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Are You Breeding Contempt?

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media, September 5, 2008

I hear a lot about establishing a "team" atmosphere in hospitals. Whether you're trying to build a better workplace environment, improve your quality, or mend your finances, a key element to just about every hospital improvement effort involves a team approach.

Employees may read the companywide newsletter, e-mail alerts, and bulletins about standards of care and hospital best practices, but perhaps more importantly they are also watching how the senior executives embody the organizational culture.

If the executive offices have the best views in the organization, the nicest bathrooms, and the finest food, you may be sending the wrong message to your staff. Namely, that your comfort is more important than the comfort of your patients. Do you really need the lakeside panoramic views? Some hospital CEOs are saying, no. They're trading their picturesque views for offices overlooking the parking lot, or relocating their executive suites to the lower levels of the hospital and freeing up the prime real estate for patients. The message to the staff: Patients are the No. 1 priority.

Similarly, do you pause to escort a lost patient or visitor to their destination? Do you have a preferred parking spot, or do you park with the rest of the employees? Do you eat in the hospital cafeteria? In the grand scheme of running a hospital these things may seem pretty insignificant. They aren't going to help you improve your revenue, reduce mortality rates, or increase market share. Or, are they?

These small acts can help you earn the respect of your employees by showing them that the same rules and expectations that apply to the nurses, physicians, technicians, and other staff apply to the senior executives, as well. People want to work for leaders and companies that they can respect. And once established, this atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration can lead to big rewards. For example, increased employee satisfaction and retention can lead to a more engaged work force, which can lead to improved patient outcomes and satisfaction scores, resulting in better reimbursement.

If employees believe that patients are the priority and see that you are actively working to improve employee satisfaction, quality scores, and hospital finances, they will gladly join your effort. But if employees think that all the talk about teamwork and collaboration is just that—talk—and that nothing has changed, or worse yet, quality scores and patient volumes or satisfaction rates have actually declined, you're probably not going to get much support for your efforts.

Editor's Note: Every year, we have the unique opportunity to hear how senior-level healthcare executives are overcoming challenges through our annual Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare awards program. If you would like to learn more about these successes, please join us in Chicago October 16 and 17 for our Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare Conference, which features more than 40 senior-level healthcare leaders.


Carrie Vaughan is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at cvaughan@healthleadersmedia.com.
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