Employee Advisory Groups: Enhance Organizational Decision Making and Improved Problem Solving

The Client

A fully accredited award-winning acute-care hospital that is part of a large mid-Atlantic health system. 

The Situation

Hospital executive leadership recognized that a more engaged workforce results in greater employee and patient satisfaction and better patient outcomes.  With patient readmissions and HCAHPS scores factoring into reimbursements, the hospital sought to engage front-line employees in decision-making that directly impacted their daily work by identifying ways to more efficiently and effectively deliver patient care and service.  Additionally, the leadership team understood that the faster they could receive relevant feedback from employees, the faster they could respond with timely and accurate results. 

The Challenge

Necessary changes – including workforce reductions, service-line closures and wage and benefit adjustments – led to employees’ reduced trust of management.  Communication had become reactionary leading to the perception that it was being driven by rumor and innuendo. Lack of timely and accurate information resulted in the fear that the hospital was on the brink of closure.  An “us” versus “them” atmosphere developed and front-line staff found administration and management to be unapproachable.

“We needed a new way to communicate positively with employees amidst the rapid changes occurring in healthcare and subsequent staffing decisions,” explains the hospital’s vice president of support services.

The hospital needed more modern and immediate communication tools to address issues as soon as they arose.  Questions and concerns needed to be addressed daily rather than through surveys that would take weeks to compile and develop a response. 

The Solution

IRI Consultants understood that administration was committed to make a fundamental cultural change.  IRI helped executive leadership evaluate the hospital’s readiness through a series of assessments regarding organizational policies, teamwork opportunities and the structure of decision-making within the organization.  As a result, the hospital’s leadership team determined it was open and willing to the notion of “doing business differently.” 

IRI worked in partnership with hospital leadership to undertake a proven engagement model called an Employee Advisory Group (EAG).  EAGs provide focused, non-binding employee input, help guide organizational decision-making and improve problem solving.  The EAG fully engages employees, provides channels for communication up, down and across the organization.  Not just another communication program or problem solving team, the EAG is a progressive management model, consisting solely of non-supervisory volunteers who encompass a cross-section of all employees.  Employees learned the EAG would provide a monthly forum to voice concerns, discuss ideas and gain management attention about issues that affected them. The EAG would become the main conduit of information to leadership from the employee population. Management could also use the EAG as a sounding board to test their ideas about the workplace.

IRI educated members of the newly formed EAG about how to collaborate effectively by adhering to established group interaction rules. It also trained the EAG on how to effectively organize and manage a meeting, including such fundamentals as developing agendas, maintaining focus, taking notes and determining what topics are off-limits. Each EAG team member was required to secure the manager’s commitment to the process since it would require paid time off the job. Once the employee has the manager’s agreement, the employee also needs to secure a place on the committee.

The Results

Since launching the EAG, the hospital has been witnessing the critical cultural change for which it had hoped, including improved employee engagement and satisfaction.  These changes also are translating into workplace efficiencies and improved decision-making by front-line staff. 

Increased management credibility and support is being demonstrated as the EAG is equipped with critical information during staffing adjustments.  The organization is better equipped to reduce rumors and anxiety among staff.  Employees are more engaged with management because they see the direct connection they have to senior leadership on a regular basis.  As a result there has been an increase in the professional development of front-line employees through understanding the complexity of management decisions as well as recognition of the hospital’s place in a larger corporate entity. 

In an effort to broaden their understanding of management complexities, EAG members are now making rounds on floors that are not within their job description. This process enables the members an opportunity to learn first-hand of other department’s organizational concerns.

Transitional improvements are resulting from better organic cross-classification of communication between employees. Staff efficiencies are also improving as they work together in more vertically-integrated teams.

This cross-pollination between employees also is improving front-line decision-making resulting in higher employee satisfaction. 

Increasing transparency and openness, the EAG has made significant changes to the dated employee communications model through the adoption of monthly employee breakfasts, open suggestion boxes, an Intranet blog and lunches with the CEO. The group went so far as to change its name to reflect their new focus…Employee “Action” Group.

Lessons Learned

The biggest hurdle to the cultural change that EAGs introduce to any organization is acceptance by front-line supervisors.  IRI encouraged senior management to report monthly on how the EAG was dealing with systemic employee concerns and assure supervisors and mid-level managers that the EAG presents opportunities for staff to utilize and showcase talent within their own department. 

Outcomes

The hospital’s mission of delivering great patient care is best achieved when they have fully engaged employees that feel empowered to make decisions that directly impact their work. 

“We recognize that every employee delivers patient care.  The EAG continues to improve employee engagement and is building trusting relationships between management and employees.  This translates directly to our delivery of care,” says the hospital’s vice president of support services. 

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