March 31, 2021 Moving from Transactional to Personalized Authentic Engagement with Dr. Ninfa Saunders – Part I

I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Dr. Ninfa Saunders, DHA, MBA, MSN, FACHE, Retired, President and CEO Navicent Health. Our discussion was centered on the topic of Leading in a Post Covid Era: Moving from Transactional to Personalized Authentic Engagement. The topic could not be more timely as healthcare is facing an escalating nursing crisis – early retirement decisions, abandonment of careers, extreme burnout and fatigue, and the increasing reliance on travelers. 

Make no mistake. Retention and burnout have been long standing issues that health systems have faced. COVID, however, has pushed us to the tipping point. CNOs, CHROs, COOs, and CEOs alike have turned their attention to solving the employee engagement and retention challenge.

In Part I of this two part blog series here are the Q&A highlights from our conversation.

It’s time to move from transactional relationships with employees to “authentic” personal relationships. Ninfa, What do you mean by that?

From a workforce perspective, when you look at the world that we live in today, there’s a list of things that we have to do every day. Some are obligatory, some are voluntary, some are things that we think are really important. They become transactions. So, daily we have a list of transactions. And, sometimes in the process of executing those transactions, we forget our intention – to build relationships.

There’s no question in my mind that nursing leaders today are devoted and passionate about their teams. But, there’s a missing linkage that both leaders and staff can feel. It goes beyond a transaction, beyond a busy day. This is really all about building a relationship so that you get to know me a little bit more. You get to know what makes me different and what makes me part of the whole.

That’s really what I believe is meant by authenticity. Can we build that sense of authenticity so that our staff doesn’t feel our interactions are an obligatory transaction. That you’re not doing this because you have to. You’re doing it because you’re thinking about me, and you’re mindful of me. Who I am, what I need, and what will make me better in the workplace. This is what makes interactions meaningful and fulfilling.

Speaking of fulfillment, how would you define it? And, how can we, as leaders, help our teams feel that their work, their careers, are fulfilling?

Fulfillment is a function of a number of things. First, the ability to satisfy the core and fundamental hierarchy of needs within our teams – safety in the workplace, the ability to feel part of a supportive team, and recognition and satisfaction for providing care. Second, there is a macro perspective, can we enable our teams to feel part of a larger mission. One that is driven by the culture and values of the organization or health system. And finally, there’s a personal component. Can we personalize our interactions enough that it touches something special within each and every person on the team?

Dr. Saunders, you said, “As a CEO, there are three things to focus on; strategy, operations, and people. And, people are the most important.” How can we begin to more holistically care for people and why is this so critical?

Today, we have multiple generations in the workforce and their needs are very different. People are constantly being told, you’ve got to focus on “work-life blending,” or as some call it “work-life balance”. There’s no such thing. But people are constantly encouraged to achieve work-life blending. But, we don’t give them solutions to achieve it. And secondly, we don’t give them the time. 

So, instead, some of the things that we focus on is providing coaching, giving them mentors. But think about that, there are not a whole lot of mentors available today. Consider the age of nurses today. The average age is 51. It used to be 47. So, we have an aging workforce. They don’t need us to come to them with, “What are your needs in terms of PTO?” Or, “What are your staffing needs?” Although, it’s always top of mind. We need to talk with them about what can make this life a lot more manageable for you in a holistic way. The caveat here is that when we ask them the question, we better do something about it.

We are very good at asking people for solutions, but too often we simply go on to the next piece of business at hand. The ability to hear, to listen, to execute, to plan first, and then execute is very important.

We need to take the time to say to individuals, “Tell me about you. Tell me what drives you.” Because, what drives a Millennial is going to be different from what drives a Gen X, or a Baby Boomer. Therefore, we need to come up with a multi-generational plan that focuses on gathering information, then incorporating that information into our plan, and then enables us to execute.

I can tell you the one thing that is sorely missing are tools. We desperately need tools and technologies that enable us to restructure how we can effectively lead in a holistic manner. One that is authentic and personalized. 

We need tools that stratify and segregate information, and provide instructions based on recommended actions. We cannot expect nurse managers and CNOs to shoulder the responsibility of trying to decipher all of this information. There’s just not enough time in their day. They are already spread so thin with their large teams, that they cannot be expected to identify the unique needs of each individual.

In the absence of technology we really do not have a path forward to achieve a sustainable, holistic approach to authentic engagement. We cannot continue to ask them to build the house without the instruments to do so.

Check back next week. I will be posting Part II and the Conclusion of my discussion with Dr. Saunders.

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