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As hospital plans for new building, focus turns to building employee culture

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 10, 2021

A lab worker at Heart of America Medical Center fills out a data sheet. A new human resources program at the hospital will teach workers ways to create a “Culture of Ownership” at the facility. Submitted Photo

The term “building” takes up lots of discussions in the offices at Heart of America Medical Center lately.

After setting plans in motion to build a new medical center, CEO Erik Christenson has turned his focus to building an employee culture to make it complete. He’s also turned to former hospital CEO Jerry Jurena for advice.

“I have conversations with Jerry and he mentors me in many things with all of his experience and leadership,” Christenson said. “One of the things we were looking at as I came into the organization was how to bring the organization to a level where it’s the best place to work at as a healthcare facility, where people enjoy working and doing what they’re doing, even though there are struggles in healthcare.”

“It’s a hard job,” Christenson said “There’s a lot going on, lots of regulations.” Even so, Christenson said, “We’re still motivated to come to work, motivated to do our best.”

Christenson said the hospital still uses parts of a course in employee engagement by Disney and a training program by the Studer Group.

“But I wanted to look at a cultural engagement process in the organization,” Christenson said.

CEO Erik Christenson has been busy examining opportunities to build up workplace culture identified in a survey taken of 227 hospital employees in 2019.

Christenson said he discussed the topic with Jurena, who referred him to a program by Joe Tye of health care employee consulting group Values Coach.

“I said that’s a great idea,” Christenson said. I got in contact with Joe Tye.”

In the conversation with Tye, Christenson made connections between building a new hospital and building employee culture. “We thought, ‘We’re looking at a new building, so we’re going through the architecture and design of a new building and all the neat things you can do with a new building. The conversation here is building a basically invisible architecture,” Christenson said.

“And this is on the front of his book, ‘Building the Invisible Architecture of Core Cultures, Attitude and Self-Empowerment.’ And it’s ‘Building a Culture of Ownership.’ That’s the name of the book,” Christenson added.

“We have a new building that we’re going to be working on, but we’re also going to be building a culture of ownership,” Christenson added.

“When you look at ownership, if you’ve ever owned a business or if you’ve farmed, you’re going the extra mile; you’re making sure you’re doing your very best to make sure the organization is successful and the customers, the patients you’re serving, get the very best service,” Christenson noted. “That just comes along with ownership. So, when you instill that, and our staff has this culture of ownership instilled in them, everything just gets better. It’s a better place to work at; it’s more fulfilling and of course, the outcomes – the care that’s provided is better.”

Christenson said the hospital spent $4,500 on the program.

Christenson said the program will begin with the results of the 2019 survey, which, he said, “show we’re doing well as an organization – there’s a lot of improvement – but yet, there are still areas where we can improve. So, that’s kind of good. That’s two good things.”

The program will involve year-long series of meetings and what Christenson called “lunch and learn” sessions where managers read and discuss Tye’s book. Front line staff will have a chance to learn ways to take ownership of their jobs in a training session with Tye, according to Christenson.

“Really, what we want with the employees is for them to engage and lead with some of the initiative. It’s something of a top-down initiative; it’s coming from workers on the front line,” Christenson said. “They create these initiatives that we’ve instilled to build this culture of ownership.”

Christenson said front-line employees would have opportunities to communicate their ideas to upper management through surveys and conversations with their own managers at interdepartmental meetings.

“I don’t want anything that’s going to take away from the work they’re doing, so it should be second nature,” Christenson said of the program. “Culture of ownership in some instances is second nature; we just need to be reminded of it. A lot of work is what we make of it.”

“You want to make sure you’re positive at what you do,” Christenson added. “There will always be frustrations and struggles at work. But you can take it as a positive. Work would be boring if it wasn’t something I need to think about and work hard at. So, this culture of ownership is you already taking this positive view.”

“So, it’s really trying to work away from negative feelings that drive you down. If you look at burnout, it’s a constant view of the negative,” Christenson added.

“Healthcare workers are always going above and beyond,” Christenson said. “I don’t know of many other industries that can be more stressful than healthcare so we’re asking these workers every day to be in very stressful situations but how do you approach that in a manner where you can maintain positivity, you can maintain pride in your work and also have a view of the future that, hey, we can always make things better, make things smoother and all of that really at the end of the day makes things so you can get through it.”

“I compare it to marathons,” Christenson said. “I run marathons. The whole point of when you start it seems impossible, but you take it each mile at a time and each mile has its own struggles as you run through a marathon.”

“But once get done, there’s an amazing feeling to completing that process. And you got through it. But I can tell you, if you lose your mental edge, if you go negative on yourself, it’s hard to finish,” Christenson added. “You’ve got to maintain that positive “I can do this, I’m on top of this, I can get this done. And health care is the same way. You need to keep that mental edge.”

“And part of this is teaching and coaching people to maintain that mental edge and be on top of that and be positive and also take that ownership (and say) ‘I can do this. I’m going to complete this and I have a ton of skills and opportunities and blessings that I can invest into this and it will pay back dividends.’ “

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