Defining Staff Competencies to Build Healthcare Employee Engagement

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

In healthcare, we are frequently encouraged to “connect the dots.” We help patients navigate complex systems and understand their own healthcare needs. And, we help employees understand new policies and procedures. We even help each other navigate the complexities of the current healthcare environment. Given the increasing intensity of the focus on competency, have we really connected the dots between competency and employee engagement? If not, we may be missing a fairly significant benefit of competency development.

The Healthcare Leadership Alliance (HLA), a consortium of six professional membership organizations, has identified five competency domains. The domains were culled from research among their membership to define common leadership competencies across healthcare organizations. Those competencies are:

  1. Communication and Relationship Management
  2. Professionalism
  3. Leadership
  4. Knowledge of the Healthcare System
  5. Business Skills


The Importance of Defining Competency Exactly

It is helpful to identify and name the competency, but that is really just the first step. These are fairly broadly defined competencies. If organizations are to reap the benefits of evidence-based management in the same ways that they may have reaped the benefits of evidence-based medicine, they need to help managers define what success looks like, and perhaps more importantly, they need to help define behaviors that lead to success for employees as well. If they take this step, employees (and future leaders) can better understand the linkage between these skills and their own career aspirations as well as the organizational benefits.

Questions to Help Determine Competency

What does it look like to be competent in communication and relationship management? What are the behaviors of the most competent leaders in this area? What are behaviors that indicate an opportunity to improve the competency? These are questions that leaders and employees should be asking as they evaluate and develop competency.

Credentialing and certification processes will help managers and leaders evaluate competency, but what can we do to support employees, particularly new employees, to help them know how we define competence. What does it look like? What should employees and managers know before they get to the competency evaluation?

Organizations carefully hire and select employees to ensure their success in the organization. Employees evaluate potential employers with an equal amount of scrutiny. If we want employees to “connect the dots” between the organization’s key competencies, how do we lay the groundwork for support?

Guidelines to Help Employees Link Competencies to Development

Employees should be able to understand the link between these competencies and their desired career paths. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Develop competency descriptions that help employees understand what is meant by each competency. Start with a basic definition that evolves to a broader understanding of why the competency is important to the organization and how it is also important to career development.
  2. Include examples or behavioral indicators that help managers rate and employees understand the kinds of behaviors that could earn them a superior rating. While it is not practical or even possible to describe every behavior for every competency, this should be a robust enough list to help the employee understand desired outcomes and connect the dots between a strong performance from them and a healthy outcome for the organization as well as a clear path for their desired careers.
  3. Provide opportunities for managers to describe specific behaviors that formed their competency rating that can be shared with employees. Managers should be coached to be as specific and descriptive as possible to help employees see their performance appraisals and competency evaluations as opportunities to reinforce what went well and to further “course correct” their careers when necessary.

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