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Successful Engagement Begins with Listening

Focus strategies on listening, connecting and developing


By K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer


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In healthcare, listening to what employees tell you they need goes a long way. When workers feel like their feedback isn’t being heard, they can become disengaged – a problem that can lead to increased turnover, negative patient experience scores and more.

For HR teams, a successful engagement strategy begins with listening, a skill that should go beyond routine employee surveys. Listening should be centered on a comprehensive plan that includes both structured and unstructured conversations that consider the needs of all employees and leaders.

Cleveland Clinic recently launched a new listening effort as part of the organization’s four-part engagement strategy. The program, which is being introduced to employees in phases, begins with a leadership approach focused on three key elements: listening, connecting and developing.

Listening sessions

A good way to determine employee needs is through listening sessions. Listening sessions provide a safe space for employees to talk about their experiences and the support they seek. Sessions allow leaders to connect and have open dialogue with each other.

Cleveland Clinic’s leader listening sessions are available to all leaders across the organization — from Ohio to Canada to Abu Dhabi. Sessions begin with an initial question or prompt and take shape based on attendees’ participation and feedback. To date, the sessions have garnered substantial interest and positive feedback. Leaders are engaged, feel heard and are enjoying the camaraderie and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to come together in this way.


Listening sessions are an ideal complement to employee surveys. Most organizations use surveying as a primary method for gathering employee opinions, and some research suggests more frequent surveying is a good move. However, over-surveying is a pitfall that can discourage employees from participating, so it’s important to strike a balance between surveying and having meaningful conversations.

Cleveland Clinic distributes an annual employee engagement survey every two years with a pulse survey in between. Other surveys are offered as needed to capture the voice of our leaders and employees.

Candid conversations

Conversations help people relate to one another. They are the essence of how we communicate, deepen trust, inspire and deliver results. Sitting in front of people, looking in their eyes, hearing their stories and learning how to better support them is one of the best ways to connect employees to their organization.

In the coming months, Cleveland Clinic CEO and President, Tom Mihaljevic, MD, and I will be connecting virtually with health system leaders through an initiative called Leader Conversations. Through candid discussions, we will follow up on the thoughts and ideas shared in the leader-listening sessions and discuss actions that are being taken as a result. We want to give leaders the opportunity to share openly with us so we can better understand what they are feeling, what support they might need, and how we can help.

Each conversation will be available for live participation at scheduled dates and times and will be recorded so leaders can watch them at their convenience.

Formal development

Every day, those in healthcare are faced with many uncertainties and questions. Development programs are necessary to help employees and leaders do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

At Cleveland Clinic, we are currently enhancing our leader development program. Our research tells us that supervisors, including assistant nurse managers, nurse managers and other frontline managers, oversee 77% of our caregiver population – nearly 55,000 individuals. It’s important to formally develop this group of leaders. Development topics covered by the program include tough conversations, communication and having empathy.

Accountability and action

An important part of any listening strategy is what you do with the information you gather.

At Cleveland Clinic, we are capturing information in real time. Once the data is pulled together into one source, it will be analyzed and shared with our Caregiver Office. We will look at problems that must be addressed, efforts that have been successful, ideas that resonate with leaders and more. Based on what we learn, we will determine what actions to take and develop associated action plans and resources.

At the close of any listening strategy, there should always be an affirmation of accountability and action — this is key. Let people know that you heard them and tell them what you are going to do next.


And don’t stop there. Listening strategies should be ongoing. Create a movement and energy around your listening strategy and always look for new or refined ways to connect with your fellow team members. Part of what makes these strategies so successful is the human element they bring. Processes and procedures are necessary, but it’s equally important to create moments that matter to employees. People will never forget the added touches or extra things their organization does for them. A lot can be said for organizations that are intentional about showing their employees they truly care for them.


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