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SAN FRANCISCO (April 16, 2009) – Long airline flights are conducive to swollen feet and great periods of reflection. I have been thinking a great deal about the important role that leaders play in moving their organization to best-in-class status. Or, the blame they deserve when their organization’s fail to deliver.

For health system or hospital Chief Executive Officers, best-in-class performance means meeting a robust set of standards for patient care quality, safety and the satisfaction of their customers – from the physicians, their patients as well as family members. The best of the best organizations also focus an enormous amount of energy and resources in achieving through-the-roof scores for employee satisfaction.

Let’s be clear. When we talk about best-in-class performance, we are not talking about best effort. No, we are talking about a record of consistently delivering perfection in patient care, safety and customer satisfaction, or as close to perfection as humanly possible.

This type of extraordinary performance does not happen by accident. The CEOs who hope to get anywhere near this level of accomplishment must build exceptional teams who are passionate about this vision. Then, the CEO must champion significant investment in education and development – in the current bad times as well as the good. Without this type of investment in human capital development, best-in-class results cannot and will not occur.

A great many CEOs, when pressed on the issue will most certainly boast that they spend an enormous amount of time on developing their people. OK, let’s face it, far too many CEOs – a startlingly high number – are blowing smoke. The clinical quality and poor financial results just do not support any other conclusion.

There are two ways to ferret out truth from fiction.

  1. Does the CEO (and the CFO) view spending money on developing their leaders and managers as an investment or an expense? Again, one only must look at how little is budgeted for human capital development at so many hospitals. This certainly helps explain why we have so many continuing problems with quality care and safety, including preventable deaths. I do not mean to unfairly demean, but is there any other conclusion?
  2. In his wonderful book “Talent Is Overrated,” Geoff Colvin writes that companies like to brag about their commitment to human capital issues. Colvin quotes Noel Tichy, a University of Michigan professor and top authority on this subject: “Testing their commitment is easy. Just show me the CEO’s calendar.”