MaineGeneral Health is the parent corporation of a network of care hospitals, physician practices, rehabilitation centers, long-term nursing care and assisted-living and retirement communities. The organization’s mission is to enhance the health of the people in the Kennebec Valley region of Maine. In order to achieve that mission, the organization needed to improve its culture, the quality of patient care and the communication and productivity of its 3,500 employees. According to MaineGeneral Health Director of Employee Development Patrice Putman, she and her team made these improvements by developing communication- and conflict-training initiatives.
A telling employee satisfaction survey served as the jumping-off point for the development and implementation of multiple training initiatives around conflict and communication. Putnam said the survey found that employees generally felt that conflict resolution and communication were not as effectively practiced as they could be. “Twenty percent of our employees felt that we were not dealing with conflict in a direct and open manner or people felt apprehensive expressing their opinions openly,” Putman said.
In addition, MaineGeneral Health Senior Vice President of Patient Services Martie Moore, who is primarily responsible for planning and setting the strategic course of direction for patient care, said communication is the leading factor for patient safety. “Communication is generally the number-one cause for adverse effects on patients nationwide,” Moore said. “So if we can create an atmosphere where people have the tools, skills and confidence for strong communication, we are actually impacting a higher level of patient care.”
In order to improve communication and conflict resolution, Putman and her team updated MaineGeneral Health’s existing values and standards, which all employees—no matter what level in the organization—are evaluated on during their annual performance review. The standards and values include respect, excellence, service, professionalism, empathy, communication and teamwork. “Another approach that we took to let staff know that we are really taking this cultural change toward better communication and conflict resolution seriously was to add to our existing values and standards. We have, for years, had the RESPECT values, but there were no clearly articulated expectations around what to do if you witnessed, for instance, disrespectful behavior,” Putnam explained. “So, we added a sentence at the end of every value that says for example, ‘If you feel that you or someone else has not been treated respectfully, you are encouraged to take the time to calmly and respectfully tell the person who offended why you feel their behavior was disrespectful.’ The organization felt that this was such a big step for us that we wanted to start with the standard ‘encouraged’ and then more to the stricter standard of ‘expected.’”
MaineGeneral Health’s work with Crucial Conversations, a training initiative developed by training product and service provider VitalSmarts, began after the employee satisfaction survey. The initiative was officially launched for MaineGeneral Health senior-management-level employees in September 2004. The goal of this initiative was to cultivate a culture that builds teamwork, enriches relationships and improves results. With more than 700 employees trained in a two-day mastery class, and more than 800 employees trained in the three-hour overview class thus far, MaineGeneral Health is on its way to improving communication and accountability throughout the organization. However, Putman said the primary reason this initiative has been successful is that it is based on the employee-satisfaction survey and is lead by the organization’s leaders.
Additionally, Putman’s department, the Center for Professional and Organizational Development, implemented numerous shorter, two-day classes to improve communication and conflict resolution. These courses include, “Conflict to Collaboration,” “Giving and Receiving Feedback,” “Proactive Listening,” “Handling Emotions Under Pressure,” “Navigating Change” and “Managing Priorities.” “These are offered to all staff, free of charge, across multiple campuses. As an added incentive to taking these classes individually, we developed a MGH Certificate in Professional Development, which is given to anyone who has completed all of these six classes plus an additional two electives for a total of eight classes,” Putman said. “We now have 175 employees across the organization who have completed the MGH Certificate program and a ton more who will receive their certificates in the next few months.”
Moore said the organization also has implemented a program called REACH, which stands for Reinvesting in an Empathetic and Caring Healing Environment. The overall objective of REACH is to enable participants to become more conscious and committed to their own spiritual growth in order to facilitate the healing process in others. The program raises consciousness of the power of the human spirit for health and healing, integrates spirituality as a resource for personal and professional growth, and assists in creating a “community of spirituality” in the workplace.
Putman and her team will be conducting three surveys in the coming months: an employee-satisfaction survey, a Crucial Conversations survey and a nationwide hospital-safety culture survey. These surveys will provide Putman and her team insight on the overall benefits of their efforts to improve communication and conflict resolution throughout the organization. So far, Putman quantified that employees are two to three times more likely to speak up when they see disrespectful behavior or problems occur. Also, Putman said that participation rates continue to increase for all of their courses around communication and conflict. Both Putman and Moore have already seen and heard that their communication and conflict-resolution programs are being used on the job. “Health care is so complex, and you have to be attuned at creating this health-care culture and creating this strong foundation of communication skills because when you don’t do that, you see issues turn up around patient safety and staff dissatisfaction,” Moore said.
–Cari McLean, email@example.com
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