The healthcare management profession is special. Those of us who are in it are fortunate to lead organizations that are called upon to address an almost incomprehensible range of human needs. Our facilities maintain an open door to the public 24 hours a day, every day of every year. Our customers routinely bare their bodies, as well as their souls, within our organizations. I can think of no other enterprise in our society where so much is placed in the hands of others.
As such, our charge is to ensure that what we do within our organizations is consummately professional. Our stewardship of that special trust placed with us is unique, and it requires a unique ethical commitment of the leaders of our organizations.
For us to fulfill that mission, we must instill a commitment to ethics organizationwide. Doing that today is more important and more challenging than ever before.
In corporate America, managerial ethics, or lack thereof, have become headline news in the past two years. It seems that every news broadcast these days contains some segment on corporate ethics gone awry. Though these headlines seldom come from the ranks of our profession, we have no immunity from that awful corporate disease.
This week-when close to 4,000 healthcare executives are gathered in Chicago for the American College of Healthcare Executives' annual Congress on Healthcare Management-seems to be a perfect time to reflect on how we are perceived.
As the professional organization for healthcare executives, the American College of Healthcare Executives requires its members to abide by a code of ethics. (You can view it at ache.org/ABT_ACHE/code.cfm.) The code serves as a guide of conduct and contains standards of ethical behavior for healthcare executives in their professional relationships. It has been carefully considered and widely distributed.
It receives ongoing oversight from the ACHE's staff members and our ethics committee, council of regents and board of governors. We have processes by which we monitor adherence to the ethics code. We actively pursue and aggressively act upon any questionable practices within our membership.
In the hectic world of managing today's bustling healthcare enterprises, most of us probably spend little time reflecting on how we are perceived as managers and as individuals by those with whom we work. We may think even less about the impact our personal commitment to ethics has on our organizations. We all must realize, however, that our daily performance speaks volumes about the integrity we expect others within our organizations to display.
As leaders, if we do not hold ourselves and those around us to an extraordinarily high standard of ethical performance, we may begin to see small departures from flawless ethics creep into our organizations.
What can we do to make certain our organizations are the havens for ethical behavior that we strive to make them? We can routinely examine our own behavior.
In 1997, the ACHE began publishing an "Ethics Self-Assessment" (For a copy, visit ache.org/newclub/CAREER/ethself.cfm) each year in the March/April issue of Healthcare Executive magazine. The first time I saw this tool, I stopped what I was doing and completed it. My conclusion: I am a very ethical person.
Of course, that was a self-assessment. And, it made me wonder how many people would actually take a self-assessment and conclude that they were unethical.
I quickly recognized that my opinion of my ethical behavior was a great starting point, but that the real test was how others perceived me. To answer that question, I modified the self-assessment to make it a tool others could use to evaluate me. Our internal auditor distributed the instrument to those individuals reporting directly to me. The completed surveys were returned to the auditor to preserve anonymity.
This more comprehensive view of my performance was extremely beneficial. I was pleased that those reporting to me felt that I displayed a high level of ethical commitment. But the assessment did point out opportunities for improvement and made me more aware of how my comments, actions and communications really were perceived.
Those working directly with us each and every day may have a much clearer view of our commitment to ethics than we do. Our ethical profile is a patchwork of perceptions of a multitude of things captured from a diversity of relationships and personal encounters over a long period of time. Someone is watching each and every decision we make and action we support. We become the essence of those observations.
As healthcare executives, one of the most significant ways we can demonstrate how much we care about those we serve is to visibly display our personal commitment to operating with extraordinary integrity, ethics and morality each and every day.
There are almost 30,000 members of the ACHE, and I believe that together, through adherence to our code of ethics, we can make a difference.
Larry Sanders is chairman of the American College of Healthcare Executives and chairman and chief executive officer of Columbus (Ga.) Regional Healthcare System.