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The Role of Leadership & Listening in Elevating Patient Experience

The Role of Leadership & Listening in Elevating Patient Experience

Recent trends have underscored a concerning disconnect between healthcare senior leadership and the front-line staff directly involved in patient care. This divide can directly impact patient experiences, as evidenced by the insights gathered from Perceptyx’s State of the Healthcare Employee Experience 2023 report, which identifies confidence in senior leadership as a top driver of patient experience.

Senior Leadership and the Visibility Challenge

The essence of the problem lies in the visibility — or lack thereof — of senior leadership. When leaders are out of touch with the everyday workings of healthcare teams, it creates a ripple effect that hinders communication, trust, and ultimately, the quality of care patients receive. 

But it's not just about leadership presence; it's also about how communication across the breadth of an organization is managed. Just as companies struggle with cascading messages and fostering a culture of open dialogue, healthcare organizations grapple with the same issues, albeit with higher stakes — the health and well-being of their patients.

Strategies to Bridge the Divide

To address these challenges and help close this gap, here are some evidence-based strategies for healthcare leaders to consider.

Implement Tiered Daily Huddles: At the heart of this tiered approach is a meticulously structured communication framework known as tiered daily huddles. These are not just brief check-ins; they are carefully calibrated discussions that focus on day-to-day challenges and operational bottlenecks that can impact patient care. In a typical huddle, team members address the most pressing issues first, allowing for a prioritized approach to problem resolution. The huddle system is hierarchical, with issues that cannot be resolved at the local level quickly escalated through the tiers — ensuring that they are addressed with the urgency they demand on the very same day.

This approach has been lauded for its ability to connect diverse roles across the healthcare spectrum — nurses, physicians, administrators, and support staff — creating a cohesive platform for communication and problem-solving. Tiered huddles are structured around the trifecta of patient care, caregiver experiences, and organizational health. At each level, the agenda may include reviewing serious safety events, infection rates, patient falls, and other key performance indicators. Moreover, they encapsulate the spirit of a truly interconnected environment where caregivers' well-being and institutional health are seen as inseparable from patient outcomes.

Foster a Joint Problem-Solving Orientation (JPSO): JPSO at its core represents a paradigm shift in how healthcare institutions approach innovation and improvement. It rejects the outdated notion of top-down decision-making, favoring instead a model where ideas and solutions percolate up from “listening to the voices closest to the work,” as one Perceptyx customer put it. This method recognizes that the complexity of healthcare systems requires a mosaic of viewpoints to innovate effectively. By tapping into the collective intelligence of a diverse workforce, the JPSO approach fosters a culture where the custodians of care are also the architects of improvement.

This orientation necessitates an inclusive environment where all staff members — from environmental services to surgeons — feel empowered to contribute. It echoes the practices seen in sectors such as technology and manufacturing, where iterative innovation cycles and continuous feedback loops are the norm. By involving various levels of staff in the process improvement dialogue, healthcare institutions can harvest a wealth of insights that lead to more robust, sustainable solutions. A crowdsourcing solution like Dialogue from Perceptyx — which can have a demonstrable positive effect on safety culture in healthcare organizations — can help facilitate these conversations at scale. 

Boost Psychological Safety and Team Empowerment: The fabric of JPSO is interwoven with threads of psychological safety, a concept that Harvard professor Amy Edmondson has championed as foundational for team effectiveness. (Perceptyx’s webinar on this topic is also a must-listen). Leaders play a pivotal role in crafting this environment by setting the tone for how mistakes are perceived and handled. To foster a learning environment, leaders must create conditions where intellectual risk-taking is safe and encouraged. This means establishing a non-punitive response to mistakes and ensuring that when errors occur, they are not met with blame but with constructive discussion and analysis. It is about creating a workspace where employees are not afraid to express their thoughts or propose unconventional solutions, whether during one-on-one conversations or via crowdsourcing. In healthcare, where the stakes are intrinsically high, the ability to freely exchange ideas without fear is crucial for advancing patient care and operational efficiency.

This empowerment can directly translate to better patient outcomes, as it encourages a proactive stance toward risk identification and quality improvement. By ensuring that staff feel secure in speaking up on various issues, healthcare organizations can catch potential issues before they escalate into serious incidents. This focus on learning and empowerment is an investment in both the workforce and the patients they serve, as it creates the conditions necessary for continuous improvement, patient safety, and overall high-quality care.

Practice Teaming for Continuous Learning and Collaboration: In healthcare, where no two patient cases are the same, the ability to form and reform teams with efficiency is crucial. This dynamic process of teaming requires a commitment to the principles of the 'Plan-Do-Study-Act' cycle, where teams consistently evaluate their performance, learn from their actions, and iteratively improve.

This ongoing cycle of learning and collaboration is particularly important in high-stakes healthcare environments where rapid response to changing patient needs is critical. Effective teaming allows for a fluid interchange of skills and knowledge, ensuring that patient care is informed by the best available expertise at any given moment. It's about creating a culture where continuous improvement is part of the daily routine, where each team member is both a learner and a teacher.

The Power of Modeling and Creating Conditions for Curiosity 

The axiom “lead by example” finds profound relevance in the realm of healthcare leadership, particularly concerning the cultivation of curiosity within teams. Leadership is not a passive role; it is an active engagement in the behaviors and attitudes that one expects to propagate throughout an organization. When leaders demonstrate authentic curiosity, they set a precedent that invites exploration and innovation. This can be as simple as a leader asking probing questions to understand processes deeply or as complex as spearheading initiatives to explore new methods for patient care or hospital administration. Such a leader does not merely direct; they inspire a culture of inquiry by showing a genuine interest in the ideas and insights of their colleagues.

A leader’s curiosity serves as the ignition for a team’s creative engine, signaling an organizational value for novel ideas and diverse perspectives. It conveys an important message: that each member’s viewpoint is valuable, that questions are not just welcomed but essential, and that the status quo is always open to improvement. By actively soliciting input and demonstrating an eagerness to learn — areas where Perceptyx’s People Insights Platform can make a measurable and immediate contribution — leaders can dismantle the traditional hierarchies that often inhibit open communication and stifle innovation.

Encouraging Diverse Perspectives and Continuous Learning

Leaders must go beyond mere acceptance of diverse perspectives to actively encourage them. In doing so, they recognize that a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, and viewpoints can collectively contribute to more robust problem-solving and innovation. As our own research has shown, this inclusivity is particularly crucial in the context of healthcare, where a wide range of specialties and functions intersect to provide care. When leaders encourage diversity of thought, they enable the cross-fertilization of ideas that can lead to breakthroughs in patient care, service delivery, and organizational resilience.

Continuous learning becomes a natural outcome in such a stimulating environment. Every new workday offers a plethora of opportunities for discovery and improvement. Leaders who are adept at creating these conditions ensure that learning is interwoven with daily operations, thus embedding an ethos of growth and development within the very fabric of the organization. This approach transforms the routine into a journey of exploration, where quality care is delivered alongside the generation of new knowledge and practices.

Perceptyx: Your Partner in Healthcare Excellence

To remain competitive, healthcare organizations should adopt these best practices in employee experience and engagement — all of which can be substantially aided by listening and action. At Perceptyx, we understand the complexities of healthcare teamwork and communication. Schedule a meeting and take the first step towards bridging the gap between leadership visibility and the front-line, enhancing your patient experience, and driving better healthcare outcomes.

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