The advice CEOs put to use in their 1st year on the job

A number of hospitals and health systems appointed new CEOs early last year. Though these CEOs were new to the role and maybe even to the organization, they brought with them past experiences and lessons learned from others, which they were able to use to be a part of meaningful change during their first months on the job. 

Becker's asked CEOs who have been in their roles for less than a year and a half to respond to the question, "What advice did you receive that led to meaningful change during their first year at the organization?"

Here's how they responded. 

Editor's note: Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Brian Canfield. President and CEO of Blessing Health System (Quincy, Ill.): First impressions are lasting impressions. Set the direction/strategy for the next year and beyond. Welcome feedback from all sources, internal and external. Empower leaders to be leaders and be accountable for their actions. Listen, listen and listen more. Communicate, communicate and communicate more. Make informed and timely decisions and stand behind them. Always keep the board informed.

These are lessons from my time in the Army at various stages of my career, military and non-military professional education, American College of Healthcare Executives education that I attended, and demonstrated lessons from a few key leaders with whom I worked that were much smarter than me.

Buffy Key. CEO of Cookeville (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center: Listening and being aware of the organization is so important as you enter into a new role in leadership. With this awareness, you can see what needs to be prioritized. As CEO of Cookeville Regional Medical Center, I have spent time refreshing and reestablishing relationships, programs and employee morale. If we focus on our people, they will care for our patients even better. If we rebuild relationships, they will be our biggest cheerleader. If we see the needs of our community, we can help build a healthier community for them.

Ric Ransom. CEO of MU Health Care (Columbia, Mo.): I received some advice from Alan Kaplan, MD, CEO of Madison-based University of Wisconsin Health, that has been invaluable to me in my first year at the University of Missouri Health Care. Alan and I were having a conversation about being able to delegate effectively to the teams that we work with in the C-suite. As part of that conversation, Alan suggested that I ask myself three questions to help evaluate if a project or initiative required my direct involvement or if it would be best to have another leader on my team drive the work. The questions are:

1. Am I the only person who can do this?

2. Am I the best person to do this?

3. Am I considering getting involved primarily because I am interested in it or because I like the subject matter?

Asking myself these questions when looking at major initiatives has helped me best support the work of our amazing team. A recent example of this is our successful integration with Jefferson City, Mo.-based Capital Region Medical Center. Alan's advice has helped me to become more deliberate and effective in how I support their work.

Jason Rounds. President and CEO of San Juan Regional Medical Center (Farmington, N.M.): The best advice I received was to increase communication across all parts of the organization, beginning with active listening. I was fortunate to join an organization that was not in trouble, allowing me the opportunity to gather insights from the community, our medical staff, and our caregivers. This approach enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the environment and culture, dispelling many of my initial assumptions. It also helped me to focus on initiatives and strategies that will have a longer-term impact.

Nathan Staggs. CEO of WhidbeyHealth (Coupeville, Wash.): I've been doing small turnaround hospitals for about 20 years now. So it's kind of an overarching theme. But one of the things that one of my board members told me when I came here that has led to the most change was, "Nothing's untouchable. Don't be afraid to change anything necessary and look at every area, and do what we need to do to survive and continue to be successful." And knowing that and having that limit removed made it a lot easier to make the changes we need to make. 

I've been some places that were a little bit the opposite. "Oh, we're not touching that. And no, we're not changing that. And no, that's the way we've always done it." But I think when I came here, the board was understanding that they needed a lot of changes and were willing to let me make those changes as necessary. 

Bradley Talbert. President and CEO of Memorial Health (Savannah, Ga.): Entering a new CEO role, it is typically commonplace to feel the urge to immediately address opportunities with speed to gather a few "quick wins" and gain the trust and confidence of others in your leadership, while rapidly making an impact. However, this is not always the best approach. Take the time to assess people, process and structure when you arrive. Ask why things are done the way they are. Learn why certain people are in the roles that they are. Understand the organization top to bottom, and bottom to top. Reach out to staff in all areas of the organization, listen to their thoughts. Listen to community stakeholders, physicians, board members, volunteers. Soak it all in. I have heard the saying, "Be curious, not judgmental." It is certainly applicable and is incredibly important when entering a new CEO role. There will be plenty of time to make changes that you identify in people, structure, and process. But take the time to learn the organization before beginning to make those changes.

As I reflect on my nine months as CEO, we have made significant change across the organization. However, nothing was sudden or immediate. It was deliberate, after a methodical assessment of people, process and structure.

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