To drive meaningful change, leaders must take the first step and listen to their employees


What is employee engagement? Simply put, it's achieving buy-in from employees on the mission, vision and values of the organization. It’s having them agree with what we are doing and where we are going-and ensuring that they want to be a part of it. 

Without true employee engagement, the journey to success is much more difficult to achieve. And, in the end, it’s simply not as much fun.

Culture is what we do and say, how we behave, and the way we treat our colleagues.

- Kevin Lofton, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives

At Catholic Health Initiatives, a national nonprofit health system based in Colorado, we equate employee engagement with culture, defining this in a very broad sense as the prevailing perspective from employees about what is seen, heard and felt during their work days. Culture is what we do and say, how we behave, and the way we treat our colleagues. More specifically, employee engagement is how we feel about the work we do.

As chief executive officer, I review feedback from employees on a regular basis. They tell me that they want to hear–and see–their leaders on a regular basis. And lately, I was told, they weren’t receiving enough time with their leaders.

I’ve taken the lead in working to ensure that CHI employees view their jobs–and their futures–with pride, enthusiasm, hope, engagement and trust. Combined, these elements form a thriving culture that translates to satisfied employees and a successful organization. And engaged employees lead to a higher quality of care and better clinical outcomes for those we serve.

I recently began what we call “Food for Thought” sessions, which are interactive, educational programs that allow me to engage with employees. In addition, I hold monthly leadership calls and interactive forums that are open to all employees, either in-person or via teleconference. I look forward to these employee discussions. In fact, it’s one of the favorite parts of my job. I hear what is truly on their minds and to provide candid answers to important questions.

The “Food for Thought” sessions we’ve already hosted have featured a dynamic dialogue about a wide range of issues, including an examination of the 13 cultural characteristics of great companies. One fundamental question for the first program was, “What does it mean to be a high-performing organization?” We also talked a lot about “intolerance to mediocrity.”

I can tell you that employee active participation is making a difference. I think we’ve also taken a big step in another important aspect of employee engagement by creating a comfort zone, a safe place where employees feel they can raise issues with senior leaders.

Our plan is to hold these “Food for Thought” sessions regularly, offering employees at the national office another opportunity to meet with me and other senior leaders in an informal setting.

This year, in fact, one of CHI’s top organizational priorities comes down to two words: “Leadership communications.” We still have a lot of work to do in this area, but we are making significant progress–and will continue to do so.

In the end, an engaged workforce is a must for organizations that want to achieve their mission and vision, and become a leader in their industry.

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