When I speak at conferences, am interviewed by the media, or when I run into colleagues, one of the topics is almost always consolidation.
Baylor Scott & White Health made news nearly 2½ years ago when it was born from the merger of Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare.
So many of us in healthcare are facing big decisions right now for our respective organizations. Should we partner? With whom should we partner? What are the most important qualities in a partner? And what is non-negotiable?
My advice is simple: Your most important asset is your people. So the one thing you cannot risk losing is your organization's positive culture, which helps retain your best and brightest.
What everyone first needs to do is identify exactly what makes your culture positive and unique. After we announced our intent to merge, and before we signed the definitive agreement, we hired a third-party firm to perform a cultural audit. There was nothing more important than ensuring we could preserve the cultures of both organizations built over the past century. Prior to the merger and since, we have walked away from deals and partnerships after realizing the other organization would not be a cultural fit.
One of the most important things I did as a young CEO was to do more listening than talking. Get out of your office, walk the halls and engage with the people who make up the organization. Hear what they are saying. Many of us lead organizations that attract employees with a sense of calling. We need to recognize and encourage it. To do that, we created a program at Baylor Scott & White called Sacred Vocation. It encourages all employees to nurture their spirit to serve and heal. We created a broader program named Faith in Action Initiatives, also powered by employees. It is dedicated to sending resources to people in need in our communities and around the world. We not only built these programs, we talk about them constantly.
That highlights the importance of creating communication strategies that help further enhance and preserve the culture. We tell stories about our employees going above and beyond, through a booklet we create and distribute each year around Thanksgiving. We created a CEO Award of Excellence to spotlight those in the organization who epitomize our culture of servanthood, and we feature their inspiring stories in videos. And I make it a point to read letters from grateful patients in organizational meetings as often as possible.
In addition, we have created a rigorous, two-day employee orientation with focused lessons on the history of our organization and its mission and values. We have created leadership classes in behavioral hiring for our managers, teaching them to screen candidates in the right ways. We encourage managers to hold structured discussions with their new employees 30 and 90 days after their hire, giving them specific questions to consider, including, “Is there any reason that you feel this is not the right place for you?” And we hold people accountable to living our values through a robust performance-review program. All are designed to ensure the cultural compatibility of those we bring on board.
Organizations also need to establish some “non-negotiables” for employees and the organization to follow, and refer to them regularly. We have four: Put the patient at the center of all we do; stay true to our mission; live our values; and do the right thing for the right reason. It is amazing how many debates about what course of action to take in a tough situation can be easily resolved by these non-negotiables. These tenets guide how we think, behave and care for our patients. And as leaders, we must always walk the talk.
This certainly is the time of greatest and fastest change that I have ever seen in my 40-plus-year career. But as every assumption in the industry is being challenged, I believe one thing holds true: Healthcare is about people. And while it is important for all of us to grow and evolve, we cannot, in the process, forsake the foundations upon which our organizations are built.