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Customers in Action: How Medical College of Wisconsin Increased Employee Engagement and Accountability

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Sandra Grund
on June 17, 2016

The culture of healthcare is like no other, with a great variation of talent and a mission to change lives. When the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCOW) needed to introduce not only a new performance management system, but a new performance culture, they chose PeopleFluent as their technology partner to help enable this change.

The experiences of Kimara Ellefson, MCOW’s Sr. Director of Talent and Faculty Affairs, translate to hospitals throughout the country who are also experiencing flux during these times – and is a success worth sharing.

Performance needs of medical environments – from the variety of job functions to the way performance management is handled differently for practitioners and medical faculty versus other staff – are unique. For example, performance management can be foreign for someone accustomed to an academic environment. “It introduces a difference type of accountability into that culture,” says Ellefson.

Another challenge is that the education of many medical leaders’ is missing an important aspect – the business side of things. So talented leaders who rise to the top in their specialty may not be trained in corporate management techniques like performance reviews, mentoring, coaching, giving effective feedback, project planning, and strategic planning. One of MCOW’s goals was to remove the walls between academic medicine and the for-profit business world.

According to Ellefson, while other fields talk about talent management in terms of ROI, the bottom line, and selling to the customer, most medical professionals are offended by the use of the word “customer” – because it makes their patients sound like commodities rather than humans. MCOW’s approach to Performance Management needed to be framed appropriately for those professionals as well: What does it mean to be a better medical doctor? What does it mean to be a better colleague? How does effective team building impact their practice - and their expertise? 

In short: they needed a new dialogue around ROI and performance.

As a first step, MCOW did an internal employee engagement survey, and the results were that while people loved working there, non-medical employees wanted to know how their daily contributions aligned with the goals of the institution (e.g., curing cancer). It also became clear that junior faculty were looking for feedback, more than perhaps the seasoned faculty had been. 

To get leadership behind the culture change, MCOW’s Talent Affairs (TA) team had one-on-one conversations with department heads regarding their challenges and inputs into the process.  They involved cross-discipline teams so everyone felt their voice was being heard. Ellefson feels listening to the end-user made this process change more palatable for employees.

MCOW’s President heard the concerns of faculty and staff, and fully supported putting a Performance system in place that showed employees the organization wanted to invest in them and their careers. 

Armed with leadership buy-in, a clear list of needs, and employee feedback, MCOW went into the market to find a provider that could help them introduce a new Performance system where it had never been part of the culture. A major consideration was ease-of-use to meet a range of technology comfort levels; a solution that was as intuitive as possible and didn’t require a lot of training. They also needed “a system that could flex with them.”  Not every department wanted to be treated the same, and there would be inconsistencies in processes (e.g., not all departments were ready for a 360° review).

Oh, and one other thing.  They needed to transition to this new system in 14 weeks.

“When we were out looking for a provider, this whole idea of succession planning and performance and leadership development was very important to us,” says Ellefson. “PeopleFluent easily and almost immediately rose to the top, in terms of being the partner we needed to switch to.” One highlight for Ellefson was the ability to play around with the software in a sandbox environment to see if it was a good fit.  Also, PeopleFluent’s account executive was there from the get-go as a partner to see them through their transition and beyond.  From Ellefson’s point of view, the system was able to do things others couldn’t, from flexibility around the wording so her staff felt comfortable with the language, to goal alignment where they “could align goals up, down, and diagonally.”

Training also occurred before the implementation phase, which meant the HR team could speak the same language as the technical support team. A true partnership was created with idea exchange and openness. The Performance Management system was running in 12 weeks, with 2 weeks to spare, as a result of this powerful partnership.

In these situations, a provider’s support should go beyond implementation day.  Because the system is so user-friendly, MCOW needs very little involvement from their internal IS team. To this day it’s possible for the TA team to make most small adjustments themselves. It is an ongoing partnership with PeopleFluent, who as Kimara states “is available to address our needs as we continue to grow and expand.”

The benefits for MCOW are already being seen. Most apparent is the increased performance dialogue amongst staff and supervisors, which was lacking before. It has also built a greater sense of community through tools such as the notes and journaling features. Individuals are recording their achievements and sharing notes with colleagues throughout the organization. All of a sudden people are encouraging one another without being prodded to. “In the often siloed medical field, this creates a very powerful sense of community,” says Ellefson.

In healthcare, opportunities to positively impact employee engagement and patient outcomes can all start with your talent strategy.  Consider these take-aways from the MCOW experience as you plan your Performance Management strategy:

  • Select a partner that can flex with you
  • Understand what performance management really means to your organization
  • Get input from your employees
  • Involve leadership from day one
  • Select a partner who will work with you through the long haul

Watch Kimara Ellefson discuss the the Medical College of Wisconsin's experiences in this customer video.

For more on how you can create a culture of engagement and a greater sense of community into your mission check out PeopleFluent Talent Management for Healthcare

And join us on June 28, 2016 for a FREE interactive webinar with Jason Wolfe, President of The Beryl Institute, to learn more about the critical role people, leadership and culture play in patient experience, and the five strategic keys to experience success. Register Now!

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