Increase face time to improve staff performance

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Carving out time for additional meetings with staff can be difficult for nurse managers with already overflowing schedules. But some organizations have found that more face-to-face time with staff is the key to performance improvement.

Employees throughout Kansas City, MO-based Saint Luke's Health System's 11 hospitals don't just receive an annual performance review during the first quarter of each year. They set goals each spring, have a mid-year coaching session in late summer, and receive additional guidance year round.

"If you are a good leader, you are coaching people throughout the year," says Dawn Murphy, vice president of human resources.

Saint Luke's also makes sure that the majority of the performance review is spent looking forward, not backward-more than 60% of the annual review is focused on the future, says Murphy.

"We are just really big on no surprises and having that performance review session not be a history lesson," Murphy says. "It is not this big scary one-hour meeting every year."

Finding time for additional meetings may be easier said than done, however. Some nursing directors may have 200 direct reports, says Barry Tourigny, vice president of human resources at Cabell Huntington (WV) Hospital. It is a huge undertaking, but it's worth the effort, he says.

"The more time you can spend in front of your employees talking about day-to-day work, the better off the organization is and the higher satisfaction you'll have with employees," he adds.

Staff members at Cabell Huntington, which has 334 licensed beds, meet with managers at least twice a year. Typically, they are brought up to date on performance monthly, says Tourigny, adding that senior leadership often receive one-on-one feedback on their performance from the CEO on a weekly basis. To help offset the time commitment for the monthly meetings, which are usually about 45 minutes in length, leaders are encouraged to involve direct supervisors in the process. As a result, supervisors are in a position to offer feedback more frequently, explains Tourigny. "Managers shouldn't be the caretaker."

Murphy doesn't buy into the argument that hospital leaders don't have time to meet more often with employees. "I'm just always puzzled by people who view having an extra meeting with your employees as a bother or interference," she says. "This is the person you are accountable to and for."

One solution is to use a regularly scheduled meeting with an employee and designate that as coaching discussion, Murphy says.

Not only can these meetings help lower turnover rates, but they may just alert nurse managers of potential problems.

When Cabell Huntington was opening a new patient tower, many staffers were leery because the project meant doubling the number of steps they would have to take each day, says Tourigny. So senior leaders used that one-on-one time to introduce a new program that rewarded employees for walking.

"We handed out pedometers to our staff and had them count their steps on [a] month-to-month basis, put them in drawings, and they won these really great prizes," he says.

"What motivates [employees] is being in the know and having a manager that supports their development," says Murphy. "It really feeds what employees want most-accessible managers who are responsive to them."

Editor's note: This article was adapted from "The value of face time," which was featured in HealthLeaders Media Magazine.