Honeymoon Quiz For New Hires

Vol. 15 •Issue 5 • Page 36
Doing Business

Honeymoon Quiz For New Hires

Ask five questions to ensure that your organization retains a cohesive team.

Retaining new hires is a challenge in a field where the best and brightest respiratory therapists have the luxury of working with any organization out there.

A simple strategy that fosters loyalty to your department is to ask the right questions at the right time. I call the right questions “the honeymoon quiz,” because I recommend supervisors ask them once an employee has been on the job 30 days. Then ask again at 90 days of employment.

Sometime during those first 90 days, new employees move from the honeymoon phase into the daily demands of their new jobs. This is an opportunity for strong leaders to hardwire good lines of communication and ensure that questions are answered, concerns are understood and problems are solved early on.

Getting results

Experience has shown me that managers who use the honeymoon quiz will reduce new employee turnover, on average, by 66 percent. This is significant because more than 26 percent of employees who leave health care jobs do so within the first 90 days of employment.

Every year, I speak to thousands of health care leaders, coaching them on how to create and sustain service and operational excellence to make their organizations better places for employees to work, physicians to practice, and patients to receive care. Often, I learn about the best practices used by high performing organizations from this national learning lab.

Six years ago, I met a leader who was being recognized within her organization for dramatically cutting employee turnover. When I asked her secret, she explained that she met with all new staff members at the 30th and 90th days of their employment. After testing and refining her approach over the years, I now tell organizations that these new employee meetings are a “must have” to create and sustain excellence.

A case in point is Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region (five hospitals and two medical groups in the Sacramento region of California), which implemented 30- and 90- day meetings with new hires as part of an overall recruitment/retention initiative when vacancies peaked at 17.8 percent (with 14.8 percent employee turnover) in 2002.

Since then, turnover has dropped to just 3 percent to 5 percent. Vacancies have stabilized at 1.5 percent to 1.7 percent.

And the number of employees who are still on the job after a full year of employment has doubled from 40 percent in 2002 to 85 percent today.

Four questions to ask

By the 30-day mark, employees have been with the organization long enough to acclimate and get settled. That’s a good time to schedule the first meeting. The 30-day meeting is much more than a casual conversation in a busy hallway to ask, “How are things going?” The answer you’re likely to get in that setting is as predictable as it is irrelevant. The goal is to harvest specific information and build relationships.

Zani Weber, an executive coach with the Studer Group, headquartered in Gulf Breeze, Fla., suggests leaders meet with new employees “over a cup of coffee instead of over a desk” to encourage open, relaxed communication. Remember also that a productive 30-day meeting is an opportunity to learn what’s on an employee’s mind, not evaluate his performance.

Kim Kermeen, director of cardiopulmonary and neurodiagnostics at Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin, Tenn., includes the honeymoon quiz as part of every new RT’s orientation, first asking the questions at a luncheon, and then asking again one-on-one. “I attach it to the bottom of my orientation checklist, so we never miss it,” she said.

  • Question 1: Now that you’ve gotten to know us for a month, how do we compare to what we said we would be like?

    As a leader, you want to know if a new employee feels like her new job is falling short of what she expected. And you don’t want her to feel like you misrepresented the organization or that the values that attracted her during the interview process were nothing more than empty rhetoric.

    For example, when Kermeen interviews prospective RTs at Sumner, where her department completes an average of 1,875 workload units a month, she tells them that each RT will begin a shift with an assignment of only 20 treatments – a caseload that allows staff to absorb the inevitable demands that arise during a shift. If an RT were getting a heavier caseload than promised, Kermeen would hear about it during the 30-day meeting.

    If new employees do see a discrepancy, it’s important for RT managers to listen and discuss the issue. An employee who knows his concerns will be heard and addressed is much less likely to leave than one who feels ignored.

    Ronna Davis, cardiopulmonary operations manager at the 150-bed Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital in Auburn, Calif., realized quickly once she started conducting new hire meetings that her standby orientation method wasn’t working as efficiently as it could. Using feedback she got from new RTs, she streamlined the orientation and training process.

  • Question 2: What do you like about working with us? What is going well?

    As health care professionals, we sometimes are so focused on good diagnosis and treatment of patients that we forget to acknowledge all the things that are going well with employees. By asking a new employee about the positive aspects of her job, a leader accomplishes two goals: Employees are reminded to focus on the positive, and leaders gain valuable insight into what matters most to employees so they can deliver it.

    It’s vital to get specific answers, rather than general compliments. “They always have to say something,” Kermeen noted. “So sometimes we just have to be patient in waiting for an answer.” For example, at Sumner, new RTs often mention how much they appreciate the opportunity for one-on-one therapy and education time with patients.

  • Question 3: Who has been helpful to you in your first 30 days?

    This question builds relationships in the team, gives leaders an opportunity to recognize staffers who are helping new hires, and reaffirms to all employees the value that the organization places on each member’s success.

    Jerry Bybee, pulmonary operations manager at Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., believes strongly in new hire interviews. “One of the biggest benefits for me in doing the 30- and 90-day meetings has been the opportunity to recognize staff members who go the extra mile in mentoring our new hires,” Bybee said.

    Leaders quickly learn which employees are making a difference in retaining their new colleagues, and they can recognize and reward that team spirit. As other employees notice which behaviors get rewarded and recognized, they get on board too.

  • Question 4: Are there any processes you learned in your last job that could make us better here?

    New employees are remarkably hesitant to make these kinds of suggestions unless you specifically invite them. They may fear alienating their new colleagues or getting off on the wrong foot. And current employees may not be good at harvesting the intellectual capital that comes with a new hire.

    Asking this question lets all new hires know that the organization is committed to implementing best practices and won’t let ego get in the way of making improvements. By asking a new employee for her suggestions, she quickly learns her ideas and perspective are appreciated.

    The final question

    After an employee has been on the job for 90 days, ask the first four questions again and add one more: Do you know anyone who might be a valuable addition to our team?

    At 90 days into his new job, an employee likely is still in touch with former colleagues. If he’s having a positive experience in his new job, you can be sure that he’s already letting his former co-workers know about it.

    By putting this question on the table, you can engage each employee in recruiting more great additions to your team. One hospital chief executive officer I know goes as far as to give phone cards to new hires specifically so they can call their previous co-workers. After all, what could be a more effective recruitment tool than having an employee who brags about the great place they’ve found to work?

    Quint Studer, a former hospital president and 20-year health care veteran, is founder and CEO of Studer Group, headquartered in Gulf Breeze, Fla. An executive coaching firm and national learning lab, Studer Group is devoted to teaching tools and processes that organizations use to achieve sustained focus on service and operational excellence. Visit www.studergroup.com for more information.