I've never met Richard Birrer but someday soon I want to shake his hand. He's a kindred spirit, I can tell already. In case you don't know what I am referring to you can look at the Outliers page from our June 30 issue (p. 36), where we reported his novel idea.
The headline that caught my eye was "A day without e-mail? N.J. hospital tries the unthinkable." I couldn't believe it. What courage that must have taken. People there must have gone bonkers without the ability to communicate electronically. Many people now prefer e-mail to talking with somebody. It's quicker, easier and you can keep a record of it. You also don't have to worry about how the other person is reacting or even how they are doing, which for some is the point. These people have forgotten what real communication is.
Birrer is interim president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J. He also is the former chief medical officer of that facility. As Outliers reported, the reason for E-mail Free Day was to "re-personalize the healthcare business." Hospital spokeswoman Amelia Duggan told us of the event, "Some (employees) embraced it and there were some who maybe struggled with it. Some of us laid eyes on people we haven't seen in a long time."
Said Birrer: "Healthcare is constantly changing and we must have the forethought, ingenuity and creativity to meet the demands of this changing industry." That makes a lot of sense to me.
I was so taken by the article that I called Duggan and asked her some questions about her boss. It soon became apparent that Birrer is a person who not only likes to keep things simple but also believes in customer service. She said he isn't big on long, drawn-out meetings and prefers what can be termed elevator sessions, meaning quick huddles with staff that last about the time it takes an elevator to reach the top floor of a building.
Note that those are in-person meetings, not group e-mails. For a leader or manager in a healthcare setting, it is absolutely necessary for him or her to get on the front lines with the troops. E-mail announcements don't cut it and most of the time seem to confuse people. I'm with him all the way. In fact, a day doesn't pass that I don't hear people complain about the volume of e-mail they get and the time and effort they spend answering it. Yes, e-mail is a very effective communication tool. It can save enormous amounts of money and time, but it has to be used appropriately and that's when things become tricky. To be safe, get out and meet your people every day.
Duggan even suggested that Birrer might even declare a voice-mail holiday some day. I'm with him there, too. That's another vehicle that is overused these days. Again, voice mail can be an effective form of communication when used properly, but too often when people leave voice-mail messages brevity seems to go out the window. As a matter of fact, I've listened to voice mails that go on so long that by the time the person gets to the meat of the message, I've lost interest. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that we do not spend enough time with each other and that too often voice mail and e-mail are used to avoid interacting with others, which leads to less real communication and understanding rather than more.
In the not-too-distant future, Birrer may be named the permanent head of St. Joseph's. Duggan tells me he is in his early 50s, is a runner and loves to garden and read. More than that, he is a great believer in interpersonal relationships. He likes to keep things simple and focus on clinical excellence and customer service. From my perspective, Birrer sounds like he's got his head on straight and is just the sort of person to take St. Joseph's to the next level.
Try the unexpected,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com