Learn How Conversation Improves Engagement at UCHealth

UCHealth is experiencing how conversation improves engagement. UCHealth leaders are inviting nurses to the conversations that matter to empower them to do their best work improving lives. Now, as early as the interview process, nursing leaders let candidates know that genuine dialogue will be an important part of their role. In this way, UCHealth is building nurses’ trust that sharing feedback can result in positive change. Empowering nurses to drive improvement is the definition of engagement that fosters workplace wellbeing.

Survey questions don’t improve engagement

Surveys questions do help measure engagement, and this is important. However, the conversations these questions spark are more important for improving engagement. Asking questions that inspire leader/team dialogue is the very act of engaging in a way that matters. This moves beyond “employee engagement” as an annual process for tracking engagement. Instead, engagement becomes having the conversations that define and drive real action.

Conversation improves engagement

UCHealth data is showing that conversation improves engagement. Leaders who have these conversations with their teams, 1. have better relationships with their teams, and 2. have a more engaged team. In contrast, leaders who don’t have these conversations see decreased engagement over time. As Vice President, Organizational Development & Learning Services, Dr. Matt Gosney states: “Really the key is that you shift from ‘Yes we’re going to focus on engagement, and we want an engaged workforce,’ to ‘We want to create an environment where leaders have meaningful conversations.’” 

Key takeaway

Don’t ask questions on topics that won’t lead to conversations that drive change, for example: “Do you like your pay and benefits?” 

Do ask questions that spark conversations to drive action, for example: “What is the most impactful thing your leader does to support you in sustaining your mental health and wellbeing during times of high stress?”

Conversation creates action

When teams share their ideas, feelings and experiences, they gain more ownership of resulting actions. UCHealth Manager, Operating Rooms & Anesthesia Services, Brianna Houghton demonstrated this when her team scored low on the question: “Decisions are being made at a level where most of the information is available.” Broughton relays, “In the spirit of shared decision making, and wanting them to feel engaged, I asked the team, ‘What if all of us each chose one topic that we felt was one of our subject matter expert [SME] areas…and became a part of the decision making at a hospital and a system level.” 

As a result,

  1. Each member chose an SME area to take action on, e.g. sustainability, radiation safety and regulatory walkthroughs.
  2. They integrated these actions into their departmental clinical quality goal: 1. each member joins a committee for their SME area, and 2. shares their learning back with the team to engage the team further.

As a result, Houghton relays, “I am so grateful for literally one question on a 6 question survey that gave me actionable items that the team ran with, and now we’re all part of the decision making.”

Key takeaway

Ask the questions that can lead to action, and then continue the conversation by inviting teams to define improvement actions. Empower teams to feel invested in driving change.

Encourage conversation from the start

Knowing that conversation improves engagement, Houghton emphasizes this during her early interactions with potential new hires. Houghton states, “When I interview people to come into the department, I want to set a framework right from the start that we need to have open dialogue.” She reinforces how this builds a trusting relationship to drive improvements, “I let them know, ‘Hey, this is how I want this relationship to work. I want you to feel empowered to give me feedback and that we will make change.’” 

Houghton relays during interviews how she encourages her team to “Poke holes in every single thing that we do. Ask questions. Make sure you understand what you’re doing, and it’s safe and it’s for patients’ best interest.” Laying this foundation from the very start reinforces a key tenet of nursing, as Dr. Gosney relays, “A major crux of nursing is that shared governance, and how we create an environment where all of nursing is bought into the process.”

Key takeaway

Prioritize meaningful dialogue as early as the interview process. Tell potential new hires they will be asked to share their feedback regularly, and empowered to create solutions.

Conversation fosters sustained wellbeing

When leaders invite their teams to share what keeps them from doing their best work, they foster workplace wellbeing. 2020 brought drastic change and uncertainty. We know chronic stress and burnout impacts an entire organization, and that it’s not just the individual’s responsibility to treat. When leaders ask their team genuine questions about workplace stress, they build trust. They also acknowledge their shared responsibility in resolving this. When leaders ask their teams how they are coping with stress, they discover the resources and strategies that are helping. Also, asking what factors are contributing to the stress pinpoints where they can address these together pre-emptively.

Continuing this dialogue develops a sustained antidote for systemic burnout. It strengthens the leader/team relationship, builds the muscle for sharing feedback, and co-owning the action steps. Houghton’s team now proactively participates in engagement surveys, knowing their efforts will count. Houghton relays, “With Employee Voice I can really drill down to exactly what the staff at the core is trying to tell me…At the next survey they trust that I’ll listen, we’ll talk about it as a team, and we’ll make a plan. I really don’t have to push to ask them to do the survey because they know I hear them.”

Key takeaway

Build the muscle for ongoing conversation by continuing a cadence of asking questions that lead to action. Increase trust by getting to the core of what teams need, and co-creating plans that let them do their best work.

Watch this webinar to hear Dr. Matt Gosney and Brianna Houghton share how conversation improves engagement at UCHealth, and how this engagement is leading to real change.