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Better Leaders = Happier Patients

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Leadership development is a much-touted strategy to grow managers, improve communication and prepare staff for a hospital’s ever-changing climate. But do better-prepared leaders really lead to more satisfied patients?

They do at Sacred Heart Hospital.

In 1999, the 200-staffed-bed hospital in Eau Claire, WI, launched a campaign to increase its Press Ganey patient satisfaction scores. The core of Sacred Heart’s campaign was leadership development—specifically a quarterly leadership development institute.

“The latest research says it’s not necessarily that satisfied employees result in satisfied patients. What really matters is the supervisor,” says Sacred Heart Administrator Steve Ronstrom. “The relationship of the supervisor to the employee is the key determinant for employee and patient satisfaction.”

Every 90 days, Sacred Heart’s frontline managers, department heads and the executive team head off-site for a two-day leadership institute that focuses on the six pillars of Sacred Heart’s mission: service, quality, people, cost, growth and congruency. They discuss the hospital’s current status in the six pillars, undergo training on a particular area with an outside trainer as warranted, and assign goals going forward based on the hospital’s current priorities.

“Our training isn’t just organization development. It’s focused on the issues that we’re facing—real-time, real-world issues,” Ronstrom says.

Developed with help from Studer Group, the leadership training is tied into employees’ 90-day work plans, annual performance reviews and hospital goals. Every participant leaves with action items that must be completed over the next 90 days, and they report on their progress at the next retreat. The leadership institute is also a form of succession planning for a dozen or so high-performing staff members who are invited to attend even though they don’t yet manage anyone.

The campaign seems to have worked. Sacred Heart’s patient satisfaction scores earned Press Ganey’s Summit Award for scoring in the 99th percentile three years in a row.

“The key is to focus on your supervisors and ensure that they are working with and empowering employees on a daily basis in doing the important tasks that need to be done. That’s the key to running a hospital,”
Ronstrom says.

Each institute has a theme and related fun activities to break up the major presentations and training, but Ronstrom says it’s the training, not the recreation, that keeps his employees—and as a result his patients—happy.

“Employee satisfaction is not about having pia parties for your staff. It’s about training the supervisor to treat staff with respect and to provide clarity in expectations. That’s what leadership development is all about.”

—Molly Rowe