After roughly a decade as chief administrative officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dick Argys was asked about a year ago to take on the added responsibility of becoming the hospital’s first chief culture officer. Leadership was motivated to completely change their strategy around workplace culture after employee satisfaction surveys raised red flags. Argys spoke with Modern Healthcare safety and quality reporter Maria Castellucci about ongoing work at Boston Children’s to improve employee retention and work/life balance as well as the challenges associated with sustaining culture changes. The following is an edited transcript.
MH: Why did Boston Children’s need to create the role of chief culture officer?
Argys: We are blessed to be a very successful children’s hospital. And according to all the outside metrics that one would utilize, we’re pretty good at what we do. If you look at rankings, look at research portfolios, the number of articles in pertinent journals and our success with innovative clinical work, you would come up with a set of assumptions about the hospital, and they’d all be true based on those metrics.
Some of our internal metrics though, whether they’re employee satisfaction surveys or they’re anecdotal, qualitative and quantitative information that we’ve picked up over the years, some interviews and peer group conversations that we’ve had, led us to the point where we thought we might want to do a wellness diagnostic, if you will. Not just on leadership but on the culture of the organization.
A little over a year ago, we started asking questions of about a hundred people here about how work was done, how decisions were made—the morale and the culture of the organization. It led us to believe that we needed to do some intentional work in management around those areas. And it was recommended that we create this role. I was fortunate enough to be offered the position.
The chief culture officer role being melded in with my current job is really important because the way we talk about it is, “How do we do our work and how do we treat each other here at Boston Children’s?”
It’s not a one-off, it’s not a separate initiative, it’s not a separate (organizational) structure. It’s really woven into what we do.
MH: When you were doing the assessment of your staff, were there some areas of concern that stood out?
Argys: Some issues were around communication, issues about working together across departmental lines, some issues about our leadership style and what was expected of our leaders and how that was being practiced, and whether it was consistent or inconsistent across the organization. We have a very engaged workforce. There was some frustration from people feeling that they didn’t have the right tools and the right resources to do their jobs as well as they’d like.
We’re trying to get a general sense of how valued people felt compared to the results. We’ve always said that people are our most important resource. We believe that. But there are some things we’re doing differently now.
MH: Can you highlight some areas you’ve focused on?
Argys: We actually started a little bit of the work even before this role (was created) because we wanted to take on some initiatives based on the feedback we received. We started a big push around the ability of our employees to work from home on a part-time basis or a full-time basis, depending on what their jobs are. And also, for administrative jobs to mirror some of the work that’s been done on the clinical side, where we could have flex hours. Instead of five eight-hour days, there could be four 10-hour days to give people that ability to have … a better work/life balance.
Some of our clinical partners (went to three 12-hour days, or four 10s) many years ago and we hadn’t done that on the administrative side. We’ve heard from people that it’s been a life-changer for them, whether it’s to spend one day a week at home or even one day a month at home doing their work. The commute and parking and all of the things about coming into Boston are so challenging.
We’ve also extended and expanded our parental leave based on some of the feedback we received. Feedback also led us to put together a program that we call internal mobility—giving our people the ability to move up in the organization or transfer into other departments and other jobs … so we’re able to retain staff who are interested in having different positions in their career, but having them stay at Boston Children’s.
Those aren’t the things you would typically think of, but they all sent a message that we value our people and we understand that life is more complicated than it’s ever been, that there are always conflicting agendas, and that giving people the ability to make their lives a little easier makes a difference.
MH: How are you tracking whether or not this is making an impact on culture?
Argys: We have several initiatives that have not started yet, but we’re working on our intranet. We’re going to work on how we do meetings and what times of day we recommend that you have meetings, and how we handle texting. And lots of initiatives around who we hire, who we promote. 360-degree leadership assessments, which are a big deal, are coming down the road. And something that we call the BCH Way, which is the way that we expect folks to behave, and the way we expect our leaders to lead.
In the meantime, a lot of our measures are participation. How many people are actually working from home, and what are we doing around flex hours? The parental leave benefit is something that we’ve received a lot of support for. And how many people are actually using the internal mobility process to move to other positions within the hospital? So far, we’ve had strong (participation) results.
We’re conducting our employee satisfaction survey as we speak. We’ll get to see some early returns. I’m not sure if all of these programs had been in place long enough to make a significant difference, but we sure hope that as we continue to do our Press Ganey work, that will be one way that we’ll be able to see if we’re making a difference.
We’re also putting together our own dashboards that do things like compare turnover—by gender, by race and our patient satisfaction scores—because we believe there will be some kind of crossover between our employee satisfaction and our patient satisfaction scores.