A Hospital CEO’s Story

March 15, 2018

In his former position as COO, Robert had spent years observing the ill effects of the command-and-control style of his predecessor.  Power was concentrated at the top with communications flowing down; it was a trickle-down formula that made it impossible for anyone else to make a contribution for improving the workplace.  As a result, Robert believed, the hospital’s performance languished.

When Robert was appointed the new CEO, his top priority was to create a “people-oriented culture.” He began his tenure by addressing issues he believed affected the employees’ ability to do a good job. He made it clear that the values he was going to bring to the organization would become the cornerstone for a culture capable of providing the best patient care.

When notified he would be ascending to CEO, Robert immediately took out his “what I will do differently” file. Over the years when Robert had seen something occur that he thought was a mistake, he made a note of it along with his thoughts about what he would do differently.

The first change Robert wanted to make was how he would engage with employees. “The previous CEO would tell them what to do and hold them accountable. He didn’t care why his deadlines weren’t met. People would fail and be punished even if they had been put into impossible situations. What he thought was the best thing to do often wasn’t practical or even possible. I learned how important it is to ask those who need to make things happen for their input about how to do it successfully.”

Robert decided his top priority as the new CEO was to build the best possible Human Resources department. At his first meeting with the executive team, he announced the approach he would take with employees: emphasizing learning from honest mistakes rather than using HR policies to punish people who were trying their best. His goal was to have the staff feel free to offer their ideas about how to make the hospital work well.

The head of the HR department, who had worked for years with the previous CEO, objected, stating that employees were only motivated if there was a tough system of discipline in place. “It focuses their attention,” he proclaimed, “and motivates them to do what they’re supposed to do.” Robert responded, “If you really feel that is the only way to motivate employees, please have your resignation letter on my desk by the end of the day.” And that is what he got.

It’s all about the family

Maria was appointed the new Vice President of Human Resources. She shared Robert’s value of creating a people-oriented culture, and was dedicated to recruiting and retaining the right people. Maria believed it was critical to “get it right from the beginning” with new employees. Her recruiters made every effort to find the right person to fill the right position. That fit included more than job skills—applicants had to demonstrate the personal traits that would allow them to be a part of the “family.”

Maria would tell new employees that the recruiters’ job wasn’t over once a person was hired. Her theme was “We’ll do everything we can to help you succeed.”  She encouraged employees to contact the recruiters at any time to discuss issues that affected their ability to adjust to their new role, including how to be “adopted” by their new work family.

The hospitals new employee orientations were structured to teach the values that were important for doing well in their jobs. First and foremost, Maria said, is that the staff members care about each other.

What’s most valuable?

Robert would almost always clear time in his busy schedule to meet with new employees at the group orientation. He handed each person a card that attached to their ID badge, saying, “Everyone here is expected to live by these six values:”

  1. To set a positive example in all that we do.
  2. To respect all associates, promoting unity, trust, pride and teamwork.
  3. To accept and promote positive change, take risks, accept responsibility, and be accountable for our actions.
  4. To achieve a high quality of work life through effective communication and through the involvement of all associates in an environment of openness and fairness in which everyone is treated with dignity, honesty, and respect.
  5. To promote a dedication to the hospital’s commitment of achieving excellence in services rendered to all of its customers.
  6. To create a culture that emphasizes constant learning and development.

“The mission of the hospital can only be achieved by employees living these values,” Robert explained. “Our performance evaluations include a rating in each of these values.  So, when you see me walking around the hospital, please stop me if you have a concern or a suggestion that you believe would help us provide excellent patient care.”

Did Robert’s plan produce results? His hospital became recognized by several organizations as a “Top 100” hospital in the U.S.

The first step in the PROPEL Performance Improvement Program is to help healthcare leaders and staff to identify their shared values. Facilitating this discussion is essential in helping people with various roles and responsibilities to transcend their differences and find common ground.



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