Dr. Lois Margaret Nora conducts her own background checks while hiring. Most university presidents overseeing a $33 million budget might pass on this mundane task, but she makes time. Her reason? Integrity. At Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (NEOUCOM), Nora demands that new additions to her staff of 321 full- and part-time employees be living examples of the institution’s mission. Walking the talk, she says, is the only way to build trust among constituents and ensure long-lasting success. Smart Business spoke with Nora, president of NEOUCOM and dean of The College of Medicine, about integrity and trust and how using index cards can be a valuable way to gain feedback.
Lead with integrity. One of the most important parts of leadership is leading with integrity acting consistent with values that are expressed and that people are aware of. It’s one of the most important things in building trust from internal and external constituents. The loss of trust, if it occurs, is very difficult to recover from.
Be explicit about what principles you adhere to, and then demonstrate that not just in what you say but in how you conduct yourself and in how you expect others to conduct themselves.
At the end of each day, I reflect upon what we are accomplishing and how I am behaving. I have built a relationship with people who would question me if they felt that I was not consistent with the principles I’ve articulated and attempt to adhere to.
We routinely question everything. I have a team of people who regularly question or push back on my ideas, both in one-on-one meetings and in group meetings.
If one acts with integrity and builds up trust, then there are times when perhaps you cannot be as explicit about why you are doing things, and yet people have confidence that things are being done in the right way.
If one leads with integrity, it is much more likely that the organization will have integrity throughout it. That will result in an organization and individuals in the organization who will be successful.
Get feedback. [In] Jim Collins’ book, ‘Good to Great,’ he talks about the value of using feedback from customers. For example, if somebody is not satisfied with the product, they are invited to discount the price of that product and explain why. That is providing feedback to those organizations in ways that are absolutely impossible not to pay attention to.
One of the things that I did during my first month was something that I call the index card exercise. I went not only to faculty but also clinical faculty across Northeast Ohio. I went to each one of the counties that we serve and met with everyone from Rotary groups to community leaders.
I handed out index cards and asked the question, ‘What are you looking for in your NEOUCOM doctor or health professional?’ We got hundreds of index cards back with literally thousands of answers. Many of those index cards were filled out by my colleagues, but many of them were filled out by the people that we serve who are not colleagues.
So many people were engaged, and those words did not come out of one executive’s head. They came out of the community.
Ask the right questions. When you’re looking for feedback, ask thoughtful questions that give you good information from the people that you’re communicating with.
Ask good questions, get the information, act on the information, but don’t leave it at that. You also go back and test.
If you ask the question of a smaller group and begin to assess the kind of feedback that you’re getting, if it’s feedback that responds to what you were truly asking, that gives you a message that it might be a good question. If it results in information that is not getting you to a point where you can act, that is a suggestion it is a bad question.
If you’re having unintended consequences or your questioning is not resulting in your organization moving to a better place, it suggests that you need to improve the questions that you are asking.
Lengthen the leash. Create an environment in which people are encouraged and allowed to put their own stamp on activities. Identify success stories within the institution, and try to derive best practices.
Part of free rein is also allowing people the opportunities to make mistakes or to not get it right. You allow tolerable mistakes to be used as learning opportunities. Then make sure that those mistakes don’t recur.
Mistakes may be tolerated, but beyond a certain number or beyond a certain level, they have real ramifications, as well.
Trial and error it’s a very important part of staying fresh and making sure we’re remaining cutting edge. If we never try a new program or if we never try a new method of doing something, we’re going to become pretty stale pretty quickly.
Show how the pieces fit together. If (employees) are not motivated about what they’re doing, define what is being done in terms of things that are important to them. For people that answer the phones or work in secretarial roles, it’s helping them understand how critically important each of those individual roles actually are to the people that may open their eyes and see in the emergency room some day.
We have a number of our grads who have pointed out to us that the humane or caring way that they were treated in medical school made a difference in the kind of physician that they became. Share those stories back with individuals who are in student affairs. Talk to the faculty who went out of their way to help make sure that they taught a difficult point, or maybe taught it two or three times to a student who was having difficulty with it.
Share those stories and the subsequent letters from grads who talk about how that treatment helped them become a better educator to their patient or to their patient’s family.
HOW TO REACH: Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, (800) 686-2511 or www.neoucom.edu