The Case for Motivation in Healthcare

This is an exciting moment in human history. For the first time, people have turned the uncontrollable forces of nature—famine, sickness, and extreme poverty—into manageable challenges.

This is an exciting moment in human history. For the first time, people have turned the uncontrollable forces of nature—famine, sickness, and extreme poverty—into manageable challenges. This hasn’t come through any magic pill, of course. These once-insurmountable issues have been slowly brought down to size by motivated people, both individuals and groups, armed with the flexibility and desire to generate innovative ideas. Indeed, motivation is a seed that produces innovation.

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The good news is that the scientists who've been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It's built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, they're interesting, or part of something important. What sector could better fit that criteria than Healthcare?

“Healthcare is unique in that you find that most people have intrinsic motivation around the mission of helping people. Though there are a lot of problems inherent in healthcare related to burnout, it’s this notion of doing something to better people, to improve human health and to ultimately have a purpose,” says Greg Button, Korn Ferry International’s President, Global Healthcare Services. “Intrinsic motivation as it relates to healthcare is naturally embedded in the industry for most people as the purpose piece is a meaningful driver.”

Purpose, in fact, goes beyond the walls of just the bedside provider in healthcare. In drug development, people are finding cures to some of the toughest diseases that exist; their mission is to make the planet healthier. You can find those ties throughout Healthcare, but there are other sectors that haven’t been able to achieve that. Why is it that some can find that motivation, reshaping healthcare organizations and ultimately optimizing performance? It ties back to intrinsic motivation and purpose.

“It should be the responsibility of leaders in an organization to make sure when bringing people into the organization, that these individuals are suited for a role in which they will perform with excellence. If healthcare workers can spend 80% of their day doing what they do best, it will trickle not only unto their colleagues and patients, but also their friends and family members,” says Katie Bell, Senior Client Partner and Global Account Lead for Korn Ferry’s Healthcare Sector. “Research has shown that when all factors are put together and people are doing the jobs they enjoy and are meant to do, we see significant performance improvement and impact on patient satisfaction. Better day-in, day-out results, less turnover, and when you look at teams working directly with patients there are fewer medical errors. High impact teams are comprised of individuals doing what they do best, with a great leader and in a team laden with mission and purpose for patient care. High performing teams have established transparency around performance expectations, and openly recognize and celebrate success at all levels.”

So how are we motivating our leaders? Is it individual performance? Is it team-based performance? Is it organization-performance metrics with everybody marching to the same vision, the same focus and the same goals? That’s far more effective. If you have a leader that has different goals than the front-line nursing staff or others, you don’t have that consistency or that jelling and that teaming that comes from that.

“We’re doing that by using a combination of quality and employee engagement metrics along with technology to enhance the patient experience. These measures align closely with the purpose or mission to build that type of intrinsic motivation within your workplace,” adds Button. “And there’s no doubt there’s correlation: If you can build that motivation and people are ready to go and feel energized in the workplace, there’s a very close connection to performance. Intrinsic motivation leads to engagement, which leads to better performance, job satisfaction, and reduction in stress.”

People still have the drive to work hard, but much of this drive has become sapped inside corporate hallways and factory walls. One of the most comprehensive surveys of the American workplace finds that 70% of workers say they are not highly engaged in their jobs—a disappointing figure given the funds companies dedicate to engagement.

Korn Ferry has done a lot of work around how engagement and outcomes relate to building a successful executive profile using assessment tools and looking for key attributes that fit in this new model. Engagement is the top priority among the C-suite within healthcare. Healthcare is investing heavily in engagement data collection. Organizations are often not equipped or supported to see their data with clarity and vision. This creates an attractive entry point to clients achieve value-driven outcomes through engaged and enabled people.

“Organizations really need to look beyond scope and experience and know what kind of environment and culture they want to create and then hire people who have the DNA to naturally and intrinsically fit into the culture,” says Bell. “We can help understand the natural fit of an individual to an organization through assessment such as KF4D (Korn Ferry’s four-dimensional proprietary assessment tool). If an organization wants to be a high-purpose, high-mission, high-patient-centric culture, we must select people who are naturally like that. The ramp up time is shorter. The training is more meaningful, and it creates the environment leaders and patients want.”

In Healthcare it’s become more and more important to create a motivating environment with cohesive cultures and strong leadership in which an important mission and purpose is key; quite literally, if teams don’t function properly, a patient can die. Not very many industries that can state that, but in Healthcare oftentimes it is a matter of life and death.

“The shift is moving into outcomes, away from volume and transactions and into value and the holistic approach of what is ultimately best and what gives us the best outcome,” explains Button. “You look at re-hospitalizations. If you treat somebody, you run “x” number of procedures, you send them home, and then they come back to the hospital, you obviously missed something. It was not outcome driven, so you’re highly penalized for that.”

Healthcare needs leaders who are naturally built that way, naturally patient-centric and of high integrity; the sector needs leaders who are built of the same ilk and motivated in the same way. The cascading effect of how individuals are compensated and rewarded is important, but secondary to intrinsic motivation.

The Korn Ferry Institute believes this mystery in motivation can be unlocked. According to our research, the heart of the problem centers on several very topical factors, from rapid tech disruptions to antiquated corporate structures to a disturbing rise in employee stress. Indeed, our analysis of a major global employee survey covering nearly 50 countries reveals that employee stress has risen nearly 20% in three decades. But we also believe that companies and employees together can turn the power of motivation to their favor, by creating a greater sense of purpose in the workplace, improving individual and corporate agility, and evolving leadership practices and operating structures.

The recent paper, The Case for Motivation, provides a roadmap to these steps, reaffirming the value of human capital in general and human motivation in particular. With the pace of change only increasing, stress is not likely to recede, so individuals must learn to cope, or better yet thrive, under a new management paradigm, while prevailing leadership and organizational practices must be reimagined to unleash the true adaptive potential of today’s workforce. Some measures can come with relative ease; others may require a more demanding process. But the stakes behind today’s battle for motivation could not be greater, with the very momentum for the pervasive innovations we enjoy today—and expect for tomorrow—now hanging in the balance.