Respect for Staff and Community is Key to Institutional Reputation

Respect. The word evokes meanings that tend to be very personal. Both Fred and our guest author, Bill McFaul, offer their perspectives. I’m going to take a slightly different perspective. What about respect for the institution? I am seeing a great deal of disillusion regarding the healthcare provider institution.

I started in healthcare when I accepted a position with American Scientific Products. In the beginning it was just that, a position. I was carrying a tool bag, fixing instruments in hospital clinical labs. However, one of the tactics I used to learn and diffuse a bad situation (it’s not a good day when you have to call the repair man) was to ask the users pointed technical questions about the cells or microorganisms that the analyzers analyzed. This engaged the users and flattered them by showing interest in their area of expertise. Often, they would get interested and begin asking questions about how the analyzer used mechanics and electronics to product the results. Once a lab manager and I were discussing a lubricant, and we noticed that the label indicated that there was Teflon in the petroleum suspension. He prepared a slide and we confirmed the tiny flakes of Teflon floating in the oil. A mutual respect for each other’s abilities had emerged.

Another respect was emerging for me – respect for the hospital as an institution. We all literally improve and save lives every day. Without the lab tech and the repairman, a diagnosis wouldn’t be available. Without the supply chain team, the products and services needed would be too costly, disorganized and unavailable. Bill writes about the talent required of the future supply chain leader to garner respect. I also think there is a need to pay an inordinate amount of attention to culture setting. The pressures on hospitals today and the resulting changes have, in my observation, begun to take a toll on institutional respect.

Most are familiar with the catch phrase, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” So why then do we do some of the boneheaded, culture-damning things that we do? I observed a Targeted Voluntary Severance program rolled out at a health system. Only select people in select departments received a letter advising them about a one-time, lucrative severance offer that would expire in 30 days. Obviously the folks receiving the letter knew that they and their department were being “targeted.” I expect that this looked great on the strategic plan, but culturally, the institution lost a great deal of respect. I say the institution, because hospitals are community-based organizations. They care for people in a community and are typically one of the largest employers. How do you suppose the dinner conversations went as the “targets” spoke with friends and family? When choices are being made about which hospital to go to, basic respect for the individual would be pretty high on my list of criteria.

I share this observation because things like this make me angry. Even when they have no bearing on me personally, I am angered when senior leaders fail to take their culture-setting accountability seriously. Hospitals serve one of the most important purposes on earth. Our leadership must be as purposeful and earn the respect of the people we serve.

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