Culture is a term commonly used these days within the long-term care and broader healthcare industry. A perceived positive culture can drive workforce retention, employee and resident satisfaction, and the overall success of an organization. A poor culture, however, can drive turnover, subpar resident reviews and a poor work environment.

But what does it all mean?

Organizational culture refers to the “personality” of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations and goals.

An organization’s culture (or lack thereof) most likely will be highlighted (or exposed) during a time of change. It may be a leadership shift, an acquisition or even the introduction of new processes or technology. Or a pandemic.

During times when an organization is asked to make any type of change, you will see whether your workforce is equipped to make the necessary moves and adapt to this change or whether employees push back and want to revert to the “way it has always been.” An organization’s collective ability to not only accept but embrace change can mean the difference between success and failure.

A healthy culture

A healthy culture is created through the basic building blocks of an organization. Your organizational goal is to make a solid foundation to build on with the following and other components: 

  • Pride for the company among all who work there.
  • Trust among all levels of employees.
  • Feedback that travels both from employees to management and management to employees. 
  • Clarity about company expectations and team goals.
  • Opportunities for professional growth and continued learning for employees.
  • Communication on all avenues.
  • The offer of a balance between professional and personal life for employees.
  • Competitive compensation for employees.

Unfortunately, the components that create a positive culture seem to be a constant moving target. Understanding the emphasis that is required to balance your organization’s efforts can be challenging, to say the least. Driving cultural improvement is not easy, and it does not happen overnight. To the contrary, efforts to change culture must consider the history and attitudes of an organization’s past. It takes a proactive and diligent, never-ending focus and requires both leaders and staff members to be honest about where your organization currently stands and where it wants to be.

Company culture evolves and can be critical to an organization’s short- and long-term goals. A culture of accountability is essential for long-term care and healthcare providers to succeed in an era of population health management and accountable care. A strong organizational culture enables and nurtures the new behaviors, actions and investments required to navigate the many changes affecting the healthcare industry. The healthcare industry today looks much different than it did five years ago and will look much different five years from now.

Some steps to establishing and fostering a positive company culture:

Define expectations. A healthy organizational culture should define expectations for individual caregivers’ performance in critical areas such as quality of care and services, resident safety, resident experience and operational efficiency. When an organization’s culture expects leaders to embrace defined goals and gives individuals the tools and guidance they need to realize that performance, the results tend to fall in line with the desired outcomes. The strongest cultures thrive, even during periods of the greatest stress, because their caregivers have the confidence to navigate whatever challenges are placed in front of them.

Communicate clearly and consistently. Engagement is a critical ingredient of an organization’s success, because a committed workforce is far more likely to deliver the highest-quality, most compassionate and most efficient care and services. Clear communication is a crucial driver to realize a high level of engagement initially and then to sustain it. Consistent expression of goals, expectations and aspirations to both internal and external audiences solidifies commitment, which in turn increases the likelihood of enhanced performance in all facets of the organization. It takes a concerted and protracted effort to establish a high level of engagement and persistent focus to sustain it.

Define vision and expectations. Leaders must have two-way conversations with employees and clearly define the organization’s vision so that employees understand and buy into it. Employees should have the expectation that they will do every time what they would want to be done with their own loved ones.

A clear understanding among all levels of the organization concerning company expectations is key for meeting team goals. Although expectations for within their job functions will vary, the underlining theme should be consistent. With defined expectations, an organization can create opportunities for professional growth and learning for its staff members. 

Strive for continuous improvement. Underlining the company’s vision is the idea that we always are striving for continuous improvement. The best way to influence behavior is to thank and celebrate people who exhibit the culture, and for those who don’t, have direct, discrete conversations with them. Many suggest that you get more out of celebrating successes than highlighting failure, but you’re not a great leader if you don’t have a conversation with someone whose behaviors are at odds with the vision.

Set the pace. Leaders set the pace and cadence of an organization, because employees always are watching them. If your organizational leader is working around the clock, never takes vacations and doesn’t prioritize family, then the organizational culture will reflect these values, regardless of what leaders say. Typically, an individual leader’s personal core values will be reflected in the company and leadership.

Encourage self-care. Create a work environment that is conducive to health and wellness. Encourage employees to take up healthy activities by subsidizing gym memberships or supporting participation in local sports activities.

Become intentional

When you prioritize culture, you become intentional with it. Culture creation is not done with a single meeting or conference call. It is a process of best practices that must be learned and repeated on each level within your staff. Your organization shapes itself through set values and behaviors that support those values.

As a result of your culture-driven examples, your organization moves to a standard ground and works in cohesion toward the realization of your mission. There is synergy and accountability on all levels, and they will breed a team-based approach for success.