09:33 AM

Values in Action (Part 2) : The Culture on Paper


Over the next several months, regular articles will explain how the culture platform shows up in daily life at Cook Children’s Health Care System. The articles will highlight our values: kindness, collaboration, imagination, generosity, respect, and safety.

See Part One of the Values in Action series here.

Part 1

culture platform jpegBy Malinda Mason Miller

About four years ago, Kathy McLean, vice president of Brand and Team Experience, felt something was missing at Cook Children’s. Kathy and her team identified what was amiss: the “special sauce” of Cook Children’s.

“We found there was a disconnect,” Kathy said. “The experience felt by hospitalized children, their parents and even the staff serving them was different from the picture we were painting in the community about what it’s like to come to Cook Children’s.

“On one hand, the message and tone was professional and very corporate. But working with patients, the feeling is much more like a family than an all-business-all-the-time corporation. In fact, it felt like, not only were we not capturing the magic – how special the care is here, but we also didn’t know how to begin to talk about it.”

The ‘special sauce’ needed to be codified, written down and expressed. That way, incredible employees who were caring for patients and their families day in and day out, not to mention caring for fellow employees, had a defined sense of the values they embody.

The task of putting the culture on paper was daunting. It would take people at all levels to define what they do intentionally each day in their work caring for kids.

“What better way to honor patients,” said Wini King, SVP, Chief of Communications, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. “All employees – from behind the scenes to those on the front line – put what we stand for, our culture, on paper.”

The challenge would be figuring out a way to talk about something as nuanced and intangible as magic.

Leadership makes magic happen with support.

Kathy took her team’s idea of building a culture platform to leadership. They agreed that, although it would take time and energy from all levels of staff, it was an initiative worth pursuing.

The heavy lifting and deep thinking about why Cook Children’s is so different – identifying the special sauce – would take years and major critical thinking across the board to get right. If it took magic to accomplish it, Kathy and her team would see it through. And so would all walks of staff at Cook Children’s.

There would be challenges along the way.

The most obvious difficulty in the process of creating a culture platform is that it must not come from a top-down approach, or it may never be fully embraced. It’s critical that those building the platform must buy into it.

Another challenge would be the amount of energy and time it would take to bring such a thing as the essence of the Cook Children’s culture into a living breathing, definitive document.

Internal culture that impacts both patients and employees, leadership and even prospective patients may vary from department to department, so it would be grueling to bring it all together. One thing was certain: the final product would be based on input from the many layers of people inspiring the culture, from the bottom up.

Questions would come up that would require answers:

  • How does a team define what caring deeply about patients looks like on paper?
  • How does a platform, once defined, get trained and processed, so that it sticks?
  • How does a culture make a business stronger and more competitive, more effective?
  • How does the internal team live out the pinky promise, “everything for the child,” and still support the staff’s well-being and protect against burnout?

All of these questions and many more came up during the process, and to some leadership team members like Megan Chavez, VP of the Cook Children’s Experience, the answers are as important as the questions.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup,” Megan said, referring to the latter question. “In order to be present for our families, our teams must be healthy. Everything for the child starts with our own well-being. It starts with us.”

The culture platform is the same: it is the employees and the way they care for and nurture patients. It’s simple; the culture is the employees, and the special way they care for people including each other.

What isn’t simple is training new employees on a culture that was defined prior to they joined Cook Children’s.

Part 2: The Culture on Paper

The culture would have to be put on paper, not just for posterity but to preserve the integrity for years to come. The Cook Children’s special sauce – the secret recipe of what makes us so special – would have to be codified by employees in a way future employees could make sense of it, and use it as their guiding light each day.

That way, the recipe never gets lost. The culture needed to become part of the lexicon, part of a consistent employee and patient experience that would stand the test of time.

Another challenge was that not everyone involved would agree on every word of the platform. But it was incredibly important to get it as close as possible to reality. Focus groups from across the system helped make the culture platform as authentic to daily work life as possible.

