Rules of engagement Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2009

In the 30-plus years since its founding, Mark Baiada’s company, Bayada Nurses, has always had a culture — a set of values by which the company’s administrators, office staff and home care specialists lived and worked.

But the culture was mostly passed along by word-of-mouth, which made communicating and sustaining the culture an increasing challenge as the company grew. By the time Bayada Nurses neared its fourth decade of business, Baiada had come to the conclusion that his company’s culture needed a definite outline in written form. It needed cultural principles that could be easily communicated to employees in multiple locations and easily taught to new employees entering the company.

“When we started in Philadelphia back in the ’70s, there were just three of us,” says Baiada, the company’s founder and president. “But as we’ve built up over time to more than 10,000 employees across the U.S., I realized that I might have a lot of personal connections to these people, but as we brought even more people into more locations, we needed a way to connect with them other than a one-to-one, personal basis. We needed to get things into writing so it could be communicated more effectively.”

Through months of work by people both inside and outside the organization, Baiada and his leadership team formed a cultural template they called “The Bayada Way.” Baiada began rolling out the newly defined culture in 2002, focusing all employees on the basics of compassion, excellence and reliability in their work.

Since then, Baiada has focused on keeping The Bayada Way in front of all of his employees, whether they work in the field or in the company’s home office.

Define a direction

To define the culture at Bayada Nurses — which generated $448 million in 2008 revenue — Baiada had to define what his employees and clients believed about the company. That began with research conducted by a clinical psychologist hired by Bayada Nurses.

The psychologist ran a series of more than 30 focus groups with employees and family members of clients. At the same time that the focus groups were proceeding, Baiada took his management staff on a series of retreats aimed at facilitating discussion on the company’s values, mission and vision.

“We did three overnight retreats with groups of our officers, during which we led them in guided exercises to help come up with our values, the true heart of what we’re doing,” Baiada says. “Then we did a survey of every client and employee, totaling about 19,000 people.”

The psychologist then worked with the leaders at Bayada Nurses to distill the large amount of feedback and data that they gathered into a page-long first draft that outlined The Bayada Way — the company’s mission, vision and values — in a simply stated, easily communicated form.

For the first time since the company’s inception, every employee could specifically define what Bayada Nurses stands for as well as the company’s long-term goals. Bayada Nurses’ mission is to provide in-home nursing care that allows clients to live with comfort and dignity. Bayada Nurses’ vision is to provide a lasting legacy as a leader in the home health care field. The core values include honesty, integrity, compassion and maintaining a strong financial base.

After laying the initial foundation, Baiada and his senior leaders began putting miles behind them, hitting the road in a 38-foot motor home and visiting all company locations for rounds of communication and feedback that helped refine the first draft into a final copy of The Bayada Way.

“We kept refining it,” Baiada says. “We rewrote it, and then went back out again, using more focus groups to make sure the words matched the meanings behind them. Language can be a funny thing, so we needed to clarify it through communication.”

Baiada used multiple avenues of communication to promote the culture and receive feedback. As part of that, the leaders at Bayada Nurses began gathering perhaps the most powerful form of cultural promotion in business: personal testimonials.

Baiada says communicating the personal stories of clients is a great motivator in business. It lets employees know that their jobs are making a difference to the people your company serves.

“We would have a couple-hour session where we would show a video on The Bayada Way,” Baiada says. “People would talk about their personal experiences. Our people would talk about what it has meant for them to serve our clients. It was really quite emotional, and that’s what we’re trying to get at. We tried to tune people in to how this feels, what it is like to serve a client. It really worked. We had a very positive, enthusiastic reaction from those who attended.”

The defined, refined culture wasn’t a product of Baiada and his direct reports sitting in a conference room. It was a direct reflection of the input from employees, clients and their families. It’s something Baiada has emphasized to his employees.

You should take every opportunity to show employees how they impact your company. If you give them a sense of ownership, a sense that they’re helping to drive the company, their willingness to buy in to the culture will be all the greater.

