In healthcare there are a couple of immutable business truths:

  1. Never has a merger of provider organizations resulted in lower costs for the consumer, the claims of Chief Executive Officers notwithstanding.
  2. Leaders who put their employees first, creating a culture based on a deep love for the commitment and dedication of their employees, will, over time, have the best quality numbers, the safest environment for patients, customers who are much happier with the way they are treated, and the healthiest bottom line. Employers that provide the necessary healthcare for their employees (look here) give them a better quality of life which will then translate into how well their work life is.

healthcare leadershipYou would think that to achieve the kind of remarkable results in point 2, hospital CEOs and those executives who run other provider businesses would passionately devote themselves to creating that sort of employee-centered culture, right?

Not necessarily. While there is evidence that the idea of taking care of your employees first is gaining traction, there are still many organizations that focus, first and foremost, on the numbers, primarily the bottom line, and controlling their teams to ensure they achieve their bonus targets. What makes this reality even more confounding is that those organizations, which persist “in grinding their staff and grinding the numbers, their strategy is simply not economically viable,” said Britt Berrett, PhD, FACHE, Director of the undergraduate healthcare management program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. Britt, who was a highly successful hospital CEO, also leads the Center for Healthcare Leadership and Management at the school. He will be joining John on the SelfPerspective Podcast on Wednesday.

So to be clear, if you think that your focus as a healthcare leader should be on your bottom line first and foremost, then followed by your shareholders, leaving your employees to more or less fend for themselves in the engagement department, you probably will not be in healthcare, or at least your current job, for the long term. The long term here is defined as two to five years. As Britt is fond of saying, what got you to where you are today is NOT going to be the same formula that will help you succeed in the future.

When we start talking about putting your employees first, with the patients coming second, we are not talking about another in a long line of healthcare leadership fads. This approach has to be forever because leadership fads are like weight-loss diet fads. If you do not stay with it, and most people don’t, venturing into the world of some clever, sounds-good-today management fad will almost certainly result in poor morale and declining performance indicators as the CEO loses interest and reverts back to the old style. In the case of diets, people frequently report that when they fall off the diet wagon, they end up gaining more weight, in some cases a lot more weight.

You have to make choices and then stick with them unless you are unconcerned about your employees and the patients. As a CEO, you have as much to do, maybe even more, with patient safety, quality of care and patient satisfaction as any nurse or employee who delivers bed-side care and service.

One CEO I know gained and lost weight so many times using the latest-and-greatest fad diets that his clothier suggested that they dispense with the needle and thread approach to tailoring and use velcro.

His quality and safety numbers aren’t that good either.