Quint Studer: Mastering the Fine Art of Follow-Up

Healthcare CEOs today face a remarkably complex environment. The changing external landscape can be daunting, making it all the more critical a hospital or health system's internal operations are seamless. Additionally, because of the large number of priorities that must be balanced by an institution's CEO, he or she must rely on a number of other senior leaders and managers to oversee all the various projects going on simultaneously.

A CEO's performance flourishes when he or she has great lieutenants who perform at the highest level. According to Quint Studer, founder of Studer Group, that's likely to happen when all parties — top leaders, managers and employees at every level — are on the same page. And a big part of making this happen comes down to how well managers and the people they supervise communicate.

Mr. Studer, who has long advised healthcare leaders on performance improvement, makes his first foray into providing guidance directly to employees in his upcoming book, "The Great Employee Handbook" (Fire Starter Publishing, available in October). A big part of the book is aimed at helping employees in every industry take ownership of their communication with their supervisors (a critical facet of great organizational performance) as well as in other areas of their job.

"Employees aren't sure what the boss wants and are hesitant to inundate the boss with details about a project, says Mr. Studer. "At the same time, the boss wants more information without having to ask or micromanage.

These differing expectations can cause communication breakdowns, Mr. Studer points out. However, such situations can be minimized when leaders encouraging employees to master what he calls, "the fine art of follow-up." Here are a few tips to share with employees:

1. When you receive an assignment, repeat it back. Repeat your understanding of an assignment back to the person who assigned it to you, either in person or through a quick email summary of the project. Doing so will unsure the project begins in the right direction. "Often employees think they hear one thing when the boss may mean another," says Mr. Studer.

Additionally, the "repeating back" technique may help supervisors realize they failed to provide key details of an assignment.

2. Always confirm timing and budget. Although timing and budget restrictions seem a necessary part of any project, supervisors may often assign exploratory projects without providing a deadline or budget guidelines, says Mr. Studer. This can result in unnecessary effort and expense.

"Without specifics, employees tend to want to make the results better than the boss really needs," he says. "They don't want to under-do it — which in itself is an admirable mindset — so they overdo it instead. Sometimes progress is the goal, not perfection."

The bottom line? If the supervisor doesn’t assign a deadline or budget guidelines up front, it’s best for employees to ask about them.

3. Proactively report project status. Employees should provide status reports frequently and should not assume the boss is too busy for frequent reports. "Bosses want to be apprised of a project's status without having to ask," says Mr. Studer. "Keep sharing where you're at on the to-do list and confirm you're on the right track.

If for some reason a project has to be put on hold or something doesn't go as planned, let everyone associated with the project know right away. For example, Mr. Studer shares an example of a nurse manager who told her department that a piece of equipment would be delivered on a certain day. The nurse manager was later informed it would be delayed but failed to share that information. A week after the scheduled date of arrival, her superiors and staff members finally asked where the equipment was.

“At that point the leader had already lost a week's worth of credibility," says Mr. Studer. “This could have been avoided if she had just checked in regularly with the boss.”

4. If in doubt, ask. Employees are often worried about bothering the boss with questions that come up during a project. However, it's better to ask than to make the call yourself and have it end up being the wrong decision, says Mr. Studer. He provides an example: a vendor contract comes in higher than the budget allocated for it, but the vendor has included value-added services outside the scope of the project. Rather than assume it should be thrown out, ask the supervisor for input.

"Sometimes employees don't know all that there is to know," says Mr. Studer. "It's better to ask than to make assumptions."

5. Don't give up until you've tried everything. If a project runs into trouble, prepare a Plan B, says Mr. Studer.  Come at the problem from every angle you can think of before you admit defeat. "

Mr. Studer said he was once asked to secure a meeting with a female physician that a health system wanted to recruit, and he could not get her to return his calls. He decided to think outside the box and sent her a dozen roses. She called back immediately.

"I can't do it is not acceptable," he says. "If you run into a wall, don't go back to your boss with the failure. Exhaust all possibilities first. That’s what taking ownership really means.”


