Why CEOs prefer these interactions in person

For hospitals and health systems, communication with employees is crucial, especially amid today's workforce, financial and operational challenges. Although the pandemic has increased dependence on electronic and virtual communication, hospital and health system leaders continue to place high value on face-to-face conversations.

Becker's asked healthcare executives to share the interactions they prioritize when they are in person at their organizations. Here are their responses:

Michael Dowling. President and CEO of Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): I believe that constant communication is imperative — on vision, on strategy and on operational issues. It must be positive and inspirational. It's about appealing to people's heads and their hearts. Technology is certainly an important communications tool, but we should not overuse it. In-person meetings like town halls and other face-to-face gatherings where staff can interact directly are crucial. We hold such meetings routinely — and I make it a priority to attend. 

I also make frequent, unscheduled visits to our facilities, walking the floors and informally talking to staff on the front lines, which gives me a much clearer picture as to what's going on and how we can make things better. All leaders should make it a point of regularly engaging with their staff and using that face time to take the pulse of their organizations.

All of us also need to recognize and value the increased diversity within the healthcare workforce, which I observe every Monday when I meet and welcome all new employees at an orientation we call "Beginnings." We now see about 350 new team members each week. I make it a priority to speak with them because it gives them an immediate sense of the organization's culture and values.

Marc Gorelick, MD. President and CEO of Children's Minnesota (Minneapolis): As we approach three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of how we collaborate with our teams have changed. Hundreds of our nonclinical employees were transitioned to permanently remote and some of our clinical staff have the option to perform administrative work remotely. However, besides virtual care visits, providing care happens in person. For this reason, our executives and senior leaders at Children's Minnesota spend the majority of our time in the hospitals and clinics. As leaders, it's important for us to be there to support and really listen to our employees as they care for patients. We round with our clinical teams to hear about their achievements and help them problem-solve challenges. They have been asked to give a lot over the last nearly three years and they deserve to know that we are present and here for them. It's also important for leadership teams to have in-person time with each other to build and sustain the trusting relationships needed to lead in uncertain and challenging times.

Tom Jackiewicz. President of University of Chicago Medical Center and COO of UChicago Medicine: There is no doubt virtual meetings have become a part of our professional world. But in-person interactions — from structured meetings and rounding to sharing impromptu moments with a colleague in a hallway — inherently foster a sense of community and camaraderie. 

I make it a point to be on UChicago Medicine's campus daily. It's essential that executive leaders maintain an in-person presence given that what we provide — medical care to patients and the community — requires onsite activity. I make time to round and meet physicians and other care team members. In a time of troubling clinician burnout rates and labor shortages, having representatives of the C-suite physically present shows physicians and front-line staff that we're in lockstep with them. Actions absolutely can speak louder than words.  

I also meet each week with my team of direct reports to tackle a variety of mission-critical operational and administrative issues. It's also a time for us to build rapport. I firmly believe that helps to make us a more cohesive and effective team. And I hope that cascades throughout the health system.

E.J. Kuiper. President and CEO of CHI Health (Omaha): The pandemic changed the way we work, but it hasn't changed the value in human interaction. We've all adapted and adjusted how we do business and for some, fully remote or hybrid work models have become effective. We have found a balance between accommodating the talent in an evolving labor landscape while also continuing to respond to the challenges the healthcare industry presents. 

While many meetings remain effective via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms, I've found that some interactions remain better in person. An example of that is recognizing and praising staff for their contributions and dedication. CHI Health recently treated our 15,000 employees in the Midwest Division to a free meal as a way to express our gratitude for their tireless efforts during a challenging month. While our leadership team couldn't sit at every table with them, this gesture was a way to interact "three dimensionally," with an act of appreciation that goes beyond a simple message of thanks. 

This holiday season, I am also embracing the opportunity to spend quality, face-to-face time with our employees, medical staff, board members and benefactors. Through luncheons, parties and other interactions, it is my goal to serve as an example of the very business we are in: the business of taking care of people. The human connection is what compassionate healthcare is all about.

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