Another challenge was describing what each value means. Some values outlined in the culture platform were easier to illustrate than others. Imagination and generosity are two that may be more difficult to portray.

For imagination, the action is simple: In everything employees do, they should try to see it through the eyes of a child. Kathy said this was the best way to articulate how that value shaped daily patient care.

Generosity is another complex value for front line staffers to bring to life. When employees are generous, they are giving of their time, and are open to jumping in and providing their know-how, their experience, to not only for their own work, but also their colleagues’. The generosity value is about giving interpersonally, of time and talent.

“I have been so excited,” Megan said. “Staff see themselves embody our culture platform. They really run with it and make it their own.”

Megan shared examples of embracing the platform like at the Willow Park doctor’s office, where they held their own ‘Pinkies Up Party’ and celebrated successes while giving important thought to where there might be opportunities for improvement in bringing the values to life with patients and staff. 

“It is through intentional actions of using the platform to celebrate where we are living it to the fullest while also striving to see where we can be even better for our community and each other that makes Cook Children’s exceptional,” Megan said.

The business of culture takes leadership.

Many business solutions bubbled up through the process of creating a culture platform, all of which made the system better, solidifying the drive to incorporate the culture into all walks of daily business.

Strategy and goal-setting now reflect the platform. Teams grade themselves on different pieces of the platform, such as safety and quality, not to mention collaboration.

According to Stan Davis, president of Cook Children’s Medical Center, one of the best things to come out of the culture platform process is the alignment of teams’ thinking, actions and strategies.

“It’s the ‘why’ of what we do here,” said Stan.

One of the top questions Stan reported about the culture platform were how it will connect with major challenges, such as staffing.

With staffing, in addition to retaining awesome employees (by keeping the collaborative, respectful working environment the norm) the culture platform helps in two ways:

1.     It drives hiring managers to pick employees that are the right fit for the culture, and

2.    It helps attract the right type of employee to Cook Children’s.

As a key member of the culture council, a team of leadership that helped drive the platform initiative, Stan had a vested interest in hiring the best and keeping talent on board as well. During such a significant nursing and health care professional shortage, Stan wanted employees to be so fulfilled that they might tell their friends about what a great place Cook Children’s is to work.

“People that find joy in serving healing children and seeing patient care through the eyes of a child, will do well in this environment,” Stan said. “It is up to us to find those people and keep them.”

According to Cook Children’s President and CEO Rick Merrill, when it comes to values, “they’re ‘caught,’ not ‘taught.” Kathy and the leadership council wanted the culture to catch fire, rather than just be an added portion of new employee orientation. 

Naturally, there would be training involved, but the hope was that the culture platform captured the essence of why employees are so special at Cook Children’s.

Why is the culture platform an important tool at Cook Children’s?

Outside of basic well-checks with a primary care physicians, most children who visit Cook Children’s aren’t stopping by because they want to hang out with us. Kids come to here because something unexpected happened. These events often coincide with things feeling chaotic and scary. I’m no mathematician, but when you add up all these factors, the end result is a child who is thrusted into the trenches of vulnerability.   

Vulnerability, while frightening, is also the sacred space where connection thrives. And where connection exists, the seeds of community are sown.

When we opt to sow these seeds, and enter into that vulnerable place, we are living out the values named in our culture platform:

We show kindness to our patients, their families and each other.

We collaborate with one another to assure we are offering the best of the best, whether it’s taking care of a child, working at a desk job or in facilities.

We bring our imaginations with us to work every day. Those unique ideas and perspectives make us special.

We are generous with our compassion and space for healing.

 We respect each other’s differences and welcome inclusion, diversity and equity.

We provide safety through protecting everyone physically and emotionally. We provide safe care to our patients, as well as a safe work place.

When all these values collide, we can lay our heads down at night, knowing that we named the sacredness of every child when we helped them.

Jennifer Hayes, M.Div.

Director, Spiritual Care

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