Like most CEOs, I've seen a lot written about the virtues of a strong organizational culture. But it often seemed to be represented as something less than tangible, and almost a “nice to have.”
I know firsthand that a great culture is not something that's just nice to have. It's a must-have. And it takes front-line leadership—leading authentically from the ground up by connecting with front-line personnel.
It can be easy to lose the connection with the front-line staff, the ones who actually create value for the patient, and that's especially true in large or complex organizations. But there are techniques that help create the trust and transparency that build those relationships and, in turn, help leaders make better decisions for the organization.
Some of these include:
Communicate: Learn to communicate directly and often with your employees. Tear down the C-suite ivory tower. Be accessible to your employees—answer their e-mails, get out of your office and go where they are. Find opportunities to talk. Make opportunities to teach and build understanding of the issues your organization is facing—fill that information gap. Help them understand the “why” behind management's decisions.
Tell stories: As a leader, you're a teacher. Find the best way to make lessons resonate. Telling them as stories will make them memorable and shareable. Find great patient stories to share what the organization's decisions mean to patients. And show your employees how what they do, no matter what their job is, helped to support that patient in some way. It's inspirational. And it's true.
Be genuine: Don't just check the box. Mean it. Be hands-on. Take a walk in your front-line employees' shoes, try your hand at the jobs they do. It's a humbling and truly educational experience. You learn from them and they learn about you. Interacting and being open and genuine with front-line employees helps them see you as a regular person—one who cares. Sharing with them lets them see that you have a life outside of work and makes you someone they can relate to.
And get to know them, too. Then when you make decisions for your organization, you'll find yourself much more conscientious about how those decisions will affect real people.
Expect accountability: Almost everyone welcomes more responsibility and authority, but with responsibility and authority comes accountability (my three-legged stool). I tell our new managers “miss your numbers once, you won't be around to miss them a second time.” That may sound harsh, but giving a pass on poor performance means the organization suffers and people may lose their jobs.
Great leaders also embrace accountability for themselves. Expect your board to hold you accountable, and don't allow excuses or blame-shifting to enter into it. Hold yourself to the same high standards that you hold your team to, and on down the line.
Take care of your people: Remember that employees are people first. They have to take care of “me” before they can take care of the organization. Help them meet those outside needs by offering programs and personnel to assist them through personal struggles and even crisis situations.
Give them a sense of security by focusing on preserving their jobs. Labor is an organization's biggest expense and so is usually the first area to get cut. But make it the absolute last. Look for strategic ways to eliminate unneeded expenses instead. A “no layoffs” philosophy can free your employees to help you find the smartest ways to reduce costs and improve quality, instead of being distracted by the “me” concern of their own jobs being cut.
Simply put, you must protect and serve your people. Teaching and communicating, being both a cheerleader and a disciplinarian, are all a part of that. If you take care of your people, they will take care of you as their leader.