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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System
7 November, 2011 Posted by John G. Self
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19 September, 2017 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management, Onboarding
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An Executive’s Disastrous Start In A New Job

Posted September 19th, 2017 | Author: John G. Self

“My takeaway from my new employee orientation experience is that it is the place where you go to learn how to be fired,” a Vice President said.

Mary Elizabeth’s first day on the job as the new Chief Nursing Executive for a suburban hospital was a disaster. It only went down hill from there.

As soon as she accepted the position, she gave her former employer a 30-day notice and immediately confirmed her start date with her new the boss, the Chief Executive Officer. He told her that his team would follow up, but there was no contact from the hospital until a week before the start date. She received an email from the Chief Human Resource Officer who explained the CEO had been away on vacation and instructed Mary Elizabeth to report to his office at 8:30 AM on her start date. That was it.

When she walked in on that first Monday, the CEO’s surprised executive assistant explained that her boss and his leadership team were in a meeting until noon. She began to feel like no one was expecting her.

The assistant called the facility manager to escort Mary Elizabeth to the newly renovated nursing administration suite that had been relocated from its previous location across the hall from the executive offices. The new offices were very nice – spacious, freshly painted and re-carpeted. There was just one problem: no furniture, no computer, no telephone, and no computer network wall outlets, and no assistant to help her get organized. The previous CNO’s executive assistant had apperently resigned three weeks prior.

The facility manager said the person in his office who coordinated office logistics was out on maternity leave and was not scheduled to return for two or three weeks. “Welcome to the team,” he said almost perfunctorily, “And good luck with all of this.”

Mary Elizabeth spent most of the first day on her own, filling out paperwork for a new assistant, making a list of office supplies she would need, talking to the telecommunications department about when they could get her on the network – no one had submitted a work order – figuring out where to have lunch, and going to get her new employee badge and parking tags. As she was returning from HR she heard her name paged, dialed the number and was connected with her boss. “I am sorry about the confusion. I thought you were coming in next Monday and have not had time to make the announcement about your first day. Let’s get together on Wednesday for lunch.”

When she arrived on Wednesday she found that her lunch meeting was cancelled – an emergency board meeting on a financial matter – and by the time she finished her new employee orientation the following Tuesday, Mary Elizabeth sadly concluded that being an executive in this organization was all about figuring it out for yourself. Her colleagues on the senior team seemed friendly enough but they were not overly helpful with her transition. With the exception of meetings, everyone seemed to remain in their silos. As she was driving home that night thinking about her initial experiences, Mary Elizabeth was struck by the thought that her new organization seemed so different from the one she saw during the interviews.

Seventy-eight days into her new role, after dealing with repeated surprises – material issues within nursing and the hospital’s financial position that were not disclosed in the recruitment process – she met with her boss to present her letter of resignation.

Now the hospital would have to begin the costly and disruptive process of searching for a new chief nursing executive yet again, the third time in five years.

While Mary Elizabeth’s story fortunately represents the rare and extreme dysfunction in new employee transition, it is clear, based on interviews with dozens new executives that many healthcare organizations have not invested in comprehensive onboarding that can protect against costly employee turnover. Even those healthcare organizations that say they have onboarding programs are missing the point. More often than not, it amounts to little more than online pre-employment administrative functions. This lack of buy-in to good onboarding is surprising on two fronts: first, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are among the most complex human organizations ever created and, second, buy-in can significantly reduce costly employee turnover in the first 24 months at a time when controlling expenses is a strategic imperative.

When you ask many hospital executives about onboarding they immediately revert to describing their employee orientation process. The agendas for these frequently mind-numbing events are packed with completing forms, listening to dull presentations on the policy book – the dos and don’ts – the benefits package, various videos, and individuals promoting other employee-focused programs. “My takeaway from my new employee orientation experiences is that they are the place where you go to learn how to be fired,” a newly appointed hospital vice president said. “Most are the same.”

While most employee engagement and transition consultants agree on the definition of onboarding, very few agree on when it should begin, the scope and contents of what the process should include or even how long the process should last.

For Mary Elizabeth, she was facing a significant challenge – to explain the short tenure and avoid allowing this mistake to derail her career.

Next: Recommendations for Onboarding

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© 2017 John Gregory Self

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14 September, 2017 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Leadership
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The Importance of the Internal Communications Role in the C-Suite

Posted September 14th, 2017 | Author: John G. Self

As times change, jobs morph into something new. Industries like health care, facing a unique set of financial, regulatory and political challenges, are seeing new jobs emerge while some existing staff positions are taking on more responsibility and are playing a more strategic role.

