5 Ways to Re-think Employee Engagement in Health IT
Establishing ‘best practices’ to become a ‘best place to work’
In a two-month period, Bridge Connector was named to both the 2019 Nashville Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” and Modern Healthcare’s “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” listings. This is the same health IT company who is changing how health care communicates with its no-code integrations solutions and iPaaS, which had only four staff in early 2018 but has already grown to over 80 employees in year two.
The Nashville metro area’s population and business landscape has boomed in recent years, and being named as one of the companies “at the top of their game” during this period of explosive growth has been significant for Bridge Connector. It indicated to company leaders that not only have we been able to secure some of the best talent around, but that we must be on the right track when it comes to growing a happy and engaged workforce as well.
According to Modern Healthcare, from April 2018 to April 2019, the health care industry created 404,000 jobs nationwide. The “tight labor market puts employers in a tough spot,” where “robust compensation and benefits packages are no longer sufficient” to retain talent. The organizations who made this year’s “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” along with Bridge Connector, stood out for “nurturing a sense of loyalty and building engagement.”
Prior to joining Bridge Connector, our Vice President of Human Resources, Caitlin Franklin, worked for 15 years at Brookdale, the largest senior living provider and one of the 10 largest home health operators in the nation, and most recently served as their Vice President of Talent Management. There, she focused on her passion for helping leaders hone their abilities to shape an organization.
We sat down with Franklin to learn some strategies Bridge Connector is utilizing to re-think employee engagement — which could be applied to other companies in health IT, or to any workforce for that matter.
1. Talent management as ‘continuous improvement’
“We want to make sure that we’re giving our workforce opportunities to grow,” said Franklin. “Whether an individual desires growth in a ‘leadership role,’ or they want to become a deep subject matter expert within their specific field, we’re going to make sure they get the time and resources to really grow and develop.”
She is referring to the “continuous improvement” core value identified by Bridge Connector which might typically be used in reference to our business solutions, or our learning processes as an organization. However, if there is a new skill that someone is interested in, or within our tech roles, say, a new kind of coding language they would like to master, their managers make sure it’s part of their overall productivity. Managers have been instructed to give employees time to continue growing individual skill sets, perhaps even beyond how it could benefit their current role.
“Honestly, that’s a pretty unique aspect we are developing here at Bridge Connector, because most organizations aren’t willing to make the productivity trade-off to let people have the time to actually do that type of learning. But if you have a passion for learning, if you are interested in something, we want our employees to see professional growth and career development opportunities within our organization,” she said.
2. Leaders as accessible and generous with entrepreneurial ‘spirit’
Early on, Bridge Connector’s CEO David Wenger personally met every hire during the interview process.
“Even though that sort of personal touch wouldn’t be sustainable as the organization grows,” said Franklin, “it has been important to find other ways to assure that level of accessibility to leadership across the entire company.”
Currently, new hires enjoy small group outings during their first or second week, “Lunch with the CEO” as it appears on their calendars. “David really wants to get to know each individual — not just what brought them to Bridge Connector,” added Franklin, “but them as a person, what makes them tick and gets them excited about the work that they’re doing here.”
Aside from being a tech company, with lots of smart people bringing innovation via their individual skills and talents, there is the shared belief, from the top down, that Bridge’s success is based on all of our collective efforts — from working hard together.
How do you foster this sort of environment for “teamwork”? By putting tools in place for feedback and collaboration — “by not just talking about an ‘open door philosophy,’ but by putting it into practice,” said Franklin.
For example, with something even so simple as a product-naming process, this might typically fall within a company’s marketing department’s functions, with a few executives’ strong opinions thrown in for good measure, or with the ultimate creative stamp of approval. Bridge Connector has instead opened up its product-naming process to the entire company for input via Quip documents and tables, organized by project.
This sort of openness toward creative input, regardless of an individual’s role within the company, is also fostered with “Pitch Competitions.” Think Shark Tank, but regarding products or app ideas that employees can pitch to a rotating judges’ panel.
“When a CEO demonstrates that commitment and that time to get to know folks, the dividends go both ways,” said Franklin. “If somebody has a question or needs something, they’ve already developed that rapport, so we can ideally remove roadblocks more quickly.”
Or, take the Pitch Competition, or any other “open ideas” forums that will continue to be offered.
“When our leadership is gracious with sharing that entrepreneurial spirit,” Franklin added, “we can better help employees cultivate their own ideas, really encouraging and fostering those more quickly as well.”
3. Leverage technology to work smarter, achieve flexibility
Yes, Bridge Connector is a health tech company that connects disparate data systems for health care organizations of any size — the whole “changing the way health care communicates” part. But we’re also a technology company that’s leveraging technology to help us communicate with each other.
“That’s not the way most companies operate,” according to Franklin. “As we align resources for our employees and have made very intentional decisions about what types of software, what types of communication or collaboration tools we would use across the organization, we want to make it easier for our people to get their work done with the use of technology.”
