Employee engagement and CEO engagement

As results from our global survey come in, preliminary findings indicate a gap between what motivates and engages employees and what their companies actually deliver.

Another preliminary finding shows a worrying lack of qualified leaders to guide companies through the challenges ahead — a perception shared by executives and employees.

I was thinking about these data points last week while listening to a presentation about patient safety and satisfaction at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, NC. This acute-care facility in an old tobacco town has won national recognition for high levels of employee engagement. President Mickey Foster described a degree of worker buy-in to Annie Penn’s mission that he says makes the high scores possible.

Nurses, doctors, and staff take the possibility of a hospital-caused infection as a personal challenge — they are invested in the health of the patients, and of the hospital itself. Part of that comes from the nature of the work, and part from the pride the community takes in its hospital. But a lot of it, I think, comes from Foster’s leadership. 

This is a CEO who will grab a mop if he sees a spot on the floor. He has cycled through several front-line jobs, from food-service to mail delivery, to better understand what his workforce does every day — and build camaraderie in the process. His own commitment to quality, and to his people, drives the culture of the entire place.

One question I had at the meeting — and I should mention that as a member of the Annie Penn advisory board and a trustee of its parent health system, I’m an interested party and a fan of Mickey Foster’s — was how well that kind of lead-from-the-front style can scale. Annie Penn is significant organization, but not a huge one.

We’re about to find out. Foster was just named President of a much larger hospital in the same system. My guess is that the top boss can set the tone even in very big enterprises, and that CEO engagement is a key to employee engagement.

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