Cultivating Gratitude: A Reflection on Our Team’s Exceptional Culture
By Sarah Irsik-Good, MHA, President and Chief Executive Officer, KFMC Health Improvement Partners
In the fast-paced and dynamic world of business, the key to sustainable success often lies in the culture of an organization. In the face of unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide have been forced to adapt rapidly to ensure continuity. However, amidst the chaos, some organizations not only weathered the storm but thrived, with employee engagement rates soaring higher than ever.
KFMC’s commitment to a flexible and responsive culture played a pivotal role in not just maintaining, but actually increasing our employee engagement scores during these challenging times.
As we enter the busy holiday season, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the unique and exceptional culture that defines KFMC. I’m excited to share some of the key takeaways we’ve learned about creating an authentic culture and environment that fosters creativity, excellence and fun, while prioritizing and valuing the things that are important to us, both as people and as professionals.
Embracing Flexibility in Work Arrangements: One of the pillars of our success during the pandemic was our swift and seamless transition to remote work. Prior to the pandemic, KFMC did not have remote employees. Post-pandemic, it seems that everything had changed, including our employees’ expectations for how, when, and where they work. Today, two-thirds of our team are either hybrid or fully remote employees.
Maintaining flexible work arrangements was important to our staff. Adapting the organization to support remote teams while coaching and mentoring leadership to effectively manage remote teams was my responsibility as President and CEO, despite the fact that I started this journey with a bias against remote work. Recognizing the diverse needs of our employees, we implemented telecommuting and flexible scheduling policies that empowered our teams to balance professional and personal responsibilities effectively. We found that holding the team accountable to performance expectations versus process metrics like simply being available Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, resulted in higher productivity and greater transparency.
Responsive Communication and Transparent Leadership: In times of uncertainty, effective communication is paramount. Our leadership responded to the challenges of the pandemic by maintaining open lines of communication. Regular updates, transparent discussions about our organization’s status, and a willingness to listen to employee concerns fostered a sense of trust and unity that continues today.
Occasionally, being responsive and transparent means receiving feedback that may be unfavorable, or considering ideas to which you might initially object. Listening and being open to diverse suggestions opens the door to a variety of perspectives and can be crucial to problem solving and decision making, as it helps you to see beyond your own viewpoints and biases. Additionally, engaging in feedback, even when it’s challenging, provides you with a more comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand, and ensures your employees will feel valued and heard. This fosters a culture of openness and collaboration, making staff more likely to contribute their ideas.
Adapting Training, Development, and Compensation Initiatives: As the business landscape endured rapid changes over the last several years, so did the team’s skill requirements. Our commitment to employee growth was unwavering despite the economic downturn. We focused on adapting training and development programs to suit the needs of an evolving workforce while including employees in the compensation planning process. We helped our employees more successfully navigate the complex economic climate, while also protecting the financial viability of the organization.
We continue to engage employees in setting their own development goals, aligning them with both personal career aspirations and organizational objectives. Finally, we involve employees in the compensation planning process by seeking their input on finalizing their position descriptions each year, what they consider fair and competitive compensation (including benefits), and confirming with them the market positions matched for analysis. With employee input, KFMC recently developed and shared teamwide our criteria and process for determining compensation to ensure transparency.
Empowering Leadership Style: Leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture of any organization, and we’re fortunate to have leaders who understand and embrace the opportunity to empower their teams. Our leadership team is committed to creating an environment where individuals feel valued, trusted, and capable of making meaningful contributions.
All levels of leadership, including myself, must be transparent about the organization’s goals, challenges, and decision-making processes. Popular or unpopular, you should be able to share and defend your rationale for decisions that are made. Your employees don’t have to agree with your process or the decision, but they will respect you for having a defined process for making decisions and for sharing it with them. We recognized how important it was to demonstrate empowerment through our individual actions which further underscored our commitment to a positive and thriving culture.
That culture hasn’t just led to the continued success in operational and strategic metrics, but also in marked improvement to our employee engagement scores. In 2018, KFMC began conducting employee engagement surveys annually; previously we conducted surveys every couple of years. The overall engagement score provides a high-level view of the employee engagement level within the surveyed organization. According to Custom Insight, our survey vendor, a score of 50 is about average; scores above 60 are good. Only about 10% of organizations score above 70. In 2018, KFMC’s overall engagement score was 60; in 2023 it increased to 91.
Also in 2023, KFMC scored at the 95th percentile for “Culture of Engagement” which measures the level to which the organization’s culture motivates, empowers, challenges, and respects employees. KFMC also achieved a 93rd percentile for “Strategic Alignment” which measures how well employees understand where the organization is headed and how they contribute to the organization’s success; the 98th percentile for both “Motivating and Relating” and “Managing Execution” which measures how well managers motivate their employees to give their best, build strong interpersonal relationships, and develop a strong, cohesive team, and the level to which managers are defining expectations, holding employees accountable, and focused on delivering results, respectively.
Amidst challenges, our organization’s commitment to a flexible and responsive culture emerged as a driving force behind the remarkable increase in employee engagement during and following the pandemic. By prioritizing the well-being of our workforce, maintaining transparent communication, and adapting to the changing needs of the business environment, we not only weathered the storm but emerged stronger, more united, and more engaged than ever before. As I express my gratitude for the exceptional culture that defines our team, I am reminded that a positive and thriving work environment is not just a luxury, but a catalyst for success.