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Thinking out loud about leadership and the special relationship that must exist between senior executives and the employees who produce the value for the organization…

Relationships are fragile things.  They are built on mutual commitment and trust.  In marriage, couples promise to forsake all others, to support one another in sickness and in health, during the good times and the bad times.  That marital commitment is central to a stable society.

In businesses, it seems, we would just as soon avoid even thinking about that type of long-term vow, especially with employees.  Oh, we will proclaim that our employees are our most important asset, but everyone knows that in the vast majority of companies, including healthcare organizations, it is so just much PR.  The sad is that the one essential asset necessary for the business to thrive—employees—are treated somewhere between the realization that “we know we need you” to the sad state of “necessary expense.”  Like I have said before, organizations rarely empower the relationship they have with their employees beyond those limiting boundaries. 

Early in my career, a System CEO cautioned me, “Don’t try to make the relationship we have with our employees any more than what it is.  We pay them to do a job and we expect them to be loyal and follow the rules.

“Whatever else you do, do NOT write policies that promise any more than that.  When you write something down,” he explained, “you may have to deliver on your promise.” 

As the healthcare system moves steadily toward inevitable implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the political protestations to the contrary, and the negative implications of deficit reduction, employees will be central to an organization’s ability to succeed.  There are going to be some hard changes that health systems, physician groups and other providers will have to make.

The smart organizations will harness the incredible power of their employees.  CEOs will form new empowering cultures that will carry through this tumultuous change, building accountable relationships with employees based on mutual commitment and trust—in the good times and the bad.

© 2012 John Gregory Self