An Employee Engagement Strategy: All Leader Rounding

Over the past two years, leaders have faced unprecedented business challenges as they have worked to navigate how to remain solvent in the midst of workplace safety concerns, staffing shortages, supply chain interruptions, and employee burnout. To address these critical issues, leaders had to make difficult and sometimes urgent decisions about how they would reallocate their time. Often this meant leaders had less time to coach employees and address their concerns, leaving many employees feeling neglected and devalued. In fact, Gallup's research found that 85 percent of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged. As a result, we have seen movements like the Great Resignation and a significant spike in labor union activity as frontline employees look to third parties to meet their needs.  

As we begin to define what the "new normal" is going to look like, it is absolutely critical that leaders identify strategies to reconnect with employees and empower them to reengage. One effective way to do this is through leader rounding, which is an evidenced-based communication practice where a leader intentionally travels to their employees' work area to engage in a dialogue with the staff to build relationships, manage change, promote initiatives, identify issues, and glean insights. While leader rounding is common in healthcare settings, it is a strategy that any business can utilize when rethinking employee engagement and the employee voice. But is there an even more effective way that we can leverage leader rounding? The answer is yes, and it involves expanding leader rounding to "All Leader Rounding."  

How is All Leader Rounding Different from Traditional Leader Rounding?  

All Leader Rounding takes the activity of leader rounding and expands it—it's like leader rounding but supercharged. Unlike leader rounding, which typically involves a single leader or small group of leaders, All Leader Rounding is a coordinated effort involving simultaneous leader rounding by all or most of an organization's leadership team on all departments or cost centers, followed by an issues resolution meeting and structured follow through.   

All Leader Rounding generally begins with a preparatory meeting where all leaders in the organization meet to identify the key rounding objectives, such as sharing information about a new initiative, soliciting issues from frontline employees, and dialoguing about novel ideas the frontline staff have to improve the organization.   

After the preparatory meeting, the leaders are broken into small groups and travel to their assigned department(s) or cost center(s) to begin the leader rounding process with the frontline employees, carefully recording any issues or ideas they provide. After rounding, the leaders then reconvene as a large group to debrief. During the debrief, the leaders report on the issues the frontline employees shared and discuss pending issues and potential resolutions as a group. With all of the relevant decision-makers present in the same room, many of the identified issues can be addressed in real-time. For larger issues, the leadership team can assign the appropriate leaders to address the issue and follow up. An all-employee celebratory event typically follows later in the week, where leaders share the list of identified issues and resolutions that frontline employees identified during All Leader Rounding.    

What are the Benefits of All Leader Rounding?  

While many of the benefits of All Leader Rounding are similar to leader rounding, the magnitude of these benefits is amplified. Research shows the following employee benefits associated with leader rounding:  

employee engagement strategy

From a leadership perspective, leader rounding provides leaders with the following benefits: 

  • Provides insights into the day-to-day operations of their business that allows them to identify issues before harm is done  
  • Glean novel approaches to improve operational efficiencies from frontline employees. 
  • Track employee attitudes towards new initiatives and policies 
  • Track employee attitudes towards external threats to the organization 
  • Identify "quick fixes" and "low hanging fruit" to facilitate an immediate resolution to issues.  
  • Identify early warning signs of labor union activity. 

My Personal Experience  

On April 1, 2015, I was sitting in a small lecture hall with about 25 other students at The University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC), where Bob Page and Tammy Peterman were guest lecturing. For those who don't know, Bob Page is the CEO and president of The University of Kansas Health System (TUKHS), and Tammy Peterman is the executive vice president, COO, and CNO of the organization. Now, after eight and a half years of higher education, I'd sat through many classes and guest lecturers. This one was different—and it's one I'll never forget.   

Mr. Page's and Ms. Peterman's lecture centered on the transformational story of how TUKHS went from a financially struggling institution with poor performance metrics and abysmal patient satisfaction scores to the nationally recognized academic medical center it is today. As they were speaking, we were all on the edge of our seats, waiting to hear the secret, highly complex business strategy that they must have developed to accomplish this incredible change. Instead, they shared one simple, basic leadership principle: get out of your office and talk to your employees every chance that you have. In hospitals, they commonly refer to this practice as leader rounding. In fact, Mr. Page and Ms. Peterman believe so strongly in leader rounding that they each dedicate one hour every day on the floors with frontline employees. Not only that, they said that was where they got the best information, not from the board rooms.   

They shared one more secret with us: rounding as an entire leadership team, or as I like to call it, Rounding on Steroids. Periodically, the entire leadership team of TUKHS would break into small groups and round on every unit at every location. The leaders would talk with as many employees as possible and then reconvene as a large group to solve as many issues as possible. With all the decision-makers in a single room, several of the issues identified while rounding could be addressed immediately. It was an incredible morale booster to the organization. The leaders of the organization came out of their offices, met the employees where they were, listened to their concerns and ideas, and immediately responded. What an incredible example of employee engagement.   

But it wasn't just the employee relations benefits that Mr. Page and Ms. Peterman shared. It brought significant value to the organization as well. Through the process, the leadership team at TUKHS, in collaboration with the frontline employees, was able to identify many process improvements, improve patient safety and satisfaction, and address many potential issues before they became major crises.   

Ever since that class, I've coached hundreds of leaders to get out of their offices and round with their frontline employees. It's incredibly rewarding to hear about their success stories: addressing long-term supply chain issues and standardizing supply room layouts, simplifying information systems, and revamping HR operations. Many leaders have shared that they have been able to leverage the relationships and trust built with employees while rounding to implement initiatives they would never have been able to before.   

