Three Strategies for Sustaining Change

The holy grail of management interventions is a process that will make dramatic improvements in productivity and employee health that will sustain over time. The model is the miracle drug: take the proper dosage and the illness is gone forever.

The reality of management interventions is that even when they work well, they are not forever. Diamonds may be forever, but management interventions have a more time-limited impact.

When we followed up with our hospital units a year after they completed CREW, we were pleased to discover that on most measures, they had sustained their gains. Their scores on civility, burnout, and other qualities of engagement were just as positive as they were immediately after they had completed CREW. These results gave the impression that the CREW process had that enduring impact. A good dose of CREW improved things for the long term.

As we talked with people on the units, we found that things were a bit more complicated. The improvements were in place, but CREW had not completely halted with the end of our work with the units. Towards the end of the CREW process we gave advice on how to assure that gains continued after CREW. The successful units had taken advantage of some key strategies.

  • Keep the Conversation Going. One strategy is keeping the topic alive by keeping workplace civility literally on the agenda. In regular meetings of the workgroup, someone has responsibility for talking about working relationships.
  • Track Data. An important part of CREW exercises is tracking certain types of interactions among people, such as how often people express appreciation for a colleague’s contribution to the shared mission. Continuing to track this kind of data keeps civility current.
  • Employee Surveys. Employee surveys that assess civility and other important qualities of the social culture of a workgroup keep civility on everyone’s mind. It becomes a metric for the group to track their progress.

Very little about human relationships is forever. Any process that results in improved worklife will need ongoing attention to keep it on track. These three examples can make a meaningful contribution. Other strategies may be just right for other circumstances. The main point is remembering to put energy into sustaining change.

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