Life Link III
For over 37 years, Life Link III has been committed to providing exceptional patient care and transport safety. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Life Link III team provides critical care and air medical transport services across the Midwestern United States.
Delivering this level of care and service is a monumental challenge that requires a team with a remarkable well of talent, empathy, experience, and dedication. We met with Katie Burkhart, Life Link III’s Director of Marketing and Communications, to learn what it takes to attract, engage, and retain such an exceptional team.
Making an Impact
Asked what her favorite part about working on the Life Link III team was, Burkhart summed it up beautifully in one word: “impact.”
“Life Link III is a very mission-driven organization full of passionate, dedicated people who are focused on putting the patient first and being there to answer the call for help for people in need,” she explained. “We focus on inter-facility and scene transports—being that solution-oriented resource for our hospital and pre-hospital partners.
Even outside our organization, whether they’re a county dispatcher, an EMS partner, or hospital staff member—we look at everyone involved as an extension of our team. And what can be accomplished with this team is truly incredible.”
It was immediately clear that whether they work on or behind the scenes, that cultural value of positive impact is woven into the fabric of the entire Life Link III team.
“I might not be that person intubating a patient or flying a helicopter, but I can tell you that everyone on this team, whether they’re a pilot, a maintenance technician, working in the communications center, or in administrative services—they’re all focused on supporting our mission and making an impact.
That impact doesn’t end with patients—it extends to their families, their communities, and beyond. Even people living and working in rural communities, far away from a major hospital system, have access to critical care resources. We’re so proud to be that link.”
I might not be that person intubating a patient or flying a helicopter, but I can tell you that everyone on this team, whether they’re a pilot, a maintenance technician, working in the communications center, or in administrative services—they’re all focused on supporting our mission and making an impact.
Cultivating Culture: The Three P’s
Impact is an exceptionally motivating factor in any job, but impact alone isn’t always enough. Some high–impact organizations and roles still have relatively short tenures—but that’s not the case for Life Link III.
Long, happy, and meaningful tenures are prevalent at Life Link III. In large part, Burkhart said she believed people who want to make a difference in their community, who want to give back, and whose cups are filled by the sort of work Life Link III does gravitate there. She also pointed to an organizational focus on what CEO Josh Howell calls “The Three P’s.”
People — making sure to establish a culture that supports people both personally and professionally. In practice, examples of that include a robust benefits package, but also things like 24/7 access to a behavioral psychologist to help work through the experience of dealing with what can be very difficult calls. Professional development is another focus, with team members getting access to resources to help them progress in their careers.
Patients — having true innovation in critical and pre-hospital care. From blood and plasma to on-point ultrasound and lab testing, Life Link III’s aircraft are stocked with all the tools the crew needs to provide the best possible care outcomes. It’s almost like having an ICU in the back of a helicopter.
Partners — when sending out a call for help, partners depend on Life Link III to get patients where they need to go. Accomplishing that means having a reliable network, trained personnel, and aircraft ready to go at all times.
Building Crucial Connections in Challenging Times
Scaling an organization is always challenging, even in the best of times. Logistics, communication, and culture are often strained during periods of rapid growth and change. Life Link III was not only experiencing significant growth, but also a major organizational change, just as the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise.
“In early 2020, right as COVID-19 was taking hold, we were also going through a huge organizational milestone—receiving our Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate. Before that, we contracted out our aviation services. Welcoming all those wonderful pilots and maintenance technicians we’d worked with to Life Link III also meant essentially doubling the size of our organization.
At the same time, we were transitioning administrative team members to a fully remote work environment due to COVID-19. For the majority of our entire team, the way we worked changed overnight, and that presented a lot of communication challenges.
It was a really email-heavy time, and meeting-heavy time because a lot of people were adapting their working framework. Working in the clinical space during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic there were constant critical updates that needed to be pushed out, because like everyone else, we were watching everything change rapidly during this time.”
Prior to Haystack, the team employed numerous digital displays with messaging and information on a 20-minute loop in each base location to keep everyone informed. . While the displays were helpful, not every Linker (Life Link III employee) had the information they needed at their fingertips. Receiving that information was subject to whether or not someone saw, and had time to review it in the moment.
Burkhart and her team knew they needed a change, but instead of implementing a new tool without input, they relied on the team’s feedback.
“We do an employee engagement survey every year. In early 2022, we learned that improving internal communication was a major theme that needed to be addressed. Some groups were getting some messages that others weren’t. We didn’t always have consistency with organizational messages, and at times information would get bottlenecked at the leadership level.”
Right about that time, I discovered Haystack. We already had something in place we’d built through Sharepoint, but it was really just a big information dump. There was no interaction, it wasn’t engaging, people struggled to find things, and overall it did not get rave reviews.
We saw Haystack as a tool that really could help make this big company feel smaller.”
After deciding on Haystack, Burkhart and her team got to work transitioning from their old system and rolling it out. “Haystack’s whole team is top notch,” she said. “I have not found one member that wasn’t the most fun, helpful person.”
We saw Haystack as a tool that really could help make this big company feel smaller.
Scaling an Extraordinary Team
Culture is an ever present focus for an organization like Life Link III. Having a strong cultural connection amongst employees is essential to the work they do. As the organization continues to grow, that focus has only gotten stronger. “Haystack has been a really great communication driver, but more importantly, a culture driver,” Burkhart said.
“We have people who have been with the company since it was under a hundred people. During this time of rapid growth where suddenly we’re over 300 strong, the company started to look different to them—which is to be expected. As a mission-driven organization, it’s crucial that people stay tied to the mission, and one of the ways we reinforce that is through Haystack.
We always knew frontline communication would be a challenge. Our leadership was eager to find a way to combine all our efforts, share our culture, and improve visibility into how people are communicating.
