5 Steps for Empowering Employees to Make Wise Decisions Without You

High employee turnover is a common problem in healthcare organizations, one made worse by persistent staffing shortages in the industry. But what many healthcare executives don’t realize is that empowering employees to make more and better decisions on their own can help reduce turnover, saving time and money while also leading to significant organizational improvements.

Allowing employees to make more decisions—and giving them the tools to make good ones—leads to higher job satisfaction rates. Not only does it send a signal that employees are being heard, but they’ll see that you value their experience and the work that they do. It gives them confidence to perform better and grow in their leadership abilities. All of which adds up to a more productive work environment where employees are less likely to go looking for a new job.

What’s more, it can help organizations achieve process improvements that increase overall efficiency. Time can be better spent if everyone is focusing on their top-level tasks rather than on time-wasting projects that better fit someone else’s skill set.

“Leaders just can’t be around their employees all the time, so empowering them to make their own decisions about patient care is the most patient-centric thing we can do,” says Matt Barney, Ph.D., an industrial psychology expert with experience in healthcare and leadership development and the author of Leading Value Creation: Organizational Science, Bioinspiration and the Cue See Model.

Former chief learning officer at Sutter Health and a Six Sigma black belt, Barney highlights several key steps to help your employees make wise decisions when you’re not with them.

1. Start with yourself.

Being a persuasive, confident leader is crucial to instilling confidence in employees. Barney recommends that leaders review Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence, which are reciprocity, friendship, authority, consensus, commitment and scarcity. For more on these principles, see Cialdini’s classic text, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.

2. Create a shared vision.

“Everyone needs to share a mental model about the future, including both threats and opportunities,” Barney says.

Be honest about what needs to change and why, whether your objective is reducing recidivism, increasing patient satisfaction, eliminating procedure variance or some other goal. Make it clear your aim isn’t just to put a bandage on a problem or improve things incrementally, but to make them permanently better. This type of clarity helps everyone look at information more holistically and work toward the same goals.

“It’s easy to get mired in situations like doctor-nurse relationships or the latest round of technological changes,” Barney says, noting that’s why it’s critical to often remind employees of the true purpose of their work.

Giving employees the chance to contribute ideas at the right place and time can mean big benefits in terms of process improvement or, in some cases, wholesale process redesign.

3. Model your commitment by asking for input.

“Make sure everyone knows you’re serious about hearing feedback, and that it’s not just lip service,” Barney says.

When possible, be open to opportunities for employees to champion new efforts in front of facility executives. Giving employees the chance to contribute ideas at the right place and time can mean big benefits in terms of process improvement or, in some cases, wholesale process redesign.

“The C-suite may see the big picture better than caregivers, but leadership may not have the tools to fix it,” says Barney, adding that caregivers can give critical insight into everyday problems. “They’re going to know things higher-ups don’t,” he says.

Plus, involving employees in the improvement process means changes are more likely to take root. “People resist changes when they feel like they had no input,” Barney says.

4. Leave room for practice.

Remember that your employees need opportunities to stretch themselves.

“For leaders to grow, they need to practice,” Barney notes. “You don’t want to throw people in the deep end; you need to give them a life raft once in a while. But you don’t want to make it so easy that they can’t develop into stronger decision-makers.”

Healthcare executives may be wary of incorporating new practices suggested by employees, which is understandable. But it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with new approaches.

“Simulate new processes or ways of doing work before applying those processes to the entire organization,” Barney says.

5. Measure your progress.

Barney is a big proponent of measuring leadership. “We have good gauges at the bedside, and we can do the same with leaders,” he says, pointing to tools like the Rasch model, which assesses leadership skills.

Empowering employees to make wise decisions without you means more than just giving a seminar or adding more online training. It means being a strong leader whom your employees actually want to follow, one who makes room for new ideas and gives them opportunities to practice and grow in their leadership. Organizations that make good on these commitments see benefits in improved organizational efficiency, not to mention happier employees and reduced turnover.

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