Michael Murphy knows that if he could just spend some time talking to each employee, his company would be better off. But Sharp HealthCare has more than 14,000 employees and the chief executive knows that he’ll never get the chance for the one-on-one meetings he thinks would make a difference. That hasn’t stopped him from trying. Each fall for the past five years, each of the health care provider’s employees has spent a morning or afternoon away from the job attending giant gatherings that are used to educate and inspire them.
1. Sharing the Vision
Sharp HealthCare has a network of hospitals and medical clinics in San Diego County, Calif. Its goals are to become the best place to work in the medical field, the best place to practice medicine and the best place to receive medical care. “We know we’re not there and we also know we’ll never get there unless our employees know what we want to be and how committed we are to this,” Murphy says.
So in three shifts over two days recently, Sharp HealthCare’s staff gathered at the San Diego Convention Center to hear about Sharp’s accomplishments, vision and goals. Murphy led conversations and laid down service and behavior standards for the staff. “We focus on the experience you have when you come to our office or hospital,” Murphy says. “We looked outside the company to determine what we wanted to be, and we knew that if we wanted to change the experience for everyone involved, we needed our employees to change.”
2. Communicating Values
Although Murphy doesn’t get to speak individually to his staff, groups do see that he has taken the time to walk them through what the company expects from them. “It makes you feel like part of the team,” says Tammy Anderson, a patient services representative.
3. Face to Face
Sharp HealthCare’s administrators want to make sure the company’s staff conducts itself according to the corporation’s values. It has adopted incentives to help do that and monitors what its staff does. “For instance, we think it’s worth the time for a supervisor to handwrite a thank-you note to an employee and then send it to the employee’s home where it can be shown to other family members,” Murphy says. “That’s one of the things you do to get workers to take pride in their jobs, and it helps them get engaged in their jobs.”
Communicating values and goals personally is important, yet most big companies haven’t figured out how to do that, says Bob Nelson, a motivational speaker and author. “You really do need this face-to-face,” says Nelson, author of 15 books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, which has sold 1.5 million copies. “You’ll never get the message across as well in a video or in an annual report as you will having the employees hear the passion and commitment in the CEO’s voice. At the same time, you have to be sure that what you are communicating is actually practiced in your organization. If you are saying something that isn’t part of the culture in everyday practice, you’re working against yourself.”
Nelson says that whenever workers relate their work experiences to the accomplishments of others, it’s a sign of a healthy workplace. “In some companies, you’ll hear employees denigrate those who get awards. But when you hear employees praising others for their achievements and feeling better about what they have done, that means you are effectively reaching these people.” Nelson says.