Happy, High Performers: A Beginner's Guide to Culture Satisfaction Surveys in Sterile Processing



(A few years ago, my SPD department in Louisville Kentucky had the highest performance cultural assessment scores of any department in an entire health system of 17+ hospitals. Here are a few concepts that worked for us...)


If you work in a hospital of any size you are probably familiar with the idea of an annual facility culture assessment or employee satisfaction survey. These are questionnaires that come out every year asking things like: "Would you recommend this hospital to any of your friends looking for work?" or "Would you trust this hospital for your family member's surgery?" Although these surveys differ from place to place, they all try to get at one main idea: Are your employees happy? 


As simple as it may sound, ensuring that your team leads the way as happy, high performers is one of the hardest things a leader will ever do. You can't force someone to enjoy their job -- but there are ways to create an atmosphere in your department that draws in the passionate and encourages the faint of heart. Let's take a look at three must-haves for making happiness a major win on your next department survey . . .


1) Hire for Happy, Train for Performance


Believe it or not, high scores on your department's employee satisfaction survey actually start before you hire your first employee.



When you sit down to interview a candidate, in addition to discovering their character, former work experiences, and commitment to excellence, you should also be gauging their general outlook on their profession. Did they enjoy their previous job? What about in the midst of challenges? How did they deal with employee conflict? These things are bound to come to fruition in any department, so the important part is how the person handles it. A technician who can operate under stress -- and yet still keep a positive outlook on their departments are an invaluable asset to your team (and your scores). 


On this front, I would recommend being very intentional with the kind of employees you use to train these new (happy) hires. One of the worst mistakes you can make is allowing a preceptor/trainer with skill, but no passion for their job, have three months of one-on-one training with an earnest new team member. The first 90-days in your department can make or break future happy, high performers, so ensure your trainers are models for the kind of culture you want replicated across your team. Hire for happy, train for performance. 


2) Keep Your Ears Open and Finger on the Pulse


Once you've recruited and hired the happiest new technicians on the block, and have them being trained by model citizens in your SPD kingdom, you now need to focus on keeping the lines of communication open. Nearly every cultural assessment and satisfaction survey I've seen has been filled with questions about how well department leadership communicated and how well the employee thought their concerns were being heard.



While this may sound like Leadership 101, in the flurry of activity found in most CS/SPDs around the country, consistent communication from leadership is often lacking in critical ways.


A great example of this is the supposed holy grail of leadership theory, the Open Door Policy. I've heard countless leaders pat themselves on the back because they leave their office doors open for staff to come and speak to them about concerns, only to wake up 12 months later to strikingly low survey scores for department communication. "What happened?" they ask, with a mixture of unbelief and consternation on their faces. In two words, reality happened. And the reality is, very few employees feel comfortable interrupting their boss with the little issues of life and work that make up their days. But because it's these little things that push the needle from a "mediocre" experience at work to a "happy" one, many bosses never know about them until it's too late. Make it a point to leave your office on occasion and spend time on the department floor, gauging the pulse of your people, asking about the little things they need to feel valued, and watch your scores go through the roof. If you hear them, they will remember come survey season.


3) An Open Book Test: Speak the Language


Once you graduate high school, the days of open book tests are usually over. However, the typical healthcare culture assessment and employee satisfaction survey is an exception to the rule. In most facilities, the survey questions are exactly the same from year to year. The creators of these assessments actually do that on purpose, so that they can accurately gauge trends over longer periods of time. But this consistency can and should work in your favor. You know a full twelve-months before your next survey nearly all the questions your team will be asked.



So if you care about performing well on these evaluations, you should use this kind of transparency to your advantage. Don't just hold weekly staff meetings as you've always done. Hold weekly staff meetings and explain to your team that by doing so, you are "allowing them the opportunity to hear from their department manager on a regular basis" (i.e. Question #24). Don't just free up the schedule so they can attend town halls with the hospital CEO, but remind them that you want them to attend because it allows them "to engage with facility leaders on important topics" (i.e. Question #10). The more times you use the exact language of the survey throughout the year AND connect it to concrete leadership decisions you are making for the department, the more likely they will take those things into account when they complete their scores.



Let me close by giving one more practical tip and one philosophical truth. 


Numbers matter: I'm sure there's a fancy marketing term for this, but I don't know it, so we'll just call this the "Hotel Lost My Reservation" syndrome. If you've ever showed up at a hotel, luggage in hand, after a grueling trip over hundreds of miles and too many airports to count -- only to hear the words, "I'm sorry, sir, we must have lost your reservation," then you know that hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. Satisfaction survey the next week? Don't mind if I do. And then you commence to let the hotel leadership know all the ways they totally dropped the ball on your stay. On the flip side, how many times have you had a great stay and just never got around to telling the hotel how much you enjoyed yourself? The point here is that angry people don't need to be pressed for their opinion, but happy/contented people often do. So if you have 30 employees, and only 12 completed your department's survey, it's likely that many of them were not the happiest kids in the candy store. You can't change anyone's mind on the day of the survey, but you do want to make an extra effort to make sure you don't leave any happy scores on the sidelines.


Integrity counts: As practical as all this is, please do not miss the point of this post. Happy techs and high performers are great, but that should not be your ultimate goal in anything you do. The reason that surveys like these are important is that happy technicians and high performers do better work for the patient. CS/SPD leaders can't care about the patient without first caring about their teams. If you take these ideas and waltz into your department on Monday morning without truly having a heart to see your folks love their jobs and work for the greater good, you will fail -- and so will your team. Culture is contagious, so don't expect to see anything in your team unless you see it first in yourself. 


Happy surveying, my friends . . .


Hank Balch


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