Quint Studer is founder and CEO of Studer Group, a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He is a recognized leader and change agent in the healthcare industry and has more than 20 years of healthcare experience. Learn more about Studer Group.
Healthcare CEOs today face a remarkably complex environment. The changing external landscape can be daunting, making it all the more critical a hospital or health system's internal operations are seamless. Additionally, because of the large number of priorities that must be balanced by an institution's CEO, he or she must rely on a number of other senior leaders and managers to oversee all the various projects going on simultaneously.

A CEO's performance flourishes when he or she has great lieutenants who perform at the highest level. According to Quint Studer, founder of Studer Group, that's likely to happen when all parties — top leaders, managers and employees at every level — are on the same page. And a big part of making this happen comes down to how well managers and the people they supervise communicate.

Mr. Studer, who has long advised healthcare leaders on performance improvement, makes his first foray into providing guidance directly to employees in his upcoming book, "The Great Employee Handbook" (Fire Starter Publishing, available in October). A big part of the book is aimed at helping employees in every industry take ownership of their communication with their supervisors (a critical facet of great organizational performance) as well as in other areas of their job.

"Employees aren't sure what the boss wants and are hesitant to inundate the boss with details about a project, says Mr. Studer. "At the same time, the boss wants more information without having to ask or micromanage.

These differing expectations can cause communication breakdowns, Mr. Studer points out. However, such situations can be minimized when leaders encouraging employees to master what he calls, "the fine art of follow-up." Here are a few tips to share with employees:

1. When you receive an assignment, repeat it back. Repeat your understanding of an assignment back to the person who assigned it to you, either in person or through a quick email summary of the project. Doing so will unsure the project begins in the right direction. "Often employees think they hear one thing when the boss may mean another," says Mr. Studer.

Additionally, the "repeating back" technique may help supervisors realize they failed to provide key details of an assignment.

2. Always confirm timing and budget. Although timing and budget restrictions seem a necessary part of any project, supervisors may often assign exploratory projects without providing a deadline or budget guidelines, says Mr. Studer. This can result in unnecessary effort and expense.
"Without specifics, employees tend to want to make the results better than the boss really needs," he says. "They don't want to under-do it—which in itself is an admirable mindset—so they overdo it instead. Sometimes progress is the goal, not perfection."

The bottom line? If the supervisor doesn’t assign a deadline or budget guidelines up front, it’s best for employees to ask about them.

3. Proactively report project status. Employees should provide status reports frequently and should not assume the boss is too busy for frequent reports. "Bosses want to be apprised of a project's status without having to ask," says Mr. Studer. "Keep sharing where you're at on the to-do list and confirm you're on the right track.

If for some reason a project has to be put on hold or something doesn't go as planned, let everyone associated with the project know right away. For example, Mr. Studer shares an example of a nurse manager who told her department that a piece of equipment would be delivered on a certain day. The nurse manager was later informed it would be delayed but failed to share that information. A week after the scheduled date of arrival, her superiors and staff members finally asked where the equipment was.

“At that point the leader had already lost a week's worth of credibility," says Mr. Studer. “This could have been avoided if she had just checked in regularly with the boss.”

4. If in doubt, ask. Employees are often worried about bothering the boss with questions that come up during a project. However, it's better to ask than to make the call yourself and have it end up being the wrong decision, says Mr. Studer. He provides an example: a vendor contract comes in higher than the budget allocated for it, but the vendor has included value-added services outside the scope of the project. Rather than assume it should be thrown out, ask the supervisor for input.

"Sometimes employees don't know all that there is to know," says Mr. Studer. "It's better to ask than to make assumptions."

5. Don't give up until you've tried everything. If a project runs into trouble, prepare a Plan B, says Mr. Studer.  Come at the problem from every angle you can think of before you admit defeat. "

Mr. Studer said he was once asked to secure a meeting with a female physician that a health system wanted to recruit, and he could not get her to return his calls. He decided to think outside the box and sent her a dozen roses. She called back immediately.

"I can't do it is not acceptable," he says. "If you run into a wall, don't go back to your boss with the failure. Exhaust all possibilities first. That’s what taking ownership really means.”


Quint Studer is founder and CEO of Studer Group, a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He is a recognized leader and change agent in the healthcare industry and has more than 20 years of healthcare experience. Learn more about Studer Group.

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