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AtlantiCare Creates an Engagement Roadmap

This healthcare provider goes out of its way to make sure that employees understand how their individual efforts contribute to the achievement of organizational goals

By William Keenan Jr.

Using the Avatar HR Solutions Employee Engagement Survey to establish a baseline in 2008, AtlantiCare found it scored in the 90th percentile in only 3 of 16 areas covered by the survey. A year later they had upped that score to 14 of 16.

AtlantiCare is a major healthcare provider, a $750 million business enterprise and one of the largest employers in southern New Jersey, with more than 5,200 employees and 600 physicians on its payroll. As the region’s provider of health and wellness services, AtlantiCare’s goal is to be the best in five business areas – Best People in the Workplace, Best Customer Experience, Best Quality, Best Growth and Best Financial Performance.

A tall order, but AtlantiCare understands that to achieve those goals it has to build an engaged and committed internal culture. As Rick Lovering, AtlantiCare’s VP of Human Resources & Organizational Development, puts it: “We are an organization that has placed the quality of our organization – both the quality of the work environment and the quality of the practice environment for our physicians, and certainly the quality of the care we provide our patients – at the forefront of our culture.”

Creating an engaged workforce plays a large part in that effort – and in achieving those “bests.” Says Lovering: “As with any organization, when you’re in the business of serving customers – or serving patients, in our case – you’re not going to get those high levels of patient satisfaction and patient engagement without high levels of employee engagement.”

Aligning Employees and Goals

When Lovering joined AtlantiCare in 2008, the organization had been on the journey to improve employee satisfaction and engagement for about four or five years, but with little to show for it. “Part of the problem was that they were frankly using the wrong tools to measure satisfaction, and they weren’t really getting actionable data out of the survey process,” Lovering explains. “The survey instrument that was being used didn’t lend itself to the kind of data analysis that could turn that information into action.”

Lovering spearheaded a change of survey vendors at the time, and that helped to refocus things. Using the Avatar HR Solutions Employee Engagement Survey to establish a baseline in 2008, AtlantiCare found it scored in the 90th percentile in only 3 of 16 areas covered by the survey.

With the new data in hand (and an online action planning tool for organizational leaders that came with it), Lovering says AtlantiCare was able to identify problem areas and develop improvement efforts in how the company handles career development, how they connect employees to the strategy and mission, the structure of their rewards & recognition program, and their leadership development programs.

For instance, “We were getting feedback from our employees telling us that they didn’t see their connection to the organizational goals and how that connected to their work,” Lovering says. “That led us to develop a program we call ‘Share the Success,’ which is essentially an employee gainsharing program. We take organizational goals and, depending on how we perform to those goals, employees can earn a year-end bonus. We communicate our progress quarterly using a red, yellow, green traffic-light formula, and we’ve seen our employee satisfaction with that element of our business grow as a result.”

AtlantiCare also goes out of its way to make sure that employees understand how their individual efforts contribute to the achievement of organizational goals through a process it calls “Strategy Map Deployment.”

“Each year we update our rolling three-year strategic plan, and as a result of that senior leadership exercise we create an annual plan for each of our five bests,” Lovering explains. Company leadership forms the action plan for AtlantiCare’s business units, and the plan is printed on one side of a paper fold-out.

“It’s like a map,” says Lovering. “It folds up to the size of a credit card, and you can tuck it behind your ID badge. One side lays out our organizational goals in each of our five bests and what we’re trying to achieve. On the other side, in the same format, each department fills out what the department is working on to support those organizational goals. And then each person works with his or her supervisor to fill out what they’re working on to support that departmental goal in each  of the five areas.”

As a result, Lovering says that all 5,200-plus people at AtlantiCare can tell you what they do, and how it connects to the overall goals of the organization, “and that helps to drive the ‘Share the Success’ payout at the end of the year.”

Giving Leaders Tools

A second important factor in AtlantiCare’s success is its leadership team’s commitment to the principles of what is called “Servant Leadership.” “In order to be an effective leader, you have to serve those that you lead,” Lovering says. “It’s about giving people what they need in order to be accountable and do a good job. All of our managers go through a 33-week experiential course on Servant Leadership involving classroom activities and training in 360-degree feedback.”

Lovering explains that the approach takes into account that nobody’s perfect, but it creates an environment where “if I as a leader haven’t lived up to expectations, the people I lead have an opportunity to talk with me about that and help me learn from that experience so I can be a better leader tomorrow than I was today.”

The Avatar HR Solutions online action planning program that’s used to disseminate the annual employee engagement survey data to AtlantiCare’s managers also gives those managers a new tool by which they can convert survey data into effective action. Not only does the report give them the quantitative survey data and other employee feedback, it also provides them with an array of “best practices” in different areas that are gleaned from Avatar’s extensive work in the engagement field that will be helpful to the manager in planning his or her action steps.

In addition, if there’s a specific engagement area that a manager is struggling with, he or she can click on a “Mentoring” button in the action planning program to see which company leaders are performing well in these areas. “That will give me [a list of] the leaders who are performing at the top in my organization in those areas so I can go and consult with them and get some new ideas,” says Lovering. “I can even email them right through the system. That’s a great tool for our leaders.”

The proof that these and other efforts that AtlantiCare is making are working is borne out by fact that just a year after it was implemented, the organization’s employee engagement survey put them in the 90th percentile in 14 of 16 engagement dimensions, which helped the company win a Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality in 2009 – and for the last three years AtlantiCare has been identified as one of the top three highest-engaged workforces out of the 800-plus surveyed each year by Avatar HR Solutions.

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