is so much time and energy spent reinforcing Norton Healthcare’s internal brand? Because there’s the realization that 12,000 employees directly translates into 12,000 engaged advocates in the community.

“You’ll never move the needle if you’re not engaged. I don’t care what needle it is. If you’re a passive participant‚ that needle can only go so far,” Cox concludes. “But if you’re engaged and if you feel like you’re part of it, and if you feel like you’re recognized and valued, you’re in.

Onboarding Tips

Communicate Before Employees Arrive

“Onboarding at Norton Healthcare begins long before our employees show up for their first day of work. As soon as an offer is made we begin reaching out to our employees about what it will be like to work at Norton Healthcare.”

Create an Experience They Will Not Forget

“Generally, healthcare trainings tend to be very systematic and routine. We put a spin on this approach and treat each onboarding session as a theatrical production and more. This all starts with the facilitator of the day–participants may not know it at the time but they are also part of this production. Games, role play and even friendly competition are used to reinforce the content of the day, while also introducing new employees to the culture of Norton Healthcare.”

Have a Phased Approach

“Looking at the retention data of when and why people were leaving, we found there were specific disengagement drivers at different stages for new employees. At 30 days, the issues were a lot different than they are at 60 or 90. Now, phase one, deals with life at Norton Healthcare–the culture, the goals of the organization, how our employees and patients make us who we are. Phase two, at 30 days, is at your specific facility and focuses on the customer, whether that customer is your coworker or the patient and families that we care for. Phase three circles back to the employees and their personal development and growth at Norton Healthcare.”

Check in Along the Way

“We conduct a new employee survey around 60 days and have a leader/employee check-in meeting at 30, 60, and 90 days. The surveys are not just about how the employees are doing–it is also an opportunity for them to give us feedback on how we are doing as an organization, what could be improved, and recognition of those who have been helpful in their training. The relationship that an employee has with their leader is important in creating an engaged workforce, even if it is with newest member of the team.”

Jason Coffey and Angela Jette share their onboarding tips and insights.