Live From ACHE: Vision Revision

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 11, 2008
"Mission" and "vision" are words that I hear a lot from healthcare leaders. But, as I heard yesterday at the American College for Healthcare Executive's annual conference, a leader's ability (or inability) to give the organizational mission meaning for all employees is what will make or break an organization's success during times of adversity.

George Masi, executive vice president and COO of Harris County Hospital District in Houston, TX, knows adversity first-hand.

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, his organization treated more than 17,000 misplaced patients in a virtual hospital in Houston's Astrodome. Their rescue efforts tested hospital resources and staff like no other event in the organization's history, Masi said. And it was Harris County's "quiet leaders"--staff not in official leadership roles--who made the effort successful.

Hospital executives don't really know who their true leaders are until they are faced with adversity, Masi told ACHE attendees; leaders will be pleased, surprised, and disappointed by who rises to the top at those times. So, as leaders prepare their staffs and organizations for everyday challenges, they must ensure the mission has meaning for each and every employee.

But how do you make 30 or so words that sound good on paper matter to your shipping staff, billers, and housekeepers?

"Chunk down the vision," Masi said; that is, rework and reword the mission for each employee so it has meaning for them and their jobs. This may sound almost sacrilegious to leaders who have spent months word-smithing their mission statements, but, as Masi said, it's not. "You have the right and prerogative to retool the vision so that it has relevance to the people working with you," Masi said.

Organizations spend so much time crafting the perfect mission statement they often lose sight of what the words in that statement actually mean. Part of your job as leaders is to make the vision something everyone can relate to on an ongoing basis. How well you do that will determine how well your organization fares during times of adversity.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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