How does a department foster engagement and value during a time of extended transition? How can a unit prepare staff to embrace change and find ways to contribute their skills and talents to a different-looking future?
Those are the questions Radiology and Medical Imaging has been facing. But before we tackle those, let’s back up for a moment.
Two years ago, after the first Gallup survey, a group of seven volunteers serving the academic administrative staff in Radiology and Medical Imaging formed a committee in direct response to the results of that survey. Since then, like clockwork, they have met twice a month. Their official mission statement is “to foster positive workplace relationships that are respectful, collaborative, and genuine, in an environment where everyone is valued.” In short, they’re aiming to make things better. This is a challenge, for sure, given that their department is huge (over 400 faculty and staff) and spread over multiple locations (main hospital, Snyder, MR4, Fontaine, Pantops, and more).
The committee represents a cross section of divisions and physical locations, but they’re working in service to the staff and to benefit the department at large. The committee is an open space where team members can offer suggestions, provide feedback and insight, and volunteer talents toward initiatives — initiatives that come from the front lines and within the department itself. There are no top-down mandates here. Their work empowers those they serve and offers the academic staff a voice for change.
Meet the Team
The current committee consists of Karen Barden (marketing), Emily Guan (administrative assistant); Penny Guy (administrative assistant); Michelle Hurst (chair’s administrative assistant); Joe Hylton (research operations manager); Brigitte Kelly (clinical research coordinator); and Tina Pendleton-Fuller (associate administrator). Past members include Patty Cornell (finance), Alan Farr (web content manager), and Jessica Morris (administrative assistant). Dan Wassilchalk joined the department in March 2016 as the chief operating officer.
Pendleton-Fuller says that, at its root, engagement is about relationship building and making people feel included. “When you’re physically isolated, you don’t get exposed to the greater department. Because we are spread out across various buildings, we often don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like,” she says. “At staff meetings we would hear a disconnect between the staff and faculty. One of the things we did was invite faculty to staff meetings to talk about their research, a clinical initiative, or how the staff are critical to operations. It’s been a success and we’re proud of it. These types of events help with that relationship-building and communication.”
Hurst says that the group formed organically. “I love that we had the latitude to create something for ourselves,” she says, “It was a genuine initiative from those who were solicited. It was staff-initiated and is staff-sustained. The work comes from within, not driven by outside. We talk about challenges we experience ourselves, questions like, ‘How do you genuinely connect groups of colleagues who are not physically near one another?’ That’s tough.”
For his part, Hylton and his colleagues made a concerted effort to come to the main hospital for meetings as often as possible. “Whether it was a Yankee Swap at Christmas or a professional meeting — we block the schedule to be here, to be part of the team. Interestingly enough, even though we’re in a transition period, Dan [Wassilchalk, COO] is also trying to bring us together and understand how we fit, not just in the mission of this group, but the mission of the Health System.”
Guan adds, “I interned here last year and I’ve seen the evolution of this committee. Those who retired from this committee still provide great thoughts and assistance. It’s been wonderful to see the growth and the efforts here, and that there is a place where I get to put in my two cents, as well.”
Simple Solutions Are Elegant Solutions
Engagement does not have to be complicated. Barden explains one idea they had to bridge the physical gap. “We don’t all breathe the same air in the same space. As such, we realized that people who work in similar divisions within the department didn’t all really know each other. So we organized a research staff luncheon. At the luncheon, we broke into small groups to open communication pathways and to foster relationships among peers who have similar roles but may not have previously connected with one another.”
And while we’re talking simple: As a result of their luncheon, the committee created a research staff-specific contact list. Nothing fancy, but it became immensely useful for those front-line staff.
One challenge they have is that staff can feel tired and over-surveyed. “As such,” says Hurst, “it has been important to us that not everything we do relates to a specific part of the survey. Surveys provide data points, but what matters most to us are the people behind that data. The survey itself does not address the people who come to work every day. This is a consideration that drives what we do.”
