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How to Build a Positive Workforce Management Culture

With high-deductible health plans and the rising cost of care, patients today are savvier and pickier about how they spend their healthcare dollars. They’re seeking providers who demonstrate the best results at the best cost, meaning healthcare organizations are competing not just on quality, but also efficiency.

The current employment pool for qualified nursing and physician resources is shrinking, making recruitment more competitive as human resource managers endeavor to fill vacant positions. This, combined with ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the industry, may contribute to employees’ unease around leadership workforce goals. However, with the right language and honesty, leaders can foster a positive culture around it – and empower their managers to do the same.

Strong top-down communication and transparency about workforce management signals that this is one way in which the organization prioritizes patient care. Contemporary healthcare organizations foster an efficient and productive environment by building a positive culture around workforce management, and progressive organizations embrace conversations around workforce management. This illustrates that leadership is cognizant of their role in staying competitive in their local market – and it enables the delivery of high-quality care at the lowest cost.

Overcome these four common challenges to boost the culture around workforce management

The following considerations and keys to success will be essential for any organization to foster a positive workforce management culture.

Alignment and buy-in

Effective buy-in begins with explaining why workforce management is a priority. To build trust in the process, the c-suite needs to demonstrate strong leadership and authentic communication about how workforce management improves the environment and experience for patients. Whether workforce management is an incentivized goal for leaders or not, there’s no doubt that it’s on their minds. Most organizations have an element of fiscal responsibility woven into their mission and strategic roadmap, and each level of management is typically accountable for financial improvement.

Key to success: Leaders should create a cascade communication structure and ideally have in-person conversations with each of their direct reports about expectations, accountability, tools and how to message workforce management principles to their teams. The most successful organizations are transparent about margin improvement goals and share financials at every level of the organization. Doing so allows each level of management to continually talk with their teams about the intention behind workforce management, why it’s important and how the goal advances the organization’s mission.

Education and tools

Leaders and managers need strong foundational education to affect workforce management. Training topics should include payroll, productivity, flexing and overtime, agency staffing and what’s included in a worked hour. They also need to be trained in the tools the organization uses to benchmark and track workforce metrics. Finally, it behooves leaders to talk to their teams to assess for gaps in education. For example, many nurses who are promoted into management positions have never formally learned workforce principles and may benefit from training their first week in a management position.

Key to success: The most successful organizations employ a coach to meet with leaders and managers and help them improve, whether at communication or creating actionable work plans. Once leaders understand the foundations of workforce management, continuous education such as a quarterly refresh course is optimal to ensure comfort and engagement with the concepts.

Prioritization and timing

Organizations often have multiple priorities firing at once. Leaders should consider the timing of workforce management goals to prevent burnout. For example, is the organization simultaneously making cultural shifts such as launching a new mission statement or transitioning toward high reliability? Are there other demands on employees’ time, like learning a new EHR system, opening new units or managing gaps in staffing?

Key to success: Executives should align with the board on the importance of this goal and set measurable, timely milestones to which they will hold leaders accountable. Leading organizations use effective planning processes and tools to rapidly deploy action plans.

Accountability and sustainability

As leaders set milestones and goals, they should establish and communicate the expectations their teams will be held accountable to. Better-performing organizations focus on results, not just measurement. This means it’s up to leaders to routinely review performance and show adherence to the pre-established accountability plan to support effective stewardship of workforce resources.

Key to success: Managers and leaders need to actively use and feel comfortable with productivity tools to monitor accountability measures, such as worked hours per unit. It’s also important for organizations to engage stakeholders, including human resources and physician control, in regular conversations about open positions and staffing plans so that the number of full-time, part-time and as-needed employees stays within established guidelines.

A positive culture around workforce management is essential to optimize an organization’s efficiency, effectiveness and overall experience for patients. Organizations that commit to this strategic cultural shift find that it eventually becomes a natural thought process, as managers will organically ask about the effect of adding a physician or a team member when discussing budgets or planning.

Successful workforce management ultimately depends on empowerment of the workforce. The more educated department leaders are, the stronger a workforce management program will perform, driving positive staffing trends and financial improvement.

Check out our infographic and videoon the seven key principles of workforce management success.

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