October 29, 2020 Advancing Intelligence, Feedback, and Employee Voice: Part I – The Problem

As Laudio continues to advance its AI-driven technology, an important part of the process is stepping back and analyzing the real issues and problems that need to be solved for our clients.

What’s missing for frontline managers in healthcare systems? How can we make their jobs easier? What is the systemic, fundamental problem they face, and what’s needed to overcome the challenges? 

None of these questions has an easy answer, but let’s start at a most basic level. Nurses and other front-line healthcare workers have responsibilities and perform tasks that are critical to our well-being. Especially in today’s environment, they are being pushed to, and often beyond, their limits. They face exposure, physical and emotional demands, long hours, and challenging conditions. Their jobs are not easy. In fact, most people believe they have the hardest role in healthcare.

From a management perspective, these nurses and front-line workers are underserved. In most industries, managers have five, maybe 10 direct reports. But in healthcare, nurse leaders can have 50 or more direct reports across multiple shifts, 24 x 7. These are massive teams that require frequent interaction on a vast array of topics. It’s almost impossible to meet one-on-one with every team member or send out surveys to collect input and feedback on multiple aspects of their jobs. The risk of burnout, attrition, and turnover is off the chart because these managers simply don’t have the proper tools to collect information easily and maintain continuous touchpoints with their teams. 

Take, for example, a floating nurse. These essential workers move from unit to unit based on need and demand. They can work with two or three different groups of doctors, nurses, and patients in a given week, facing a variety of challenges and personalities from one shift to the next. And perhaps one or more of those experiences is negative, as in, “They treated me differently because I’m not the regular person,” or, “It’s really disorganized over there. It made for a long, miserable day. I’m dreading my next shift.”

Now imagine the manager in charge of this employee and the entire pool of floating nurses. He or she is tasked with collecting feedback, communicating with those employees, and also getting in touch with managers from other units to improve the floating experience across the institution. The process of collecting a paper or email survey from the nurses and creating a spreadsheet of responses takes up valuable time, and as each day passes, the likelihood of a specific complaint circling the drain and disappearing increases. Managers can have the best intentions to hear the voice of their employees and effect change in their daily experience, but without the right tools, the intentions cannot be realized.

Another part of the problem is that tools being built for managers today are too generic for the healthcare space. Again, typical managers run teams of less than 10 people. These managers interact with their team members almost every day, often in a one-on-one format. They perform annual reviews and occasionally conduct surveys, but the bulk of their relationships are built through face-to-face engagement. Healthcare managers with teams of 50, 100, or even 200 frontline staff find little to no value in these generic tools. Their employees are doing specialized, expertise-based work that is steeped in standardized procedures. In most industries, reviews are annual. In the healthcare world, they are daily.

Let’s go back to our floating nurse manager. What if that manager received instant feedback from each of his or her nurses after every shift? The feedback might come in the form of an easily accessible list of four or five questions and answers that describe their experiences in each unit of the system. Most importantly, that list can automatically be stored in their profile.

What if that manager could quickly collect the responses from all nurses and identify problem areas? Or, on a more positive note, he or she could recognize a particular unit where the floating experience is extraordinary, then reach out to the manager of that unit and give positive feedback. A process that normally would take hours to complete and often has no formal means of documentation now takes a handful of clicks.

Too many healthcare managers find themselves overwhelmed by the task of hearing their employees’ voices and providing timely, constructive feedback. Instead, they resort to “hacking” their way through the job, using three-ring binders and outdated technology to do a job that essentially cannot be done. And even if there is a set of best practices to follow within the industry or the institution, those practices cannot be socialized because the managers’ span of control is too broad.

The process of engaging and retaining frontline workers is driven by their daily experience. Finding the right tool that helps managers make their employees’ experience better plays a major role in solving the problem. In our next blog, we will discuss specific use cases and the outcomes that frontline leaders gain when they have the right tools to perform their job.

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