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Communicating Clearly to Foster Engagement with Liz Dickson

Communicating Clearly to Foster Engagement with Liz Dickson
Communicating Clearly to Foster Engagement with Liz Dickson

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In this episode, we’re talking about how important it is for leaders to get the communication piece right when it comes to fostering a solid culture of engagement. And joining me today is one of the best communicators I know, Liz Dickson, Managing Director at Press Ganey. Liz has so many amazing thoughts to offer, like:

  • Why it’s important for companies to create psychologically safe environments so employees feel comfortable speaking their mind.
  • How just as patients in a hospital experience better outcomes when given clear communication, the same can be said for employees and their level of engagement.
  • And, finally, why ensuring your visibility and approachability as a leader goes a long way toward breeding trust amongst your people.


The Ideal Company Culture

Beth begins the conversation by asking Liz to describe the ideal company culture using three to five words.

Liz highlights:

  • Mutual Respect: “Mutual respect between leadership and employees, and then amongst your peers, is critical. It's critical because it will then drive positive teamwork.”
  • Transparency: “We need to have transparency throughout the organization as much as we can. I think is really important because that builds trust.”
  • Trust: “The most important thing that we can have, to build a culture, is great trust amongst the teams.”

Beth responds with, “Your ideal culture and my ideal culture have a lot in common.”

High Reliability Organizations (HROs) and Communication

Liz explains the concept of High Reliability Organizations (HROs), emphasizing the importance of safety and clear communication.

“I think HRO is some of the most important work that's happening in healthcare right now,” Liz says. “It came from mission critical organizations like nuclear, space and aviation, those fields where you have to be safe or people lose their lives.

“And it was that same concept that was then moved from those areas and taken into healthcare, with the original thinking that the goal was to protect patients. But we've now grown and evolved into other spaces of protecting patients, of protecting our employees, with the overall goal being zero harm to anyone within the organization.

“What HRO really does at a very high level, is it puts in place the right processes and has our people trained in the right ways so they know exactly the behaviors that are expected and they know what ‘right’ looks like.

“It makes it really easy for them to do the right thing and really hard to do the wrong thing, because they firmly and clearly understand the processes and the behaviors that are expected.

The Importance of Psychological Safety

Beth and Liz discussed the concept of psychological safety, which is crucial for employees to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and feedback without fear of backlash.

Liz says, “A just culture, ideally, means that anybody within the organization, no matter your role, you can be the janitor, you can be the CEO, has the right to stand up and speak their mind, share a concern without fear of backlash or harm.

“It's critical in healthcare. If you think about the operating room, for example, that's where a lot of the safety work started, in the OR. You may have heard of the ‘operating room checklist,’ being able to go through a checklist with the entire team, and anybody on that team, whether it's a tech, whether it's the anesthesiologist, the surgeon or the lead nurse, can raise their hand and say, ‘I have a safety concern here. Let's stop the line and discuss.’

It's important things like this that allow anybody within that team to speak up without fear of repercussion because it keeps people safe. It keeps us all safe.

It also drives engagement because we've removed that authority gradient amongst different levels of the team.

And when an organization doesn’t promote psychological safety?

“People don't raise their hand, people don't stand up and say, ‘I have a concern here’ because they're fearful. They're fearful of keeping their jobs, they're fearful that they're going to get reprimanded. They just have that driving fear."


The Impact of Strong Communication

Strong communication plays a vital role in reducing anxiety among both patients and employees.

Liz points out that when healthcare professionals communicate clearly, listen actively, and treat others with respect, both patient and employee outcomes improve.

“From the patient perspective, when nurses and physicians communicate clearly, when they listen well, when they treat others with respect, we have better outcomes of care because patients understand their care better, they feel respected, they understand and that creates buy-in and it creates a trusting relationship between the patient and the care team.

“From the employee perspective, when we communicate clearly, it drives engagement. We understand what's happening. We have clear expectations of our roles, and of what we are supposed to do within the organization.

“When that comes down from leadership, when we have units in the hospital or clinics who are clearly communicating amongst themselves, it drives teamwork, which we know is really important to patients and employees, because it drives the overall experience."

The Power of Listening

When Beth asks, “In your opinion, what do you think builds trust?” Liz stresses the importance of active listening.

“Step one, listen to me when you and I are talking,” she says. “If you're my leader and you come in and ask, ‘How are things going?’ It's basic but it's so often missed: make eye contact, really listen, do great listening, and don't interrupt.

“Listen to understand, don't listen to answer. And that's the hardest possible piece.

“And then you can use the ‘teach back.’ That’s where you say, ‘I heard you say X, Y and Z.’

“People feel like you've been listening, and then they feel like you care, and that's step one for building trust.”

The Role of Visibility in Building Trust

To wrap up the conversation, Beth asks, “If you could recommend just one piece of advice for other company leaders who are looking to improve their communication, who want to boost their company culture, who want a thriving level of employee engagement, what would that one piece be?”

Liz answers, “I once heard someone say, and I thought it was beautiful, that ‘visibility breeds credibility and credibility breeds trust.’

“So, if there's anything you can do, it's ensure that you are visible, that you're approachable, that you're out there listening, that you're talking with your employees of all levels, across the board, and that will breed trust for you.

LISTEN NOW: The Culture over Coffee Podcast with Beth Sunshine

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Brent Tripp
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