Ask Chuck: What's a hospital CEO to do when his team is flat-out tired?

Dear Chuck: I run a 350-bed hospital that is part of a mid-sized western health system, and I'm tired. Morale and therefore productivity among my medical staff is at an all-time low.

I think our new EMR has many docs dissatisfied, but I am unsure of what else is bugging them. We're doing OK financially and delivering quality healthcare to our patients, but I look around at my fellow leaders and I just don't see much belief in what they are doing or pride in the institution and the care we deliver. We have talented people, but there is a lot of negativity and lack of innovative ideas at a time when we need to innovate. How can I turn this situation around?

My friend, I am sorry to hear all of this, but not surprised. Recent data from the American College of Healthcare Executives tells us that a record number of CEOs are leaving their positions and many are either retiring or seeking similar positions in other industries. I hear there is a lot of turnover of COOs, CMOs, CNOs, etc., too. Healthcare is going through one of the most disruptive periods in its history, and senior executives may have change fatigue.

You need passion, stamina and courage to take the kinds of risks you must take today. Medicare rate cuts, bundled payments, ACOs, newly employed physicians, provider-sponsored health plans, patient self pay challenges — all are facing leaders today, on top of the age-old issues of keeping an institution afloat with low margins and high costs.
  
So what to do?

One thing I would ask is how much time you spend with your people. If you aren't mentoring your team, it is hard to see how you can keep them energized and enthusiastic. You need to build up a formal program of mentorship across the enterprise.
 
Communication is one of the most important skills a leader needs. You have to learn to communicate effectively and often. Build time into every day you are on campus to meet with someone on your team. Lead by example in being out on the "shop floor," meeting with frontline staff and patients during leadership rounds.

Spend more time one on one with department heads, laying out your vision for your organization and making sure each leader understands his or her role in carrying out that mission. Remind people of why they got into this business instead of finance or law: to make a difference in the lives of patients and build healthier communities.

Leadership retreats are a key means of building a cohesive team. It isn't about golf or family time. It is a chance to get away from the daily grind and do team-building exercises. Allow people to express frustration and share challenges, but guide the conversation toward positive ways to carry out needed change.

So my friend, what you have is a communications problem that has led to low organizational energy and morale. Get out there and start the conversations that will help you get a good organization — and yourself — back on track.

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a regular feature in which Charles Lauer, the former publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine and now a consultant and public speaker, offers guidance and feedback to readers' questions and challenges in his column. To submit a question or topic, please email chuck@chucklauer.com. Unless you specifically give permission, your name and any identifying information will be kept confidential.

 


 

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