Culture is a crucial element of any organization, but it is particularly important in ambulatory surgery center (ASC) settings. Atlas Healthcare Partners’ Chief People Officer Cheryl Chisholm discusses why ASC culture is crucial for enhancing the physician experience, delivering high-quality patient care, and ensuring long-term success.

Can you describe Atlas Healthcare Partners’ culture in a few words?
Culture is the bedrock of our operating model; it affects everything from physician satisfaction and employee retention to patient safety, satisfaction, and outcomes.

I fell in love with Atlas because its mission and values are more than just words on a wall. We strive for excellence in everything we do, whether it’s providing top-quality healthcare services to our patients or supporting our employees in their professional growth. Our five values of integrity, culture, teamwork, respect, and results help us achieve our mission of being the partner of choice for the world’s best health systems and physicians.

In a time of widespread healthcare stress and burnout, the proper approach to culture allows people to feel valued and heard. This is how you can retain top talent. And when you have alignment with your entire staff, the culture leads to enhanced patient and provider experiences, then successful patient outcomes, and then ultimately, growth and profitability. A strong culture directly acts on and influences your bottom line.

How do you track the health and success of your culture?
The answer lies in our listening strategies; we use a variety of tactics to assess the effectiveness of our cultural initiatives. For instance, we employ engagement scoring and physician surveys to gauge whether our culture is improving and to ensure that our employees feel heard and valued. We have seen a significant improvement in engagement levels and an 8% reduction in voluntary turnover.

Our listening strategies also include patient and provider experience surveys. We utilize Press Ganey to survey all physicians once every 30 days, so we can discover any problem root cause that we must address. We also survey patients after every encounter. We analyze this feedback to identify areas where we have high turnover, and low patient and physician experience, and then our teams work to implement best practices for improved experiences.

How do you build and maintain this culture on a daily basis?
To ensure our culture is translated into day-to-day operations, we measure the performance of our operating model for each of our surgery centers. If a center is ‘green’ in culture, it demonstrates that employees are motivated to stay, top talent is retained, and excellent care is being provided to patients. If a center is not meeting our standards for culture, we focus efforts there to help them improve. We hardwire what it means to maintain a vibrant culture in all of our centers, and we don’t move on until we have achieved that goal.

One way is centering on our values or sharing a patient or physician story linked to our values at the start of meetings, no matter where you are in the organization. Once a month, we recognize employees who demonstrate our mission and values in action. Recognizing and rewarding employees for their hard work and achievements improves morale, and it reinforces our values and helps keep them top of mind. Ensuring employees are happy and engaged leads to better retention rates, improved patient outcomes and satisfaction, and increased productivity.

So you infuse it in all parts of the ASC?
Absolutely. Culture is not something that can be imposed from the top down; it must be cultivated and nurtured through great leadership and employee engagement. We focus on leadership development by providing our leaders with tools and resources they need to succeed. For example, we took a deep dive into the CEO role and cataloged all the work a CEO is responsible for, which led to the development of clear tasks and responsibilities for a CEO versus tasks that can be managed by support systems. We also introduced succession planning, identifying individuals who have great potential for leadership roles and developing thoughtful plans to help them grow.

With this intentional development, we have been able to promote two of our former CEOs into regional vice president roles. This focus on leadership development and talent management is instrumental in maintaining and improving strong culture. It begins at the top but must be grown and nurtured at all levels of the ASC.

What about for staff other than leadership?
We focus on building culture from finding the right people with the right mindset, and then we infuse our approach from the minute we hire people. We dedicate a lot of time and resources to focus on effective onboarding, aligning business practices to our values and employee recognition. It’s crucial for any role, whether you are a frontline team member, in a clinical role, or a team leader. We make sure every new hire understands our expectations and values by training everyone in crucial tactics for patient experience, which ensures everyone is aligned from the beginning.

How do you ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of the company’s culture and operations?
It is a priority in how we approach building culture. In any great organization, your hiring process starts with DE&I in mind. We actively seek out diverse candidates for all job openings. DE&I are essential to building a strong and successful culture and organization. We strive to create a workplace where all of our employees feel welcome and valued, regardless of their background or identity. We offer training relative to unconscious bias, cultural awareness and speaking your truth as part of our development on demand offerings. Additionally, we audit our compensation practices annually from a diversity lens to ensure we are living our values and goals to be the employer of choice for all.

What is the role of employee feedback in shaping and maintaining culture?
Honest and open feedback helps us to identify areas for improvement. We conduct regular check-ins and surveys to gather team member thoughts. When we receive feedback, we take it seriously and make meaningful changes based on their input. All leaders chart out an annual engagement plan based on the feedback received from their team.

We also make sure to “stick the landing” by communicating back to employees about changes we’ve made, so they can see the improvements we’ve implemented. This feedback loop ensures employees feel part of the process and are invested in shaping and fostering the company culture. Based on our most recent survey employees are proud, fulfilled, and motivated to remain with Atlas’ as evidenced by our engagement index exceeding both the overall healthcare (+4.3) and outpatient surgical benchmarks (+11.5).

We also hold ourselves accountable to our core values and mission by being intentional about how we develop talent internally through a career pathways process. Promoting from within and providing personalized development plans helps people see a career progression within the company. For example, if someone starts as a surgical technician, we can develop a plan for them to grow into a materials manager, business office manager, and eventually even a CEO position, if that is something they desire.

Finally, we reinforce culture through company-wide events (holiday parties, team-building activities, family picnics) to foster connectivity and develop meaningful relationships with their colleagues. It is important to have fun at work too and connect informally with your colleagues. Especially in a post-COVID landscape, these events are even more important in bringing our employees together.

Any last thoughts?
People must realize that culture is not a one-time project; it’s an ongoing effort that requires attention and investment from everyone in the organization every day. For Atlas, this approach has led to a more engaged and productive workforce, and has positively impacted staff, patients, and our health system partners.

Interested in learning more about how to maintain a vibrant culture? Contact Cheryl here.