She went on to explain that in some organizations, the idea of doing a video conference (Zoom as Bridge’s primary platform for this) becomes a secondary or tertiary thought. “But Bridge Connector’s embedded DNA is that we can be face-to-face here in one of our offices, or we can also see each other if we’re not in the same room,” said Franklin.
“That not only helps us increase the speed of business, but it also helps us increase our speed to recruitment and our engagement with each other. We’re not letting geography be a barrier despite being spread across four locations, with many additional remote positions, or as people are traveling.”
Using Zoom calls and Slack channels as standard operating procedure across the organization, Salesforce’s Quip for collaboration, and Pardot as our sales and marketing engagement studio… these are just a few examples of tech software choices that have allowed for higher productivity while also adhering to the company’s unlimited PTO policy, “because people need time to recharge their batteries,” Franklin said.
“We want to encourage people to work hard, but you have to that balance with personal time and flexibility. Tech tools empower us to move beyond the delay of emails, version control, and to continue conversations after meetings more seamlessly,” she said.
4. Align on goals, but bring it down to the personal level
Bridge Connector held its first company-wide in-person “Apex” meeting in late February. The idea was to align on goals for the upcoming year across the entire organization.
“We made sure that, cross-functionally, everybody understood what the key objectives were, so that as we’re working on our individual functions, across the organization and throughout the year, we can always go back and align to those goals,” said Franklin.
She explained that Town Hall meetings function as check-ins, which are deployed commonly in both large and small businesses and industries. And that it is also important to have some regular cadence of company-wide meetings or calls that work for each organization, where all roles and departments are able to celebrate shared victories, promotions, and growth together.
At Bridge Connector, we tend to favor gongs and sometimes piñatas for these moments.
But beyond these more typical practices, what you really have to do “is to pull this information through effectively to the individual level,” said Franklin.
A startup presents unique challenges but also the opportunities to do “quick pivots, the freedom to be nimble, and to take advantage of market feedback more easily,” she said.
She added that Town Hall meetings are a great place to receive feedback on benefit packages, for example, to learn what is working vs. what employees want improved. Similarly, we can learn what our clients are telling us is working for them vs. areas for improvement.
“The ability to solicit individual feedback, and then as a startup to be able to incorporate that feedback more rapidly, is quite refreshing for anyone who’s ever worked at a larger organization,” said Franklin. “And that in itself can make leaps and bounds toward employee engagement — when they can see that their feedback was heard, that people listened, and that it resulted in changes to the following year’s benefit plan design, for example.”
5. Get intentional about having FUN!
It may sound like an oxymoron to say you need to “schedule” something that is meant to be spontaneous and fun, but Franklin says that is precisely where many organizations go wrong — they do a lot of “talking” about being a fun company but no one seems to be actually doing it.
At Bridge Connector, it’s not uncommon to walk past a meeting where they’re playing corn hole or ping pong against one another — during the actual meeting.
“When you build fun around company-wide events like going go-karting after a day of sitting in a conference room together, and then you encourage departments or smaller teams go to sporting games, escape rooms, or to work on community service projects together for additional team-building experiences, it breeds an an environment where more team-building just starts to happen organically,” Franklin recommends.
“And it helps that we have buy-in from the top down. We have a fun bunch that likes sports, pop trivia, trying new restaurants. And when you share these sorts of hobbies with groups of colleagues already working toward the same mission, it deepens your understanding of one another in a way that really brings employee ‘engagement’ to life in a unique way,” she said.
The people have spoken
As for whether or not these strategies have worked, some hard data provided affirmations as part of the Nashville Business Journal employee survey results (Modern Healthcare employee survey results are not available until this fall):
100 percent of employees said that they felt “highly engaged.”
100 percent of both men and women agree that they see “professional growth and career development opportunities for (themselves) in this organization.”
“Innovative” is the one word employees selected to best describe Bridge Connector’s work environment.
100 percent of employees feel “the senior leaders of this organization value people as their most important resource.”
And in open-ended, anonymous questions:
“This company has a collaborative spirit, and every person is listened to regardless of position or rank.”
“In my career, I have not seen a company fully embrace teamwork as this one does.”
“I feel just as comfortable sitting next to the CEO at the lunch table as I do sitting next to any peer.”
“I have worked for many companies over the course of my career and have never been treated with this much consideration and true care.”
“Leadership shares transparency on all courses of business, even ones not typically shared with lower level employees.”
“I am grateful to work for an organization that places such a high value on its people.”
“We all share in the successes and work hard to make good things happen.”
“Establishing the right culture was very important to David (David Wenger, Bridge Connector CEO) from the beginning, and he felt strongly about retaining that as the company has grown and will continue to grow,” said Franklin. “As for what qualities are most important to a workforce, he ‘got’ that right away when the company established its core values. And we have focused on team-building as a whole, then within smaller departments and functions as well, to keep reiterating those values through everything that we do.”
“Most of all, we have tried to foster that innovation and entrepreneurial spirit throughout the organization,” she said, “because Bridge Connector is a place where everyone has a voice, and we want to provide opportunities and a path to nurture that.”