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Healthcare's Misunderstood Values

Jim Molpus, for HealthLeaders Media, August 5, 2009

"Hire for Values": Step 5 of the HealthLeaders 09: Hospital of the Future "Talent" Panel

Try this trick to see if your hospital staff's values are consistent. Have them write down their values from the usual list of values "keywords" that hospitals use. Then ask them how they would describe their hospital to a friend applying for a job. You'd be surprised at the different results, says Joe Tye, author of "The Florence Prescription: From Accountability to Ownership," and a featured "Talent" panelist at the HealthLeaders 09: Hospital of the Future Now conference.

"The answer is always totally different," Tye says, "and the answer always tells you more about what your values are than what they put down on paper."

Hospitals may want to hire for skills first, but what binds the staff together as a whole are the values they share. The first step in creating a set of common values is to select the values that apply to your healthcare organization. "The first thing is getting clear what your values are. A number of hospitals take some phony acronym like ‘WECARE' and force fit words into it, or they write down what they think everybody expects," Tye says.

"Very few hospitals have authentic value statements," he adds. "One insurance company I know says one of their values is hard work, and another is loyalty. I don't know of a hospital anywhere that has come out and said their values are hard work and loyalty."

Tye cautions against trying to select values from a list of common ones all hospitals would have. "First of all values define who you are, what you stand for and what makes you special."

Another misconception is that one set of values is replicated through the culture of the hospital, he says. A leader must recognize the cultural differences between the night shift and day shift, and the ED nurses and the OR nurses.

"Be very clear what are the elements of culture, because a hospital does not have a single culture: it is the ultimate multi-cultural enterprise. Like Southwest Airlines, the pillar of their culture is fun, and they have a different culture in Phoenix or Poughkeepsie or wherever they fly to. But everywhere their expectation is they are going to be lighthearted and have fun."

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