One of those positions, Internal Communications, is becoming an important strategic partner for the Chief Executive Officer and other members of the C-suite. Given the employee engagement challenges many businesses face, this cannot happen soon enough. In far too many organizations, the job of internal communications has been assigned to someone in PR — a good writer who also held several other responsibilities. They were buried in the organization and had little or no responsibility for strategy or contact with the “brass” in the C-suite. In essence, internal communications was an important after thought, not a valuable resource for the CEO and his team to use in improving employee engagement.”

With industry consolidation in a number of business sectors, including healthcare, some executives are realizing that the role of internal communications is mission critical. Corporations with far-flung operations like Disney, Holland America cruise line, GE and others, long ago bought into the importance of this role. They invested in talent and technology to make this function an integral part of how they operate. It is not fluff, it’s substance.

Some smart healthcare CEOs are beginning to realize that if they want a more engaged and committed workforce, they must do a better job communicating — early and often — and they must provide conduits for feedback. This is not just a flack position responsible for publishing press releases designed to impress the workers. If that is what you think internal communications is all about, save your money. No, it is far more strategic, a resource for the CEO to use to improve his own performance.

When you realize that 70 percent of American workers say they are unengaged or only marginally engaged in their work, and that those people are probably already thinking about changing jobs, this position takes important financial considerations. When companies fail to communicate effectively, this contributes to employee turnover. The cost of turnover is damned expensive even though few companies report it on their income statements. Not reporting this expense is not reason to maintain the status quo.

A robust, effective internal communications strategy can enhance an organization’s recruiting brand which is essential if it hopes to attract the top employees who typically happen to be the top performers.

So, in highly competitive industries in highly competitive markets, there will be important winners and big losers. The winners will be those organizations with the best employees who are fully engaged in their work and their company.

And they also will be the organization with a best-in-class internal communications team. It is time for healthcare goes all in to engage their employees.

I am betting that health systems will begin looking for these communications champions sooner than later.

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© 2017 John Gregory Self

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13 September, 2017 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Leadership, Podcast
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7 Strategies to Avoid the Rumor Mill

Posted September 13th, 2017 | Author: John G. Self

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Today, our Big Idea for career management. We are continuing the theme we began in yesterday’s blog post — that there are more than a few very smart executives who are experts at leading turnarounds but have a blind spot when it comes to inoculating themselves against those who would go to great lengths to discredit or derail organizational change.

If there is one thing that is certain in business, it is that more people dislike and distrust change than embrace it.

The next certainty is that there are two levels of rumors, those that are internal to your own shop, and the far more threatening kind, the professional rumors that make the rounds at search firms and the peer group gossip sessions at state and national meetings. Both of these can be career limiting.

Given the tightening executive job markets in industries like healthcare facing disruption and consolidation, senior executives, especially those leading turnarounds, simply cannot afford to take the risk of ignoring these kinds of negative accusations or their ramifications.

Some employees are so invested in that which makes them comfortable — the status quo — that they will go to great lengths to say or do things that derail the change — even gossiping, lying and defaming the person leading the charge. They will deny until the cows come home that there is any reason for change, that things are really not broken. Even if they acknowledge that the organization is struggling they will still find a way to justify their insurgent-styled resistance. And, if suspected, they also will deny ever participating in that sort of negative behavior.

Chief Executive Officers, especially those strong, confident leaders who are willing to take on the biggest challenges, are particularly vulnerable to these negative tactics. It amazes me that sometimes the very smart people who lead turnarounds can be so unaware of the risks they face from the people who ferociously cling to the worn mantra, this is the way it has always been. 

It is not as if their weapons of resistance to change are new:

  • The CEO is having an affair with someone they work with
  • He or she was pushed out from their last organization for some bad behavior — they were abusive, creating a hostile work environment is common, or some undisclosed financial misstep
  • They financially drained the past organization with lavish expense account spending.
  • Then there is always this: People at the last job were glad to get rid of him or her, sort of an exclamation point to the other rumors

Whether the information is true has little bearing on whether people will buy the lie or how often it will be repeated throughout the organization.

Executives who cavalierly dismiss responding to these attacks, or who refuse to consider a proactive strategy to mitigate this nonsense before it gathers the patina of credibility, are running an unnecessary risk. Board members may ignore the rumors for a while but left unaddressed these issues can, over time, take on the cloak of truth as in where there is smoke, there must be fire.

