The Trifecta: Positive Culture, Engaged Clients, and Engaged Staff

The last several blogs have addressed the importance of culture and engagement in recruiting and retaining staff. This month, the focus is on the intersection of those elements. What an organization values ought to be evident in how it is structured, how it treats staff, and how it approaches its clients.

A mission driven organization ought to have a culture that reflects that mission’s core principles and values.  For example, an organization dealing with the unhoused may have a core value that housing is a right and thus structure itself to house (not shelter) as many people as possible. It may further have the value that, if housing is a right, there should not be pre-conditions to housing those it encounters in the community who do not have housing. Other values such as respect and dignity may follow. Behavioral health providers may similarly have missions around recovery and trauma that emphasize empowering clients and giving voice to the events in their lives that have caused injury and, often, a lack of respectful care in our society.

Taking a People-First Approach

The notion of “meeting people where they are” is not new. The emphasis on the importance of lived experience in helping professions has evolved and is evident in the now universal recognition that peers can often accomplish what professionals cannot – sustained engagement that’s positive. What this means for an organization now includes a broader range of expertise among its staff and acknowledges what has always been the case, that some of the professionals are themselves people with lived experience. That experience is now seen as an asset rather than liability at all levels from line staff to governance.

This transition has, hopefully, been accompanied by policies that encourage wellbeing and growth. An organization with recovery as its mission does well to have recovery oriented services for clients, and policies that apply the tenets of recovery to its employee handbook, training, and management style (for an example, see Behavioral Health Business). An organization that wants an engaged and committed staff recognizes their need for growth and invests in that growth. So policies reflect the need for work-life balance, for time off to rest and replenish, and opportunities to learn and build a career. An excellent organization recognizes that staff are its greatest asset, not just its largest expense.

Tying Core Values to Employees & Clients

The ultimate goal of a service organization, of course, is service excellence – ensuring that the issues the organization is created to address are, indeed, addressed effectively and efficiently. This requires a deep understanding of the problem; lifting up the voices of those affected by the issues, and using data to help establish priorities and measure effectiveness are key. Whether providing treatment, housing, or food assistance – any social or health service – organizations that do not pay attention to the context in which these issues exist, that do not meet those served “where they are”, will not succeed.

In health care, social and environmental factors are known to account for the bulk of outcomes. At the individual level, adherence to treatment, accepting recommendations for any service, fail when the recommendation fails to incorporate the other needs or desires the client is dealing with. In behavioral health, for example, housing is a better predictor of rehospitalization than diagnosis. It is hard to take medication regularly when you live out of a plastic bag. So, engaging clients requires that staff live and breathe the core values of the organization’s mission, and it requires including peers to help other staff understand a problem’s full impact, and to fully show clients the respect the organization has for their needs and wishes.

In sum, an excellent organization knows that to be effective it cannot separate the core values that drive its mission from how it deals with staff or seeks to engage and work with those being served.

About the Author

Maggie Labarta

Maggie Labarta is Founder and Consultant at Impact Non-profit Consulting, having previously retired as CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Labarta holds a Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology and has extensive experience in both administration and clinical practice. She also has particular expertise in strategic planning, data and analytics as management tools, and organizational development. She provides consultative services for numerous community organizations.

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