“Going around, I was basically telling people that I believe in The Bayada Way,” Baiada says. “I told them that I didn’t write this. I told them that this is a reflection of what we heard from you and your clients.

“As the leader, first you have to believe in the culture, mission and values yourself. You have to believe that your values and mission are about something more than just making money. Great work and happy clients produce large revenues and decent profits.

“Some people go for the revenue and client numbers, and you can always come up with a better idea to make more money. But in the long run, you’re serving your clients, and they have to know why you’re in business. They have to know that it’s in your heart first. Look at Enron. They had a beautiful mission statement, but they probably didn’t believe it. It was probably done by an advertising agency for public consumption.”

Build the best team

To perpetuate your culture, you need people who can help you perpetuate the culture, particularly as your company grows and expands its work force.

That means new hires have to fit with your company’s mission and values as much as they need to fit the listed job description.

Baiada says a lot of leaders fall into the rut of hiring specifically based on the physical needs of the job. That is a definite element of the recruiting and hiring process, but it can’t end there.

“A lot of companies will look for a specific talent, because the job is written that way,” Baiada says. “You need an accountant, you need a recruiter, you need someone with a specific skill set. Hiring can be very skill- and task-based. But you also need them to connect with your purpose as a company. When you are building and maintaining a culture, it’s not enough to just hire someone with a skill. If a new hire doesn’t connect with our purpose here at Bayada, we’re not going to send them into someone’s house. If they don’t connect with our values, why would our clients want them?”

Baiada says you should screen for values and train for skills. A person’s values have usually been ingrained by the time that person arrives in your office for an interview. Even if you’d like the candidate to have an extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of the job, you can still cover that in training. A poor cultural match, on the other hand, almost always equals a poor hire.

“You can train for skills, but you screen for values and then reinforce them,” he says. “They know and can see that we’re living our values. But we’re not going to be transformational. If a person doesn’t have a big heart, if they don’t think it’s that important to show up for work on time, they’re really not going to be our kind of person.

“As far as what we look for in a new hire, each of the categories is a necessary component, but they’re not sufficient independently. You have to have compassion, you have to learn excellence at the skill aspect of the job, and you have to demonstrate it reliably so people know that you can be counted on. It’s like a stool. If you have a missing leg, it won’t stand.”

Stay visible

Bayada Nurses is now in the stage that Baiada terms the “alignment phase,” an ongoing effort to ensure that Bayada Nurses’ employees are constantly walking in step with The Bayada Way.

He continues to maintain multiple communication channels. Some are higher-profile, some are more subtle, but all of them help to reinforce the culture.

At the high-visibility end of the spectrum, Baiada puts himself in front of his employees whenever possible.

“Nothing can beat a company meeting for face-to-face engagement,” he says. “You can stand at the door and say hello to everyone that walks by. It’s better than coming in through the back door, saying a few words and getting off the stage. You need to find opportunities to meet people, talk to them, share with them and support them. Secondly, you should write to them. Send them an e-mail, send them a written letter, but make it personal. Then, you need to encourage everybody in the organization to do the same. Stay in touch, listen closely when you communicate and show empathy.”

Little gestures can also help reinforce the culture in a big way. Those who demonstrate the culture in their day-to-day work are rewarded through an assortment of programs, including prize contests, personal recognition, paycheck inserts, even something as small as a thank-you note.

“I’ve gotten compliments back from employees who like the messages in their paychecks,” Baiada says. “Sometimes it might just be a little quote from a publication. But it helps build that trust with employees. They want to know and be able to trust that we as managers believe in the same things that they do. If your employees don’t trust leadership, things can fall apart in a hurry. Building that trust through your actions is really important in any organization because everybody is skeptical.

“In the end, you have to communicate the principles of your culture with honesty and consistency. It has to be honest and it has to be relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to frequently and consistently convey the same message over and over. And you have to have integrity — you can’t say one thing and then do another. You also have to listen. Listen to feedback, listen to whether they understand what you’re saying. Communication has to go two ways.”

How to reach: Bayada Nurses, (856) 231-1000 or www.bayadanurses.com