Most health care professionals are familiar with the Triple Aim framework.

As the name suggests, this ambitious initiative from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement advocates for three dimensions of optimizing health system performance.

But many in the health care industry believe a fourth dimension is needed if health care professionals are to achieve the lofty goals of the Triple Aim framework, and that is to drive motivation and satisfaction among health care employees themselves. Put more simply, it’s about helping them find more “joy in work.”

 “If you improve employee satisfaction in health care, that can help drive motivation, and that can help the industry achieve the objections of Triple Aim,” explains Darleen Barnard, DHA, MBA, CHFP, lead faculty for the Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration program for Capella University. “If they don’t feel motivated, they are less likely to put in the effort that is needed to meet the Triple Aim goals. This is no small thing.”

So how can health care leaders help their employees find more joy in their work? How can they motivate them to put their heart and soul into what they do every day? Barnard offers the following three strategies:

1. It starts with recognition.

It’s simple. Employees who feel recognized for their good work are employees who feel motivated to do their best work.But don’t think it’s just a matter of padding the paycheck of top performers. 

“Money isn’t always the biggest motivator, especially in health care,” Barnard says. “Health care professionals are driven by values and a sense of mission. They want to be recognized for contributing to a bigger cause and for really making a difference. That’s what motivates and inspires health care employees for the long term.”

That recognition can come from many sources, such as organizational or departmental-led recognition programs. But Barnard advocates for peer-to-peer recognition as potentially the most powerful, and often underutilized, type.


Recognition is most powerful when it comes from the source who most directly benefited,” Barnard says. “The more we can encourage health care employees to celebrate each other’s successes, and then elevate those successes to the broader organization, the more lasting impact it will have in motivating employees.”

2. Let coaching unearth their inspiration.

In addition to appropriately recognizing employees, it’s important to really listen to them to find out what inspires them to do their best, and likewise uncover what may be holding them back. But it can be difficult, even awkward, to corner an employee and ask, “So what inspires you, and what is preventing you from doing your best in this job?” Rather, this sort of personal journey of exploration is best done through coaching.

“Coaching is a wonderful way to understand what motivates people on a very individual level,” says Barnard, who is also a certified leadership and health coach. “Every person, and every generation, is motivated by something very different. With coaching, a leader sits down with an individual and really learns what drives them. A good coach is a good listener who helps unearth motivation triggers. Why do they come to work each day? Why did they choose to work at that organization? How do they see themselves contributing to the mission? Good coaching gives employees a voice, which of course increases motivation and satisfaction.”

3. Tailor your training and development.

“One of the outcomes of effective coaching is the creation of training and development programs that reflect what employees are truly craving,” Barnard says. “When health care employees are offered growth opportunities that are developed based on what they have told their leadership they need and want to be successful, those are the programs that really resonate and have the greatest impact.”

Barnard adds that it is important to ensure equity when it comes to training and development.

“A lot of training and development dollars in health care organizations tends to go to support licensed professionals who require continuing education credits,” Barnard explains. “That is important of course, but it should not be done to the exclusion of everyone else. There need to be equitable growth and development opportunities across the different disciplines at health care organizations. Employees become resentful if there are not. That is a motivation killer.”

While many health care organizations have programs in place to recognize and develop their employees, it’s important to take a fresh look at those initiatives to determine if they are truly motivating or not. In this way, we as an industry can be better positioned to meet the objectives of the Triple Aim framework.

Explore Capella University Health Care Administration programs and how they are developing the next generation of health care leaders.

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