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COACH’S CORNER: Building a Relationship-Centered Culture

January 28, 2015

In the first installment of her new column, PHI National Director of Coaching & Consulting Services Susan Misiorski reveals the one true way to create a person-centered experience for individuals receiving long-term care.

People frequently ask me about the best way to get started on instilling, or deepening, person-centered practices in their organization. Regardless of whether the provider is a home care agency, a residential care facility, or another long-term care organization, my answer is the same. There is only one way to create a person-centered experience for individuals receiving long-term care, and that is through a person-centered experience for employees.

Exploring change efforts that have fallen short of the goal makes this point clear. For example, a nursing home that tries to change how it serves meals in order to increase choice may find that if the dietary and nursing staff were not getting along well before this change, the relationships were even worse after! This tension between departments is easy to detect, and makes for a very unpleasant dining experience regardless of how much choice has been offered. 

Here is another example: A home care agency asks its employees to actively listen to their clients, yet when those same home care workers call their agency with a concern, their concerns are not heard or acted upon. The examples are plentiful, and the result is the same: an environment in which relationships are strained. Strained relationships lead to all kinds of negative outcomes, and most importantly, they are toxic to a person-centered culture.

When the culture is healthy within the community of the workplace, the relationships are anchored in caring, honesty, trust, and respect. Managers and supervisors know their employees well, in the same way they ask their employees to know the people they support through their loving care. These managers and supervisors know employees not only by name and the role they fill, but by who they are holistically. Their strengths, their challenges, their learning edge, and their interests are discovered and encouraged. Employees in genuinely person-centered environments know their supervisors believe in them and their abilities, and these employees work hard to honor that trust that has been placed in them.

I was in a continuing care retirement community recently where we conducted focus groups with employees to learn more about the strengths and challenges in their workplace. One employee shared a story that exemplifies the type of person-centered workplace that I am referring to. She told us of the death of a resident with whom she had a close relationship, and how hard this experience was for her. This employee had no car, and no method of transportation to attend the funeral service for this resident. The CEO knew of her relationship with the woman who passed away, and knew of her transportation situation. He offered to personally drive her to the funeral, and she gratefully accepted. This act of kindness and compassion had great meaning to this employee, and when she speaks you can hear unequivocally that she will pay that same kindness and compassion forward in her work.

Taking a look at the ways in which managers and supervisors interact with and support employees is the place to start. Get to know your employees well, and model the same behaviors in your relationship with them that you want them to model with the clients and families they serve. Infuse the educational programs in your organization with interpersonal skill-building, including coaching skills, conflict resolution, and collaborative decision-making. Look at the ways in which the workplace is fueled with fun and humor, love, and compassion. These are the ingredients of good relationships, and good relationships make good culture.

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