Communication Builds Strong Teamwork at Cooinda

Cooinda Village is a 78 bed facility that benchmarks its services in the low care data base. It is located in the north of the state at Benalla. Last year Cooinda Village published an article that explained how in their first year of benchmarking they achieved strong participation rates in the employee satisfaction survey. In this follow up article, Cooinda Village explains how they have built on this strong start to achieve improvement in the overall staff satisfaction to a level that ranks them among the top performers in the low care data base. In just two years, employee satisfaction has climbed to the 5th highest in the low care data base with a percentage satisfaction score of 89%.

The result this year shows a 5% increase on the previous year's score of 84%. With the participation increasing from 48 to 53 returned surveys.

"These results have not come about by accident", explains the Chief Executive, Margaret Aldous. "The Cooinda Village management team has been utilising many strategies to support and communicate with staff whilst recognising the research that identifies that with the anticipated pending difficulties in recruiting staff into aged care, those organisations with a strong, positive staff culture will be more successful in staff recruitment." When asked what she considered the most important contributor in the improvement in the satisfaction results Margaret identified "the staff team, at all levels are embracing and living the organisation's stated `Values,' which have been developed with staff input." Further Margaret explains: "It is expected of all staff that they will treat our customers and each other with respect, compassion and kindness. It is our hope and expectation that our staff will value, appreciate and support one another. Therefore, if management find a staff member's behaviour does not represent our organisation's values the issue is discussed with them to ascertain the reason and support provided to that staff member as necessary."

Also as Quality Manager Julie Folan explains, "it is about communication, communication in numerous ways and communication at various levels throughout the organisation." It starts with leadership and our Chief Executive leads by example. She commits to a fortnightly leadership meeting that focuses on strategy, performance and current issues. It is important to the leadership team that the messages that are conveyed to the staff and clients are consistent and clear. It is equally important that there is a vehicle for quick and effective decision making. The fortnightly leadership meeting helps to achieve these goals.

In addition, there is a monthly Quality Meeting, and a monthly staff meeting. Agendas are set and the meetings are rarely cancelled. Consistency is considered a vital factor in achieving strong communication and outcomes from the meetings. To promote communication, the minutes of meetings are posted on the staff notice boards and staff are required to sign off when they have read them. "Getting staff to sign off that they have read the minutes helps us take communication to the next level and emphasises the fact that management is not paying `lip service' to the processes of communication" says Julie. Cooinda Village uses the WeCare system that enables the facility to communicate with staff via their individual hand held devices. Staff are reminded via the WeCare system if they have failed to sign off on the minutes.

WeCare is also heavily used for other more routine communication. The facility averages around 50 messages per month to staff that range in topics from current events and event reminders to feedback on performance outcomes.

More traditional methods are also used to communicate feedback on performance outcomes. Letters are also frequently sent to staff to inform them about key issues such as the employee satisfaction results. In such letters, the results will be explained in detail, together with suggestions and plans for improvement.

Next month, management is taking this communication to a new level and is going to take out a full page in the local newspaper to communicate strategies and performance outcomes. CEO Margaret Aldous explains that "whilst it is important to communicate with our residents and staff, our facility has an important place in the community and it is vital to share with them our strategies and successful outcomes. It also helps to foster and nurture staff pride in our achievements." In their book Marketing for Healthcare Organisations, Phillip Kotler and Roberta Clarke lament that health care organisations are too frequently consumed by negative and defensive media tactics to take the `bull by the horns' and get out there and market what is done well. Cooinda Village is determined to break free from this more common approach. Fortunately being located in a rural area means that the newspapers and media are quite often more agreeable to providing space for positive information.

Another strategy to build a strong employee culture is a commitment to permanent rather than casual staff. The management team believes that the establishment of permanent team members helps to improve communication, teamwork, loyalty and pride in the organisation. At the present time Cooinda Village does not have any causal staff on its books.

A commitment to fostering staff suggestions and acting on them is also an important factor in the building of a strong employee culture. Suggestions from staff are routinely encouraged, but the important thing is that those people who take the time to make suggestions receive feedback and see follow through and action. This does not mean that all suggestions are taken up but it does mean that all suggestions are seriously and promptly considered and the results communicated back to staff as a matter of priority. Three recent examples include:

  • A suggestion for two new microwaves to be purchased for heating the heat bags. Prior to the purchase of the 2 microwaves the staff had to walk some distance from each wing to a central microwave. This suggestion was discussed with senior management and all agreed it was a good idea; a decision was made to purchase them. (7 days between suggestion and purchase)
  • The activities staff requested a revamp of their old & tired kitchen. The little kitchen is very old and hard to keep looking clean. This suggestion was referred to the Quality Committee and after discussion with the finance manager and project officer the refurbishment of the kitchen is about to commence. (77 days from suggestion to completion of the project)
  • Nursing staff suggested some brackets be installed in the storage areas for hanging various equipment items. The senior management team thought it was a really good idea and organised the installation immediately. (22 days from suggestion to installation)

Data on all feedback mechanisms is maintained for quality review purposes. The following graph shows the data that is collected and the trend analysed. The trend with respect to suggestions is showing enormous improvement. The trend towards a higher suggestion rate is clearly evident.

Much of what has been explained so far can be found in many management text books. In reality however most organisations are challenged at some time or other to respond to circumstances or issues that demand special effort or special consideration. This year Cooinda Village experienced the sudden death of one of its precious staff in a tragic car accident. The whole Cooinda Village community were deeply affected, in one way or another. This experience has highlighted that strong communication links with staff are vital and in this instance have greatly assisted everyone in their experience of grief and in embracing the healing process. A range of communication strategies were used to ensure all staff members were informed and had the same information. These including personal phone calls from the CEO to all staff not on duty to inform them of the tragedy, staff meetings, written communication and memos and the organisation of memorial services in which staff were involved. Some months after the event, a review of the management response was undertaken, in order to develop guidelines that could be used if required in the future. Staff identified that they were grateful for the compassionate, dignified and respectful manner in which the event was handled and that they felt that moving through that difficult, sad time had helped them come together and grow stronger, as a team.

A strong employee work culture is such a valuable asset to any organisation.