Workers crowd into the cafeteria at St. David's South Austin (Texas) Hospital. As Timbuk 3's '80s anthem "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" ramps up, Chief Executive Officer Erol Akdamar enters in sunglasses for the first of three hourlong employee forums he will lead that day, one during each shift. The theme, of course, is "The future's so bright, we've got to wear shades."
The multimedia presentation, a quarterly event, accentuates the positive, such as the opening of cardiac rehabilitation services and the hospital's high ranking among HCA facilities for employee satisfaction.
"It's important to share what's going right, so when you look at what's not going well, you can have a constructive conversation," Akdamar says. "A difficulty we face is being able to tell the story of the hospital from an economic standpoint, but then making people feel validated for what they do day to day." One key to success, he says, "is giving equal attention to communication on the individual and global level."
Thus, while a monthly employee newsletter and weekly bulletins supplement the presentation-oriented forums, Akdamar makes time for give and take. For example, he conducts hospital rounds and hosts monthly lunches for employees who have had a recent birthday or anniversary at the hospital.
Akdamar "really gets that people need to be communicated to in a lot of different ways," says Christin Cross, the hospital's director of administrative services. "The culture here is very positive now, and he's done that through communications."
The son of a physician, Akdamar, 39, arrived at 193-bed South Austin Hospital--part of four-hospital St. David's HealthCare, a joint venture between HCA and St. David's Healthcare System--in late 2004 after four years as chief operating officer at another HCA joint venture, 341-bed Tulane University Hospital and Clinic in New Orleans.
Since then, South Austin's ranking for employee engagement has surged to third among 200 HCA hospitals from 138th. "He's done it not only through his personal passion," says Jon Foster, president and CEO at St. David's HealthCare. "He has put systems and communications in place."
For example, along with other senior managers, Akdamar makes regular rounds to talk with employees, hitting every department during every shift over three months. The executives prepare with advance reports on departmental issues and monitor their compliance with rounds weekly.
Problems demand solutions or explanations. When individuals are singled out for work well done, Akdamar follows up with a personal thank-you note. "You wouldn't think a note to a physician would make a difference," Akdamar says, "but I can tell you from the comments I get, it means a lot."