Barden adds, “We strive to understand what people are feeling and why. And what is good, and how we can celebrate successes.”
Since Chief Operating Officer Dan Wassilchalk arrival, he’s made a concerted effort to ask each team member questions like, “What are we good at?” and “What would we like to accomplish?” That’s valuable information: to know how and in what way people can contribute, given the opportunity.
Recognition Before Recognition Was Cool
Before there were Uteam recognition cards, Radiology and Medical Imaging had created their own recognition cards, peer-to-peer notes for colleagues to show appreciation to one another and to show support. And the department has long recognized staff birthdays, among other important life events — small acknowledgements that can mean a lot to recipients.
The department has increased recognition — not just appreciation, but physically recognizing people — by placing a picture and a brief job description of co-workers on the departmental flatscreen televisions. Recently, Radiology and Medical Imaging had a poster accepted to the annual American College of Radiology meeting. The poster described the internal communication work on the flatscreen televisions.
Other efforts include a showcase of teams of nurses during National Nurses Week (they do this for all national “weeks”), tying how faculty and staff live the six Health System goals, having a conversation around “healthiest place to work” and inviting School of Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine to talk about fostering resilience and compassion in the workplace, building an intranet site to increase and centralize communication, launching a department Facebook page, and augmenting the onboarding process, which involves new team members stopping by Barden’s office for a brief interview and a photo to be posted to the flatscreen televisions.
They’ve been busy.
And all of these ideas came from conversations and communication with the staff.
When Wassilchalk arrived, he instituted the Wow Award. “This is given to someone who has done something extraordinarily well,” he says. “It can be spontaneous, or something that is due to an extreme demand or on-the-spot need to address. This person stepped up beyond what is expected. Regular staff meetings are used as an opportunity to update the staff about what [department chair] Dr. [Alan] Matsumoto is concentrating on — but then we take a break to recognize someone for their extraordinary effort.”
Pendleton-Fuller also describes a longstanding peer-to-peer departmental award. The ‘You Knocked It Out of the Park’ award is a way for staff members to recognize a colleague who has gone above and beyond in some way. It’s a huge trophy, dressed up in a fun way and is presented — as a surprise — at our staff meeting. We take a photo of the prior and current recipients, and do a write-up and send it out to the department.”
Taken collectively, all of this recognition illustrates how team members are seen, heard, included, and — most importantly — valued.
Crossing the Ts: Teamwork, Transparency, and Trust in a Time of Transition
Radiology and Medical Imaging has been experiencing extended transition. The prior chief operating officer was at UVA for nine years. The absence left a void until Wassilchalk’s arrival. Additionally, there have been other key team members who were promoted out of the department (this group is an incubator for growth!), which also caused unease for the team.
“There have been significant internal and external changes experienced by the Department of Radiology, the School of Medicine, and the Medical Center,” says Wassilchalk. “How do you afford, pace, and communicate changes like this? Our industry is evolving due to pressures from healthcare finance reform, overextended providers, and patients’ roles as cost-conscious consumers. Based on the work by the committee, I think this committee has set a nice foundation for teamwork, transparency, and trust. I was asked by staff, ‘How can I grow and develop our staff?’ It’s going to be easy due to many new opportunities stemming from new ambitious goals on our department Chair’s plate. Change will give the staff wonderful opportunity to grow, which means more reward and recognition for what they’ve done.”
Change Is Hard
Back to those questions we broached earlier. How does a department foster engagement and how can they prepare to embrace change?
Using Radiology and Medical Imaging as an example, it seems like constant and consistent communication and recognition are key factors. But giving staff a chance to be heard and then acting upon those opinions is critical, too. While the future is certain to include change, encouraging team members to contribute is important, as is expecting them to take ownership of their own engagement and being proactive in decision-making.
As we pointed out earlier: the keystone to all of this is relationships. Barden sums it up best, by saying, “It’s really about the people I work with, as much as what I do. You won’t find better people to work with than in those in Radiology and Medical Imaging.”
Reprinted with Permission from UVA Connect, June 17, 2016