Employee satisfaction… is it even possible anymore?

By Steve Moran

We all know there is some amazing technology out there in the form of “instant-feedback” tools that allow employees to express their issues, moods and challenges in real time to management. 

The value proposition of these tools is that the data they collect allow you to deal with an issue before it festers and brings an employee to the breaking point. Here is the problem. It’s still just reactive, a kind of “Whack a Mole” approach — here’s the latest issue, deal with it, then wait for the next one to pop up.

As an industry, we’ve struggled to create the kind of culture where a staff member feels appreciated, energized and motivated to do a good job because it is personally rewarding to do so. 

Is it even possible? David Gehm, CEO of Wellspring Lutheran Services in Michigan, just might prove that it is.

Wellspring Lutheran

Wellspring is the merged organization of what was Lutheran Homes of Michigan and Lutheran Child and Family Services of Michigan. Today they do family preservation work across 9 sites throughout the state of Michigan, serving seniors, children, foster care, adoption, as well as ancillary family support services.

I sat down with Dave to talk about the importance of building culture in an industry of high turnover and employees who often seem to “just not care.” We both agreed that each culture is largely the reflection of the experience of its employees. So how do you change that experience?

Finding the Root Cause

“You can’t change culture overnight,” says David. “But you can take all this great trending data about staff experience and use it to engage your staff in conversation,” he adds. “That’s the first step. Then we have to ask, how do we work together in shaping a better outcome for everybody?”

According to Dave, it’s about identifying the cause that drives the data, then communicating it and making sure that the training is in place to turn those numbers around.

Dave further explains, “As an example, if we could look back in our data and see that, of the 25 people hired in a given department last year, 12 couldn’t articulate their supervisor’s name after 2 weeks on the job, that would be an alarming trend.” Agreed.

“Yet, if we maintain a rolling 12-month record, assuming we’ve handled our intervention and training correctly, we might see that, out of the next 25 hires, only 4 don’t know their supervisor’s name. Still not perfect, but trending in the right direction,” Dave adds.

Accountability and “Fierce” Conversations

Can identifying issues and applying training impact culture? 

We’ve all experienced people who are trained well and still don’t do what they’re supposed to do because their culture doesn’t reinforce it.

Case in point. I was recently at a senior living community for some meetings. I wandered around, identified myself and explained that I was on a break and wanted to see the building. By the way, I happen to know the owners, great people who are really committed to customer service. But the front desk staff totally blew me off! What was most disturbing, however, is that the staff knew what they were supposed to do. They had the training, they just didn’t care. How do you deal with that?

According to Dave, it’s about elevating an issue that occurred and having what he refers to as a “fierce” conversation about it — why it can’t happen again and what the consequences will be if it does. A little “tough love” makes sense, especially in senior care, where we take a zero tolerance approach. But Dave warns us about moving too quickly. “It is a process of communicating that says, this occurred, let’s talk about why it occurred, what was happening at the time, and what you are going to do to make sure it never happens again,” says Dave. “And that takes time, as well as commitment on the part of supervisors who need to be trained to communicate in new ways. But it builds a culture of accountability.”