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The Official Baldrige Blog

Why Not an Engaged, Family-Based Workforce to offer Exceptional Health Care?

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“Why not me . . . to be extraordinary?” asked Kendra LaCour-Ramey, director of medical staff services at Baldrige Award recipient Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, during a recent Baldrige Quest for Excellence© Conference session. “Why not us to become the preeminent community hospital in the nation? Why not us to create a remarkable and engaging experience for the entire workforce?”

Qiara Suggs and Kendra LaCour-Ramey of Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital


Echoing these aspirations, Qiara Suggs, senior human resources business partner at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, said “Why Not Us or Me? is a framework developed to elevate our organization in its thinking while setting high performance targets.” It not only challenges the organization to be successful but for the workforce to be personally successful, too, she said.

In fiscal year 2016, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, part of the Memorial Hermann Health System, was honored with the 2016 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Its workforce retention results were at 90 percent for employee partners, 100 percent for physician partners, and 90 percent for volunteer partners--all results comparable to or exceeding national benchmarks. Additionally, the first-year retention rate for all partners was nearly 75 percent, exceeding the national level.

People are the cornerstone of the framework, said LaCour-Ramey; “But gone are the days of just happy employees; it isn’t enough. . . . They must be happy and engaged. . . . Regardless of your title, . . . our goal is to make sure we connect and engage all of our workforce in various ways.”

LaCour-Ramey and Suggs shared tips with the Quest conference audience on how to connect and engage your workforce using the Why not us? mindset, the hospital's family caring for family culture, and its cycle of workforce engagement to promote advocacy and loyalty.

While many organizations struggle with workforce engagement, LaCour-Ramey said, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land has “bucked this trend,” with engagement results in the top decile nationally (96th percentile). These results have even been attained in Houston, a very competitive health care market—largest in Texas, fourth largest in the United States, in one of the most affluent U.S. counties, and with four major hospitals in that county, which is also one of the most diverse in the nation.

“We place great emphasis on workforce engagement to drive our family caring for family culture at a level of high performance and innovation,” said LaCour-Ramey. Engagement is attained through the hospital’s Advance strategies, with their emphasis on valuing employees, engagement, inclusiveness, and learning opportunities. Forums, an open-door policy, and the People Excellence Council support the strategies.

“Our employees know that we listen and we act on feedback,” she said.

LaCour-Ramey said one key to success is including physicians and volunteers as part of the workforce; “Our volunteers are likely the first you will see when you walk into our hospital . . . and our physicians are at the bedside. . . . This is why [treating them like family] is so important.” She added that the hospital once considered physicians to be customers but quickly realized that that thinking did not align with the culture.

Suggs echoed the importance of physicians and volunteers within the family culture, especially in an extremely competitive health care industry; “When we talk about our workforce, not only are our employees being picked off by our competitors, but so are our physicians and volunteers, and they all play a huge role in how we execute on our strategies."

The hospital’s cycle of workforce engagement includes multiple phases:

  • Discover and recruit
  • Welcome and connect
  • Energize and enrich
  • Recognize and refuel
  • Grow

To discover and recruit, the hospital has developed a workforce plan using local market analytics, national staffing guidelines, capacity metrics, and performance reviews.

According to Suggs, the interview process incorporates multiple layers. Recruiters and leaders look for skills, competencies, and knowledge, especially for identified, critical positions. In addition, a recent cycle of improvement added front-line staff to culture panel interviews to specifically assess a candidate's potential fit in the organization. This panel looks at aligning individuals with organizational values by asking behavior-based and unconventional questions that look for a person’s emotional intelligence as well as competencies.

“At Memorial Hermann, we’re purely focused on fit,” said Suggs. “Have you ever hired someone who has the perfect skill set, but [he/she] just didn’t fit in with your organization? . . . Our recruiting process is set to focus on individuals who will complement our culture. . . . It’s those innate characteristics that are unteachable.”

To welcome and connect, expectations are communicated and candidates are offered the opportunity for a few hours to job shadow and observe the work environment. During the onboarding process, leaders send personalized notes to employees’ homes and stop in at new employee orientation. All new hires have a training preceptor who is equipped to orient them to the department and facility. In addition, pit stop conversations are a one-on-one, personalized check that onboarding and training are effective, and if they’re not, the conversations allow trainers to course-correct early on.

“Keep in mind that onboarding begins an employee’s journey, career throughout the organization,” said Suggs. “So it’s important for us to outline a systematic process to make sure that everyone has a pleasant and equal experience.”

When it comes to recognizing and refueling, “We celebrate [the frontline],” she said, adding that monthly and annually recognitions are personalized with the goal to make them meaningful and motivational.

Growth is intertwined in all of the phases, she said. “As an organization that thrives on learning and development, we offer adequate, timely, and meaningful learning opportunities for all of our employees, including our leadership team. . . . We encourage our workforce to growth through an innovative mindset,” said Suggs, adding that tuition assistance is offered to employees pursuing higher education, and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land is one of the few organizations to help with student loan repayment, with the “expectation that you bring knowledge back to your organization.”

Is your staff (or you) engaged enough to wonder why not your organization (or yourself) to be exceptional?

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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