Putting the Idea Into Practice

Improving Communication and Engagement During Times of Change

Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the entire healthcare industry has been experiencing unprecedented change. Top leaders at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas have found that the new law has changed literally every aspect of their business—and those changes have caused considerable stress for employees throughout the organization. Dr. Paula Daoust, director of workforce and leadership development, admits that she has watched talented people get worn down during the process. People who were once energized about their roles have been working hard to navigate the transition and losing sight of the bigger picture of taking pride in helping their clients.

For more than 70 years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas has enjoyed a trusted reputation as a dependable provider of health insurance. Their nearly 1,500 employees serve 880,000 customers statewide. To keep that reputation intact and continue to serve clients at the level they have been accustomed to, Dr. Daoust knew she needed to help staff members reenergize their passion for their work. And she knew exactly how to provide them with the tools they needed to shift their motivational outlook.

Dr. Daoust had already created and launched a leadership development curriculum that consists of a 10-month program for middle managers and an 18-month program for senior level staff. Set up as cohorts, the groups meet each month for three days of training to improve leadership skills at all levels.

All participants are trained in several programs from The Ken Blanchard Companies including Building Trust, Situational Leadership® II, Coaching Essentials, , and Legendary Service. The senior level is also trained in Leading People Through Change and Leadership Point of View. These programs make up about 30 percent of the entire curriculum.

In response to the changing environment created by the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Daoust supplemented the program with the Optimal Motivation®  program . She found that two of the programs—Situational Leadership® II and Optimal Motivation—provided the perfect teaching environment to help staff not only improve overall communication but also learn the skill of shifting from a demotivated mindset to an optimal motivation mindset.

During Situational Leadership® II training, leaders learn how to diagnose the needs of an individual on a specific task and then use the appropriate leadership style to respond to these needs. The goal of a situational leader is to help others develop competence, motivation, and confidence by having frequent conversations about performance and development. Dr. Daoust realized that having these skills would improve communication between leaders and their staff members, which would make the changing work environment easier for all involved. She understood that the need for effective communication would be heightened during times of change, but that she could provide skills to make the transition smoother.

The Optimal Motivation program is based on research showing that motivation is a skill that can be taught, learned, developed, and nurtured. It presents the revolutionary theory that leaders can’t really motivate their staff because people are already motivated—in fact, they are always motivated. The issue is not if a person is motivated, but why. Also, there are different levels of motivation—and motivation can be either positive or negative. During these sessions leaders learn how to recognize the different types of motivation and how to have conversations with staff members that help them shift their motivation from a negative position to a more positive state.

Dr. Daoust quickly discovered the advantage of using skills learned from the two programs together. This is especially helpful when a person is diagnosed at Development Level 2 (D2). When a person is experiencing D2, they have some skills but are disillusioned about accomplishing the task or goal. Using the Situational Leadership® II model, the leader can offer direction and support to help get the person back on track. This is also where the motivational outlook conversation taught in the Optimal Motivation program can give the leader an opportunity to facilitate a person’s shift from a negative perspective to a positive motivational outlook. 

For example, when someone is at D2 on a task or goal, they are frustrated. This can lead to a helpless feeling and a blaming attitude. Holding a motivational outlook conversation with someone who’s at D2 can move the person from a mindset of “I have to” to “I want to.” When someone is so deep into D2 that they want to give up on a task, having an outlook conversation gives them hope that they can change their perspective and learn the new skill.

This conversation type also can be used when discussing a difficult topic to make sure the environment is safe and you are dealing with facts. “People tend to think that resolving conflict is best managed through skills learned in programs that address how to have challenging conversations. But when you add the outlook conversation to the mix, it allows for a more positive focus and options,” explained Dr. Daoust.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial elements of learning how to have outlook conversations is that leaders must know their own motivational outlook first. Preparation is vital to a successful outlook conversation so that, in every situation, both people come out of the exercise with a better understanding of motivational options—and how to make a shift to a more useful outlook. One of the participants in the leadership development program said it best: “I learned as much about my own motivation as I did about the motivation of my direct reports.”

Dr. Daoust says, “I’ve seen the lights come on for several leaders and their staff when they understand that motivation is a skill that can be learned.” Using the Situational Leadership® II and Optimal Motivation tools together has helped everyone at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas become more energized. Leaders are able to provide clear direction and support to both build the confidence and skills of their staff and help them uncover a more positive mindset to appreciate the importance of their jobs. Because employees are more engaged on a daily basis, productivity has improved, morale has increased, and people are flourishing while they work in a continually changing environment.

“I encourage leaders never to underestimate the importance of the daily communication they have with their people,” explains Dr. Daoust. “Using the two models together helps them improve every conversation.”