In Frank Luntz’s book “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” he analyzes problems in business communications and the words people use.

Luntz, a conservative pollster and frequent Fox News collaborator, did what a pollster might do if he were writing a book.  He took a series of polls regarding which word Americans felt was the strongest in the context of business. 

Of the following words, which do you feel is the most powerful?      

  • Effort
  • Solutions
  • Consequences
  • Pledges
  • Promises

The answer: consequences.  That is an important word for leaders to remember. The decisions healthcare leaders make over the next five to seven years will be the most consequential of their careers.  Facing a monstrous wave of change that will transform how we deliver care, virtually every major decision will take on a success or failure theme with huge consequences for the communities, physicians and the patients they serve. 

This is not a time for leaders who are trapped in a narrow box and who base their decisions on a comfort level that is just a couple of steps away from “this is the way it has always been.”  A leader’s skill sets and outlook must evolve faster now than at any time in the history of our industry. 

Here are some random thoughts for leaders to consider:

  1. Do not hire team members who make you too comfortable.  Choose smart people with good values but not another “yes” executive.  Trust and results are more important than the vibe in the executive office.
  2. Push your internal recruiters or outside search consultants to dig deep to understand the job, to identify the cultural DNA, and to master the skill sets necessary for candidates to succeed today, and their ability to transform themselves for the future.
  3. Insist that your recruiters be more accountable for the quality of the candidates they present, the depth of their screening, the thoroughness of their background checks and the value they deliver.  If your organization is going to be paid, in part, based on quality outcomes, then recruiters and other consultants no longer get a free pass. Performance incentives and extended placement guarantees are one place to start.  You cannot afford not to change.
  4. Begin every conversation that you have regarding quality of care, patient safety and the overall results of the organization with the word “accountability” and end it with “consequences.”
  5. Do not tolerate anyone – doctor, nurse or consultant — who tries to explain that the continuing problems with quality of care and patient safety is an issue because “we have been unable to define what quality is.”  If we are content to accept that morally disturbing excuse, then we will never get better.