Haystack has been very well received. Even fun things, like the name game, drew so much buzz!”
Haystack’s rich, detailed employee profiles and knowledge sharing tools provided a lot of value to Linkers from the early days on.
“In our survey, we learned that although we had pictures of our senior leadership on the website, Linkers might run into someone at the corporate office and have no idea who they are.
I think it’s been especially impactful for the new employee experience. As we bring on new team members, no matter what base location they are at, it’s crucial for them to be immersed in our culture and understand who we are, what we stand for, and how we communicate. Haystack has been a great bridge.”
While helping new team members get up to speed and adopt organizational culture is essential, the unique cultural impact knowledge, and insights each new member of the team brings is equally valuable. Burkhart expressed how that unique value each Linker brings translates to progress:
“We make innovation a priority, and that innovation doesn’t always come from managers or the C-Suite. Innovation is part of everyone’s job description here, and some of our best ideas come from the insights new Linkers bring with them.
Having a knowledge sharing platform like Haystack to support that is awesome.”
I think it’s been especially impactful for the new employee experience. As we bring on new team members, no matter what base location they are at, it’s crucial for them to be immersed in our culture and understand who we are, what we stand for, and how we communicate. Haystack has been a great bridge.
Flexibility and Focus
With such a wide range of roles and responsibilities, the Life Link III team needed a flexible way to reach the right people with the right information in the right place, and all of this at the right time.
While that might sound like a monumental challenge, because Burkhart and her team recognized that early on, they were able to deploy a solution that fit all those needs.
“Strong and effective communication looks a little different to everyone, and meeting people where they’re at is key. Empowering Linkers to define what effective communication means to them and then being able to execute on that was a big driver for us.”
Given the exact same communication “diet,” one Linker might feel like they’re receiving too few emails, while another feels inundated with too many. One person might feel like there are too many meetings, while another wants more.
“We quickly realized there would never be a one-size-fits-all communication channel for every Linker,” Burkhart explained. “We needed to find something that would fit our organization for the best possible outcome. Life Link III operates 24/7/365, so we needed the ability for people to control not just the frequency, but the types of notifications they receive—while still allowing us to bypass preferences when there’s critical or urgent information to share”
With its individual notification preference options, tailored content streams, and high-priority breakthrough notification feature “broadcast,” Haystack made it easy to deliver a customizable, yet fully connected experience. Linkers can stay focused on the information they need to do their best work—and because their work is literally saving lives, that’s crucial for everyone’s sake.
Haystack made it easy to deliver a customizable, yet fully connected experience.
Celebrating Linkers, Everywhere
The Life Link III team does extraordinary work every single day, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for fun or celebration. As one might expect, the Life Link III team’s workdays are anything but dull, and sharing those experiences is a key element of connecting as a team.
Burkhart shared a bit about their new program, Through the Link Lens. Linkers share stunning photos, but also celebrate successes, like earning a clinical certification, or a pilot passing a checkride for example. “It allows us to make that visible, and for us as a team to celebrate and lift that person up,” she said.
With a company spread across multiple states, having a central source of truth helps ensure branding and messaging stay consistent, but also that Linkers feel connected, and can interact.
“Whether you’re a clinician in Willmar, Minnesota or a pilot in Marshfield, Wisconsin, there’s a common place to connect, celebrate success, and importantly, ask questions. We prioritize respectful communication—it’s part of our culture—and we love to see everyone engaged and participating.
If our CEO shares a program update and you’ve got a question, you can just ask away. When you don’t support those conversations, you can end up with communication breakdowns.”
The Life Link III team will probably never slow down—that’s evident in the work they do for their community, and also in their future plans for Haystack.
“For 2023, we’re continuing to find more ways to make Haystack a one-stop shop, bringing in things like our employee handbook and other onboarding materials, so when a new Linker joins they have everything they need from day one.”
As time goes on and those needs change, Burkhart is confident that Haystack will continue to be there. “We love that Haystack grows and evolves along with our team,” she said. “I feel like I can go to Alison anytime, asking if a new functionality might be possible, and she’ll immediately work on making it happen for us.”
We love that Haystack grows and evolves along with our team.
As someone who managed to build an extraordinary digital employee experience, we asked Burkhart to share a few pieces of advice for others working to do the same. Below are some of her top tips:
Set your objectives first. Know what you’re trying to solve, why you’re trying to solve it, and exactly how a specific tool could help you get there. The more specific you can be, the better.
Life Link III’s primary objectives were laser focused, because they were defined in partnership with Linkers across the organization, through their feedback and survey participation. Those objectives were to improve the Life Link III employee experience through a robust intranet, and for that intranet to focus on:
- Streamlining communication
- Maintaining a robust library of current and past communications
- Creating an interactive employee experience and encouraging communication throughout the organization through:
- Groups, News Feed, Employee Directory, Badges, Employee Recognition
- Provide a one-stop shop for information, with frequently accessed documents readily available
- A full-featured mobile app to ensure all Linkers have equal access
Having well-defined objectives makes every step of the process easier, from research to rollout.
Earning buy-in is critical.
- Employee buy-in: base objectives on employee feedback and communicate how the initiative is a response to (and aligned with) the team’s feedback. Clearly illustrate the ways this will support them and meet the needs they’re expressing.
- Leadership buy-in: from the earliest stages, it’s essential to have the enthusiastic support of senior leadership. They’re not only key decision makers; they’re also culture leaders whose visible support can be a powerful example for others to follow.
At Haystack, we’re delighted to get to work with stellar teams like Life Link III and play even a small role in such an extraordinary mission. With a steadfast commitment to impact, innovation, and care, we can’t wait to see what they do next.