How Can Healthcare HR Cultivate a People-Centered Culture?

Marketing Director

A lot of organizations boast about having a people-centered culture, but how does that apply in the healthcare sector, where outcomes can literally mean life or death, and workers are under constant strain to deliver top-quality care?

At its core, a people-centered culture is one that puts the human element at the top of its strategic priorities — the patients they serve, of course, but also those internally and externally who get the job done of serving those vulnerable populations. It promotes open dialogue, constant feedback, mentorship and transparency.

Here’s how to create one at your organization.

Put Profits Secondary to People

“A people-centered culture is one where the organization bakes its values, mission and vision into every decision that it makes. A company with a people-centered culture does not pursue profit at the expense of its people, and those people typically include employees, shareholders, customers and strategic partners or vendors,” says Zachary Schaefer, aka CEO of Spark The Discussion, a St. Louis-based management consulting firm that advises growing companies to make strategic personnel decisions.

This isn’t to say a people-centered culture doesn’t care about making money. It just doesn’t use the business quarter as its benchmark of success, Schaefer says. In some cases, you may have to sacrifice short-term profitability in order to build long-term ROI.

In healthcare, many organizations follow the “Double P” bottom line in measuring success: healthy people and healthy profits.

Focus on HR’s Role

“Human resources plays a unique role in the healthcare arena because we support the employee who supports the patient,” says Barbara Amato, Human Resources Director, Talent Management, for Salem Health Hospitals and Clinics.

Salem Health initiated a peer-support program that lets employees who are struggling, especially after a patient event, talk to someone about their experience right away. And it’s a mindset that must apply beyond doctors, nurses and other direct caregivers.

“We recognize that in the healthcare world we are often focused on the sick and dying, and that exacts a high toll on the caregivers across our organization,” Amato says. “This impact extends beyond providers to others, such as the environmental service worker who cleans a patient’s room or the server in one of our cafeterias that interacts with a grieving family.”

Remember That Culture Change Takes Time

Schaefer emphasizes that for a cultural change to a people-centered focus to be effective, leaders must remember that it’s going to take time, and it can’t be a strictly top-down effort. Effective communication, constant feedback and transparency must be the guiding principles every step of the way. Culture changes are processes that unfold over several years, he says.

“The biggest talent magnets in healthcare do a great job of financial compensation and creating a culture where team members are connected to the larger mission and vision of the organization, where team members believe that day-to-day decisions incrementally add up to major impact in the health of a community, where the daily grind of work life provides meaning and value beyond one's own needs and desires.”

Getting There

To start moving toward a people-centered culture, healthcare HR leaders must first understand their current culture and where it fails to live up to those ideals of openness and communication.

In other words, they have to diagnose the condition of the patient, which in this case is the entire organization. Consultants can help provide a fresh perspective, design a plan to change the culture and deploy it in the months and years to come.

Christina Boudreaux, PHR, the founder of Talent Made Simple, an HR consulting and recruitment services firm, says the long-term benefits of a culture that is truly centered on people will far outweigh any financial investment. Her data shows that that kind of environment in healthcare is reflected in employee engagement, quality scores, profitability, operational efficiency and other key benchmarks.

“In a people-centered culture, a company recognizes the value and strength of their employees, and invests in them through engaging, motivating, developing, rewarding and empowering them to give their best each and every day,” Boudreaux says.

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