If you aren't already practicing leader rounding or All Leader Rounding, I hope you will consider adding these incredibly powerful tools to your manager tool kit.   

What are the Components of All Leader Rounding?  

There are five stages in developing an effective all leader rounding program:   

  1. Planning Stage – In this stage, leaders define the objectives they want out of All Leader Rounding ties in with organizational objectives, determine the rounding logistics, and identify key messages for frontline employees.   
  2. Training Stage – The second stage is the educational component for a leader to develop the necessary skills to participate in effective leader rounding. 
  3. Kickoff Stage – Leaders promote All Leader Rounding at a launch celebration for frontline employees.  
  4. All Leader Rounding Stage – Leaders participate in a preparatory meeting, break into small groups to round in their respective departments or cost centers, and reconvene to debrief and begin the issue resolution process. All issues and concerns are identified and documented. 
  5. Follow-up Stage – In the final stage, leadership creates a short- and long-term plan for issue identification and resolution plans. Leaders drafts a Resolution Report to share with frontline employees and schedule another celebratory event with frontline employees.  
LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT Simple, Powerful, Effective

Keys to Success  

To ensure a successful experience with All Leader Rounding, a significant amount of preplanning needs to occur.  

  • Gain Leadership Buy-In - As its name suggests, this strategy is dependent on the participation of all or most leaders, so the first step is getting senior leadership's commitment to dedicate the time and resources to this strategy. Once the senior leaders are committed and willing, it's time to begin socializing the idea with the remaining members of the leadership team.   
  • Develop a Comprehensive All Leader Rounding Plan – Preplanning is critical, and prior to engaging in All Leader Rounding, several decisions need to be thoughtfully considered. Here are a few of the top considerations:  
  • What are the organizational objectives with All Leader Rounding? 
  • What will success look like?  
  • Who will champion this initiative? 
  • How frequently will the organization engage in All Leader Rounding? Quarterly? Bi-annually? Annually?  
  • What are the geographic considerations? How will the organization handle multiple facilities? What if they are in different cities, states, or countries?  
  • Should corporate or regional leadership participate, or should the activity be limited to local leaders?  
  • What are the key messages to frontline employees? 
  • What will the process look like? How long will rounding last? How will the leaders be broken into small groups? Who will go where? Will this be a single- or multi-day process?  
  • How will issues and ideas be recorded and tracked? Will the organization use internal resources or look for external issue resolution software?  
  • Ensure Your Team has Effective Rounding Skills – Provide your leaders with the skills they need to have a successful experience rounding. Do leaders understand how to engage in authentic conversation with employees? Can they answer difficult questions about issues facing the organization? Consider offering a Rounding Workshop taught by one of IRI's organizational development consultants.    
  • Promotion is Key – To get the most out of All Leader Rounding, the organization needs to generate buzz about the event. Utilize physical and digital internal advertising and consider hosting a kickoff celebration where leadership can introduce the initiative to frontline employees. If your organization does not have a communication department, or if your communication department does not have the bandwidth, know that IRI's communication consultants have you covered.  
  • Draft a Resolution Report and have Another Celebration – Make sure that the organization gets credit for all the solutions it finds! Provide digital and physical resolution reports to frontline employees, and be sure to have a follow-up celebration where leaders recognize and celebrate the role that employee engagement has in the success of the All Leader Rounding.     
  • Be Consistent – For the best outcomes, organizations should consider integrating All Leader Rounding into regular leadership activities. Building relationships is a process, and it may take multiple points of contact before some employees feel comfortable participating. Over time, your visibility will build trust and respect with your employees.  
  • Continue Leader Rounding as an Individual or Small Group – All Leader Rounding is not designed to replace leader rounding. Leaders should regularly schedule leader rounding on their calendars to ensure time is set aside for the activity. Bob Page, the President, and CEO of The University of Kanas Health System, finds rounding to be one of the most important daily activities for any leader.   
all leader rounding

National Labor Relations Act Considerations with All Leader Rounding  

The best time to initiate All Leader Rounding is before an organization is experiencing any union organizing activity. When rounding with nonunionized employees, leaders are free to discuss any relevant topic with employees.   

However, once a labor union files a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), all terms and conditions of employment must remain status quo until the recognition election, which is referred to by the Board as the "critical period." Organizations in this situation should consult with outside labor counsel before making any changes during this time.   

All Leader Rounding can still occur if some or all your employees are represented by a union; however, leaders must avoid direct dealing. "Direct dealing" refers to a situation where a leader in the organization bypasses the employee's collective bargaining representative and negotiates directly with employees on mandatory subjects of bargaining, including wages, benefits, working conditions, and terms and conditions of employment. Direct dealing implicates the concept of bargaining in good faith, which requires "at a minimum, recognition that the statutory representative is the one with whom [the employer] must deal in conducting beginning negotiations, and that it can no longer bargain directly or indirectly with employees." NLRB v. Insurance Agents (Prudential Insurance Co.), 361 U.S. 477, 484-485 (1960). Moreover, surveying employees as to their preferences concerning changes to existing conditions of employment also implicates direct dealing. Hancock Fabrics, 294 NLRB 189 (1989), enfd. 902 F.2d 28 (4th Cor. 1990). Direct dealing with employees constitutes an unfair labor practice under Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

To ensure that your leadership team understands their responsibilities under the NLRA, the organization should consider consulting with outside labor counsel and/or contact IRI Consultants to provide NLRA manager training.   

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About the Author John Barker

John Barker, J.D., MHSA is a Lead Consultant for IRI Consultants. John has been collaborating with employers for the past 7 years to provide positive employee relations.

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