Developing and Nurturing Caregivers

New engagement strategy for leaders and teams

Caregiver engagement

Cleveland Clinic has more than 72,500 employee caregivers, and the healthcare system is dedicated to the success of each one – from physicians and nurses to marketing managers and information technology specialists.


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“Ensuring that we develop and nurture our caregivers has an enormous impact on our mission and vision and has to be a priority,” says Chris Nagel, Executive Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Mandel Global Leadership & Learning Institute (GLLI).

A new engagement strategy

Caregiver development is one component of an engagement strategy that Cleveland Clinic rolled out in early 2022. The four-part framework is as follows:

  • Develop leaders and teams. Leadership development is equally important for entry level supervisors – assistant nurse managers and other frontline managers – as those outside the senior leadership track. “Seventy-seven percent of our caregivers are touched on a daily basis by entry level supervisors,” says Nagel. “We’ve got to make sure we give them the skills and tools they need to support their caregivers.” Likewise, caregivers need skills and tools to work together effectively in teams.
  • Listen. Listening goes beyond the biennial employee survey. It’s about creating a pervasive strategy that includes both structured and unstructured conversations. “We have so much data in the organization around our caregivers and what they are saying,” he says. “How do we capture information from the survey – and everything beyond the survey – into one source so we can analyze it and act upon it in a timely fashion?”
  • Take action. “When we hear what caregivers are telling us and understand what is most important to them, we must take action toward that,” says Nagel. “If we don’t, it’s a detriment to engagement.”
  • Be accountable. “Healthcare organizations have high accountability on safety and quality outcomes, the patient experience and fiscal responsibility,” he says. “But we also need to hold ourselves accountable for the caregiver experience because they are the catalyst behind all other outcomes.”

A deeper dive into development

The Caregiver Office created a team development strategy, beginning with identification of the core elements that comprise an effective team.

“A lot of our approach and curriculum are based around research by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas published in the book Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness,” says Nagel.


Cleveland Clinic is also developing an assessment for teams. “It will not only give us a diagnostic tool to see how well a team is working together, but also the ability to target areas that might need improvement,” says Nagel.

Of course, teams are made up of individuals, and the healthcare organization has redesigned its caregiver development to align with its core values: safety and quality, empathy, teamwork, integrity, inclusion and innovation.

“We are working to make sure our caregivers know what the values are, how they play out in their jobs and what skills are needed to exemplify those values,” says Nagel. Cleveland Clinic’s employee intranet includes a section that identifies skills associated with each of the core values, as well as links to resources to hone those skills.

Advice for building successful programs

Nagel says the keys to building successful caregiver development programs are simple, but they bear repeating:

  • Ask caregivers what they want. Rather than build programs that leaders think are great, ask caregivers working in the trenches what they need to succeed.
  • Be intentional. When you’re busy, it’s easy to let caregiver development initiatives and programs fall by the wayside. Cleveland Clinic created a team focused on driving programs to ensure employee development remains a priority.
  • Offer opportunities for everyone. Build programs that everyone has access to, including high-potential employees, as well as those who don’t aspire to become leaders.
  • Personalize your approach. Development opportunities should match an individual’s needs, whether they work in an operating room, nursing unit, research lab or office. Ask caregivers to outline their goals annually, then encourage leaders to meet with team members a couple of times a year to ask how they are doing and what they need to feel supported.

“As leaders, we have a responsibility to support the caregivers we are entrusted with every day – to make sure they have what it takes to succeed,” says Nagel. “Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.”

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