No Margin, No Mission
7 Tips for Communicating with Your Board of Directors
with Anne Diamond, CEO, UConn Health, Farmington, CT; Bryan Mills, CEO, Community Health Network, Indianapolis, IN; Jeff Hill, CEO, Steele Memorial Medical Center, Salmon, ID
It’s more challenging than ever for Board members and other community stakeholders to understand the complexities of healthcare as the industry undergoes transformation. If those of us who live and breathe it every day struggle to assimilate information and make wise decisions, how can we hope to keep Boards on board? Try these 7 tips from experts:
1. Begin with the “why.”
Open Board meetings by sharing a patient story that connects to purpose, worthwhile work, and making a difference. Explain how new initiatives or partnerships will cost-effectively improve community health.
University of Connecticut Health (UConn), an integrated academic health center in Farmington, CT was losing $1 million serving a large, resource-intensive sickle cell population with long length of stay and high readmissions. Instead of disenfranchising this group, UConn brought them closer by deploying a PRN (as needed employee) as “navigator” to ensure pain management through day visits at the hospital and assistance outside the hospital to meet other needs.
“When you talk to Board members about quality and safety, they want to know you’re doing it in the most fiscally responsible way,” explains Anne Diamond, UConn’s CEO. “In this case, we were able to connect our ability to fulfill our mission with also cutting costs by half in one year. It was the right thing to do.”
2. Build teamwork and trust.
It’s a critical ingredient for every relationship, and Board members are no exception. “When we hold a Board retreat, I’m very intentional about seating charts for meals and events,” says Bryan Mills, CEO of Community Health Network (CHN), an integrated health system in Indianapolis, IN. “I place a few people who know each other together, but the rest are individuals I think should know each other. They won’t sit with the same people over three days. If we want the Board to come together, we need to be a bit prescriptive about relationship-building to create a family.”
3. Tie it back to the strategic plan.
“Every 90 days we communicate progress—or lack there of—on our annual business plan that ties back to our three-year strategic plan,” explains Jeff Hill, CEO of Steele Memorial Medical Center, a critical access hospital in Salmon, ID. “Board members were at that table originally with physicians, employees, and community members to develop those goals so we keep it in front of everyone at all times…including in our department meetings, manager meetings, and communication boards in our lobby.”
4. Get creative with orientation.
Are your new Board members snoozing through a three-hour presentation? Use online videos to engage Board members with the who, what, why, and how of your organization. At CHN, viewing is mandatory for new Board members. Each Board member is asked to provide online comments, questions, and suggestions for improvement after their review of each orientation video.
5. Close information gaps.
Remember that Board members aren’t immersed in the healthcare operating environment on a daily basis and may also bring a narrow perspective based on who their employers and customers are. An immersive retreat can be a good investment to get everyone on the same page. “I take my top leadership and full Board to an annual Governance Institute retreat with 100 percent participation,” adds Mills. “They get a taste of what’s going on and how that impacts our strategy, planning and goals for a refresh.”
6. Get them involved!
When Steele Memorial rolled out AIDET® training organization wide, they used Board members, hospital volunteers, and C-suite executives to role-play the patient in practice encounters. “Now Board members understand what right looks like,” notes Hill. “Their involvement demonstrated to the entire organization Steele Memorial’s commitment to service excellence.”
7. Bring in special expertise.
While every organization would love to have Board members with broad competencies in healthcare, it’s not typically the case. You can build it, though by letting Board members learn directly from the experts. Building competency in information technology? Ask an IT consultant to present on the topic.
CHN sets a goal of spending just 10 percent of Board meeting time providing financials and giving reports. The rest of the Board agenda is filled with strategic topics designed to encourage Board member engagement. “We also invite external experts for input and perspective—like insurance executives or retail pharmacy executives—to enhance and inform our conversations to learn more about our market and the consumer perspective,” notes Mills. “Board members are bright people. If we help them, they can add a lot of value.”