How University Hospitals' CEO is turning the page on work culture

Cliff Megerian, MD, CEO of Cleveland-based University Hospitals, launched a book club for employees in 2022. Today, Cliff's Notes: A UH Book Club, which is named after Dr. Megerian, continues to evolve and grow.

"It's really become a place for a widely diverse group of our 32,000 caregivers that gather at this juncture once a month and pick from one or sometimes both books that were selected by the group at the last meeting," Dr. Megerian told Becker's.

The book club began in June 2022, when the first meeting was held via Zoom. It had its first in-person meeting in December 2022.

Dr. Megerian said the origins of the book club go back to his passion for reading. He wanted to share some of his favorite books with workers. 

University Hospitals board member Steve Potash is president and CEO of OverDrive, a company he founded in 1986 that provides a digital reading platform for ebooks, audiobooks and other digital media, and told Dr. Megerian that his company could provide a stream of books for a book club.

UH spokesperson Lisa Riordan told Becker's that Dr. Megerian recommends titles to book club participants, in addition to accepting suggestions from the UH book club committee. Employees receive a "Cliff pick" and a "committee pick" monthly. Book club participants then discuss the two books at a later meeting. 

Employees can also access the "pick of the month" books via a website or OverDrive's Libby mobile app, Ms. Riordan said. Additionally, there is a web page on the UH intranet for the book club where people can post thoughts about the titles they are reading. 

Since the club launched, as many as 50 employees have participated in a meeting, although approximately 15-20 employees attend a typical meeting, according to Ms. Riordan. Since its inception, Cliff's Notes: A UH Book Club has had more than 3,500 book checkouts, with a 44% increase from 2022 to 2023, and participants have read dozens of books. For two features — "Strategy That Works" by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi and "Dream Town" by Laura Mecker — the authors spoke to book club participants. 

"What happens at these meetings is that everyone takes off their work clothes, if you will, whether they're president, vice president or they work in the cafeteria," said Dr. Megerian. "It's a  place where all opinions are equal. And as you could probably imagine, if you've ever been in a book club, it becomes a self-perpetuating group where what evolves amongst the group is trust, mutual respect."

He said the trust that's gained at the book club meetings — where there are sometimes intense discussions as people give their opinions and perceptions of a book — has overall elevated the culture of University Hospitals.

"Whether it's the CEO or whether it is anyone else in the organization, …that person's opinion matters. And I think this also has helped elevate one of my goals …of creating a speak-up culture where people feel empowered to speak up when they sense that something needs to be called out, something needs to be changed," Dr. Megerian added.

In 2024, the book club is moving to a schedule of meetings every other month rather than every month, to allow more time for participants to read both books before another meeting. The book club is also striving to read books that have a high chance of authors being able to attend to talk about their work. A potluck dinner will also be held at every other meeting in 2024.

"Many of the themes of the books we read involve things like leadership, treating others with respect, compassion toward each other and patience," Dr. Megerian said. "Some of the books revolve around leadership and the notion of how leaders put themselves last at times. 

"And sometimes these are manifested through maybe reading a biography of a wonderful leader, and there is a side effect that can happen from the discussions and the readings and the realization of important principles that transcend that meeting. And allow the CEO to have yet another mechanism of explaining why we do things and why we have to stick to our strategic plan." 

Ms. Riordan said the next book club meeting is in February in conjunction with Black History Month, and book club participants will be reading "Medical Apartheid" by Harriet Washington and "The Three Mothers" by Anna Tubbs.

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