How the NEXUS experience challenged—and changed—one hospital’s workplace culture

“As an owner, sometimes you think everything’s fine, but you don’t really know what’s actually happening between the staff members when you’re not there,” says Rebecca Korven, DVM.

Korven, owner of AAHA-accredited Celtic Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, knew everything wasn’t fine at her practice, but she didn’t know why, although she had her suspicions. “I’d been struggling with some issues with the staff,” she recalls. Then she read about the AAHA Culture Connection, a two-part employee-engagement program designed to help practices improve workplace culture by building a positive and productive work environment.

The AAHA Culture Connection is a collaboration between AAHA and The Coffman Organization (TCO), a management consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses improve workplace culture.

Korven liked what she read and “thought it was worth trying out to see if it would help.” She got in touch with TCO through AAHA Culture Connection website and they sent her a survey for her staff to fill out.

TCO Vice President Tom Ginn worked with her throughout the program. “She was always very keen,” he says of Korven, one of the early adopters of the AAHA Healthy Workplace Culture Initiative, which launched officially in late 2018. “She was excited because it seemed simple and straightforward, and it would make it easy for her staff to utilize as a group.”

The surveys, part of TCO's NEXUS Experience tool, use scientifically targeted questions to measure employee engagement and identify key pain points within a hospital’s current culture. Korven sent one to every member of her team, then submitted the completed surveys to TCO, which analyzed the answers and shared the results with Celtic Creatures in confidential, individualized reports for each member of the team as well as an anonymous group report.

Initially, Korven wasn’t sure what to make of those reports. “When I first read the results, I wasn’t really sure how to interpret them. There were a lot of graphs,” she says, laughing. Ginn was there by email, phone, and Skype to help her figure out what the numbers said about her hospital and how to use the results to help facilitate change.

TCO also includes questions designed to serve as springboards for group discussions.

“Those discussion questions are specific to the results that are in that report,” Ginn says. “They're specific to that team.”

The questions also mean you aren’t just given a bunch of numbers you have to figure out on your own: “You don't have to look at the bar graph and say ‘okay, on that question we scored a 4.37 out of 5.’ On the surface, that sounds great, but what’s causing it? The questions provide the interpretation of the numbers.”

The questions also help staff talk about what’s driving the results. According to Ginn, the real value of the survey is “the dialogue and conversations that occur within work teams [and between] managers and their staff about what’s happening in the workplace.”

Ginn says that’s why the questions for discussion are important. “It’s one thing to come back and say ‘hey, there’s an issue with folks feeling like they’re not being recognized.’ Okay, well, now what do you do about it?”

“In any survey, there are things you [might’ve] had a hunch about or knew about that are going to be validated,” Ginn says. “But then there are the ‘oh my!’ moments.” Ginn describes these as the moments when you figuratively smack your head and say, “I didn’t realize that!” “That’s why what [TCO] does is so important. We’re able to surface things that maybe aren’t visible, or aren’t known to the managers, the owners, [and] the leaders. And then we give them useful tools [to help them] address [the issues].”

Korven said her hospital scored very high in some areas. But the report also highlighted some pain points: “One of the main issues we were having was with teamwork and staff not feeling valued or supported.”

Which Korven kind of suspected.

But then she had an “oh my!” moment of her own when the group discussion revealed the number-one pain point among her staff: a feeling that they didn’t have the veterinarians’ trust. “So that’s what we’ve been working on.”

And it’s led to a shift in their workplace culture: “We’re more supportive of each other and I feel a more positive vibe in the hospital.”

Korven’s biggest takeaway from the AAHA Culture Connection is that “It allowed me to see problems I didn’t know were there.”

Find out more about the resources available to your hospital through the AAHA Healthy Workplace Culture Initiative

Pictured: Celtic Creatures staff, photo taken by Anita Clemens