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 Association CEO Says Connection, Metrics Key to Employee Engagement

Following his recognition by The Washington Post’s Top Workplaces in the D.C. area as Top CEO in the small-employer category for 2019, Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), says the key to being successful with employee engagement has much to do with kindness and seeking out a mutual connection.

AHCA/NCAL was also named a top workplace by The Washington Post for the fifth year in a row.

Parkinson elaborated on his views about employee engagement, metrics, and kindness in an exclusive interview with Provider magazine.

Provider: Congratulations on your recognition from The Washington Post. Can you tell me how you have changed in terms of connecting with employees during the past nine years at AHCA/NCAL?

Parkinson: One thing that has been added that really helped me are the lessons from the book, “Leadership and Self Deception,” a publication from The Arbinger Institute. The messages there are to try to live outside of the box and treat people as people. This entails really listening to people and being very focused on the success of the organization. I feel like I’m a different leader than I was five years ago before I got introduced to all that stuff.

Provider: Can you elaborate on the point of seeing people as people?

Parkinson: It’s about seeing people as people and not as objects. Really trying to understand where people are coming from. In other words, being a better listener—and not just listening to think about my response. When you see people as people, you’re interested in what they are saying, where they are coming from, what’s motivating them, and what they need. What do they need to be successful in their job and their lives? Hopefully I’m better at listening and understanding than I used to be.

Provider: How does kindness fall into the equation?

Parkinson: Kindness has a lot to do with it. There is a real power behind it, and we talk about it a lot at AHCA/NCAL. I gave a speech to the members of our organization’s Future Leaders program where I talked about kindness, and someone in the audience added it as a core value of their organization.

The book takes kindness and turns it into a much more sophisticated and powerful notion. Which is this whole notion of living outside the box and seeing people as people.  

Provider: How did you develop your focus on metrics?

Parkinson: At my long term care organization, my wife and I were committed fully to the notion of mission, but we weren’t committed to the notion of metrics. So in 2001, I went on a journey to figure out how we could be a more metric-based organization. I learned that the hospitals were very sophisticated on figuring out how to improve employee satisfaction and resident satisfaction, and there was no program for nursing homes. I started going to hospital satisfaction seminars. I met an expert on resident and staff satisfaction and adapted his techniques to our organization because there was nothing at that time.

Within the last 10-15 years, there are now vendors out there that can really teach it. As a whole, employee engagement i​s something that we can improve on, and there are groups within the profession that are extremely committed to it.

Provider: How does a focus on employee engagement affect a long term or post-acute care organization?

Parkinson: Those providers who are involved in this and working on it are committed to do better on every metric, including less turnover and more consistent assignment of residents to certified nurse assistants [CNAs], so they have better quality outcomes. It also helps from a business perspective because they have much less use of agency [personnel] than providers who aren’t involved in this.

The data are very clear that someone who’s very focused on employee engagement and satisfaction can take a CNA turnover rate to below 50 percent a year, which is still high but much better than someone who isn’t focused on it that has a 200 percent turnover rate. So I think the low-hanging fruit for our sector is to get very involved with employee engagement and satisfaction. Fortunately, there are plenty of vendors out there that can teach people how to do this.

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