Here are seven steps to immunize one’s self from these rumors or to minimize these distractions or outright attacks:

  1. Develop a master plan for the first 100 days of your administration. This plan should include immediate priorities, the process you will use to address longer-term issues, and a robust communications strategy. You must understand the issues. This is a critically important first step. To borrow words from Benjamin Franklin and others, If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. 
  2. Understand the culture you are inheriting. It may be dysfunctional, or even toxic, but it is from that mesh of human factors and behaviors you will build for change. Ignoring that reality is to place one’s tenure at unnecessary risk.
  3. Factor in one of nature’s natural laws: the more change that will be required to achieve success, the more resistance you will face, especially as you address the firmly entrenched sacred cows. For some on the team, these inappropriate values or behaviors will be defended as hallowed tenets not to be touched. Understand those issues and prepare in advance for the pushback.
  4. From day one, clearly establish a new set of individual and organizational values. Your personal and professional integrity must at the center. You must set the example, so be prepared to set a high bar in terms of honesty, transparency and consistency. Your every action and interaction with your team members will be under a microscope and no doubt questioned. I call this being behaviorally aware.Sometimes the most innocent of situations can produce the seed for rumors. A long-time friend tells a story that provides an excellent illustration that occurred shortly after he joined a prestigious church affiliated hospital in the south as a Vice President, his first leadership job. One night, as he was preparing to leave for the day, he noticed that one of the executive assistants in the administrative office was also leaving. It was late and the parking lots were not well lit. There had been some reports of burglaries around the hospital’s campus. He offered to walk her to her car — his own vehicle was parked nearby. She gladly accepted, saying that she was uncomfortable going to her car alone after dark. Once they arrived at her car, they chatted for a few minutes and then he left. This was on a Tuesday. On Friday his boss, the CEO, asked this new Vice President to drop by his office. What seemed like an innocent, in fact honorable act of kindness, had been observed by some fellow employees. The rumors were already beginning to circulate. The CEO asked him to explain what happened. Then he offered this friendly advice: “Next time, call security and ask them to escort her to her car. You have some challenges in your departments that will require change. You cannot afford to let others compromise who you are, to blunt those changes. Often it is an innocent act of kindness can bet twisted.”You must reinforce values at every step of the journey through what you say and how you act. Remember, no executive is bullet proof. Again, taking this for granted is an unnecessary risk.
  5. Be visible, be engaging, but be mindful. Phantom CEOs or other leaders who are rarely seen, or who engage their rank and file team members on an irregular basis, are particularly vulnerable to an undermining attack. Be visible and communicate. As you make rounds checking on the team, have talking points regarding values and change that you want to reinforce. Selling your ideas, your values and the new cultural guideposts is a critical part of a CEO’s job. Be willing to listen without judging. Correct the record when necessary but do it in a supportive way.
  6. Leaders are people and people have personal lives. When appropriate, and yes, there are times when it is appropriate, incorporate personal stories into your internal messaging to reinforce your values and beliefs. Rumors of marital infidelity are regrettably still one of the most common assault tools. The bigger the turnaround challenge, the more aggressive the defenders of the status quo will be. Be ethically and socially aware. Spouses should not be used as mere messaging props. They are our partners in life and in work. They can be an invaluable source of strength and counsel and their appropriate interactions with the organization can do much to support your personal values.
  7. Never let up. Being a leader means being consistent. The steps you take in terms of communication and setting the example are not responsibilities that you can ever retire to a closet shelf. Whether you lead a small organization in a rural community or a massively complex system in a big city, setting an ethical standard for performance and behavior, being a consistent and transparent communicator, are part of your everyday, from the halls of the office to the aisles of the grocery store you are, like it or not, a public figure. Do not take that for granted.

Now here are two other career management tips for this week:

First, your ability to effectively communicate is a critically essential leadership skill. If you feel that communicating — in writing or in front a small or large group — is not your strong set, then do something about it. There are a whole host of resources that are available to help you compensate.

Second, if you agree to be someone’s professional reference, it is perfectly acceptable to ask about the position and challenges. If you do not feel you have enough information to specifically address potential questions about experience, skills or accomplishments, then be honest. Having to say “I can’t speak to that” more than once in a reference can be detrimental to the applicant.

That’s it for this week. I invite you to check out my blog post on Thursday at JohnGSelf.Com and I hope you will follow me on Linked In, my company Facebook page or on Twitter. And remember to check out our new career management video Saturday mornings on my YouTube channel.

© 2017 John Gregory Self

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