Power Communication Skills for the C-Suite: Change Is Hard. You Go First.
by Bob Murphy, R.N., JD, Studer Group speaker, executive level coach, and senior leader and Terre Short, MBA, Studer Group account leader/coach
How good are you at “strength spotting?” Marcus Buckingham, author of Now, Discover Your Strengths says that high-performing organizations are essentially made up of high-performing teams. What determines whether you’ll be on a high performing team? The answer to just one question, says Buckingham: “At work do you have an opportunity to do what you do best every day?”
Those who answer “yes” consistently outperform those who say they don’t. It turns out that outcomes like profitability, productivity, turnover, and many more are driven by whether employees feel their strengths are in play. And yet, just one out of 10 people report that they engage their strengths daily.
Role Model What You Want
To effectively build a strengths-based organization, you’ll need to begin with yourself. Are you someone who regularly uses your own strengths on the job?
Ask yourself: Do I spend most of my time with my high performers? Do I notice and point out what’s going well more than what needs fixing? Consider rounding on yourself once a week to ask, “Did I use my strengths this week? And did they benefit my team, our organization? Did I recognize others exhibiting their strengths?
Manage up those individuals with a handwritten thank you note. (If writing thank you notes has become stale or routine, use this strength spotting exercise at www.studergroup.com/strengthspotting to freshen them up.) Always tie recognition to the specific action you observed, preferably one that exemplifies your mission, vision or values.
Words Mean Things
Are you maximizing your communication impact? Words mean things so it’s important to choose them well and to focus on the things that matter most in building a culture of high performance. For example, know your audience. If an organizational goal is to increase mammograms performed, don’t tell nurses, “Our goal is to meet our FY 2015 budget for mammograms by 20 percent.” Nurses save lives for a living, not budgets!
Instead say, “We know that 97 percent of breast cancer can be cured if caught early enough. We want more women to have a mammogram so we can save more lives. Our goal this year is to make sure every woman who needs one gets one. So we’ve set a goal of X.” Use the language of patient care to inspire care providers. Focus on values and what is important to our staff instead of using words like “volume”, “scores,” or “percentiles.”
Do you frame your “to do” list in terms of what “has to be done” or as “what we get to do?” “I think that too often those of us in healthcare leadership roles fall into a victim mentality instead of working to see opportunities that come with challenges,” says Mike Baxter, president and CEO of Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, CO. “In what other industry can you make such a positive difference in the lives of people you’ve never met? It’s so important as senior leaders that we project excitement by recognizing the privilege of this opportunity.”
Baxter carries this message at all new employee orientations and staff meetings and connects back to how following standards of behavior and managing up others reduces anxiety and makes patients and families feel better. “When I round, I’ll say things like ‘Who gets to work this weekend?’ and follow it up with a ‘Thanks for being here or thanks for picking up the holiday.’ High performers will approach me with a wink and a good-natured ‘Hey! Good news! I get to work Saturday night!’”
Connect to Your Vision
How well do you live your vision in the words you choose to communicate each day? At The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) in Ottawa, Canada, their vision is simply and clearly expressed: “To provide each patient with the world class care, exceptional service, and compassion that we’d want for our loved ones.”
“A patient once told me that he knew our staff would care for him, but he was so pleased that they also clearly cared about him,” explains Dr. Jack Kitts, president and CEO of TOH. “If that’s your organization’s vision, then it must mean your hiring process identifies people who can achieve it; that you hold low performers accountable when they don’t provide the care they’d want for their loved ones; and that your communications, coaching, celebrating, and strategic planning all correspond to achieving that vision. It changes the daily language of the organization.”
Always Lead with the Why, and Repeat it Often
When rounding on leaders, keep a mental checklist of what drives that individual and what outcome you want to achieve from the conversation. (What’s their “what?”) If you’re meeting with a group of hospitalists because HCAHPS results on the doctor communication composite aren’t strong enough, skip a discussion on the reimbursement impact of poor scores. Instead, you might say, “When our patients are asked about their care, they tell us we could do a better job listening carefully to what they say and explaining in a way they can understand.”
Since physicians value the opportunity to have input and efficiency, you could ask: “What’s a barrier for you? I know time matters so let’s talk about ways to make this easier.” If she’s reluctant to use AIDET® because she thinks it’s “smile school,” connect communication back to clinical quality, citing evidence from the medical literature. Also consider recognizing a well-respected, high-performing colleague in this area (i.e., “You know who does a great job listening? Dr. Hitchcock. His patients say he excels at this.”)
Do Away with ‘We-They’
Managers can struggle to take ownership of others’ decisions when the “why” isn’t well articulated. It’s even harder when there are many layers between the decision makers and people who carry out decisions, such as when the corporate office mandates something at the regional or hospital level. In such cases, it’s up to senior leaders to fully understand the “why” so they can communicate that effectively to their team who will cascade it to front-line staff.
A mature leader will ask more about the “why” behind the decision and the benefits it will bring. If the system brings a decision, offer to brainstorm ways it can be shared with the team and appropriate key words that could be used to cascade the communication. No one likes change, but when individuals understand that a new centralized survey or protocol for heart care follow-up will ensure better care for patients by standardizing ways to collect meaningful employee feedback or follow-up care, it is more readily accepted.
Recently, we were working with an organization that was struggling to hardwire the use of standards of behavior. When we walked through the halls, we noticed that nine out of 10 people did not make eye contact or greet us. So then we walked the halls with the CEO and guess what? He didn’t do it either.
In another organization, we asked a room full of leaders to raise their hands if they’d approach a direct report who was observed being rude to a patient, physician, or colleague and coach them to behave in a different way that was aligned to the standards of courtesy and respect. Eighty percent raised their hands to acknowledge that they would. If the person observed was not their direct report? Only 10 to 20 percent raised their hands. And if the person was the CEO? Only a few hands went up. This indicates that leaders are more willing to address behaviors in their own direct reports, but would not be as willing if the behavior was observed in someone else’s department. Then we asked the CEO if he’d want a leader to tell him that he—the CEO—had violated a standard. He said absolutely.
The CEO sets the tone at the top so it’s critical to say, “If you see anyone violating our standards or not doing the right thing, you must speak up. Even if it’s me!” As Parkview’s Mike Baxter notes, “Being a CEO is an incredibly humbling position. It’s okay to acknowledge you don’t have all the answers. But it’s important to bring positive energy to our roles…even in very difficult situations. You want your team to feel confident in your leadership ability.”