Richard Reif is well-versed on the subject of health care reform — and he should be. He had a 13-year head start on the government.
In 1997, more than a decade before President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, Reif worked with the leadership team at Doylestown Hospital to build a strategic plan around a series of building blocks designed to promote many of the same areas of emphasis now outlined in the federal act.
Reif, the hospital’s longtime president and CEO who will retire in December, wanted to build an organization in which health care providers believe they have a duty to preserve health as much as they have an obligation to cure illness.
He wanted an organization that fostered alignment among all staff members who came in contact with a given patient — doctors, nurses and support staff all united with a common goal of providing a high-quality and seamless patient experience.
“We had a series of building blocks that I believed would be paramount to our long-term success,” Reif says. “I testified before Congress that year on the issue of how we needed to transform health care. It was the origin of a lot of things that were proposed in the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). We have used those fundamental building blocks to help drive who we are, always coming back to what benefits the patient and the patient’s family.”
But building that kind of organization wasn’t as simple as posting a mission statement over the entrance door. It required Reif and his team to define what Doylestown Hospital stood for as both a business and a health care entity and what it meant to work for the hospital. He then had to focus 2,000 associates and 900 volunteers on those core beliefs, keeping the message in front of existing staff and introducing the message to new staff.
In short, it took consistent and tireless communication.
Know who you are
Every business has an identity. Defining that identity, however, can be a difficult and ongoing process. Organizations, like the people who comprise them, don’t easily fit into prefabricated molds.
But defining what you are as an organization is essential to developing your mission and core values.
At Doylestown Hospital, Reif draws heavily on the organization’s history to chart a course for the future. The Village Improvement Association, a local women’s group that still owns the hospital, founded the hospital in 1923. The hospital was founded as a product of one of the association’s missions — to promote health and wellness in the Doylestown community.
With that as a guiding beacon, Reif put his effort into preserving and improving the hospital as a resource for health and wellness in the immediate area, closely embracing that identity.
“We don’t do a lot of teaching and we don’t do a lot of research,” Reif says. “We do a bit of both, but that isn’t our primary emphasis. We want to stay focused on our patients and serving them to the best of our ability.”
Often, companies and organizations try to define themselves by the business they conduct instead of the people they serve. Your list of clients might be impressive, your product might be cutting-edge and your services might have helped you carve out a lucrative niche.
But if you can’t identify the positive impact your company makes on the people you ultimately serve, you’re not doing a good job of identifying your company’s reason for being, which in turn, could have a damaging effect on your ability to promote your culture and motivate your employees to do their best work.
“Whether I’m relating the concept to people in this area or outside this area, you tend to find a universal problem in that people can have a tendency to lose where their focus is meant to be,” Reif says.
“Sometimes, you worry more about the business scale of what you’re doing as opposed to what and who you are ultimately impacting. That’s especially important in our field due to the nature of our work. Hospitals and schools are two great examples of organizations in which you should know what you should be doing.”
Reif learned the value of developing and maintaining an organizational identity early in his career, when he worked at a pair of Quaker hospitals.
“I came to learn a lot about myself as well, as well as what you need to do to emphasize the importance and value of the people you serve,” he says. “I believe my job is to create an environment where those people can achieve their sense of inspiration.”
To build an organizational identity around developing relationships and serving your customers, you need to give your employees — especially the employees who directly face your customers — the tools and resources necessary to foster those relationships and maintain them over the long haul.
“One of the things we do and communicate is the whole issue of our values and our responsiveness and giving the people the tools they need to be successful,” Reif says. “It can be continuing education, it can be the right equipment, it can be the right work environment. It can be that you try to cultivate a sense of respect between departments or a sense of functional respect between doctors and associates. But you’re ultimately trying to focus on a series of things that are all related back to the mission and the core values.”
Live the culture
Reif couldn’t build an organization that promotes alignment and accountability without a strong culture to serve as its backbone. Building and maintaining the culture was an essential first step.
A company’s culture lives and breathes through the actions of its employees. But you don’t get the desired actions without employees who have a firm belief in the mission and values of the organization. It needs to start with the hiring process, when you identify the job candidates who you think have the personality and individual values needed to mesh with your organizational values.
But if you don’t seed and cultivate your culture within those people, all you’ll ever have is raw materials and a workforce full of unrealized potential.
That’s why Reif gets involved in the training of new Doylestown Hospital employees from their first week on the job.
“I am in my 24th year now in this position, and I do virtually every new associate orientation,” Reif says. “We start with the premise that we are all aimed in the same direction, and I emphasize our sense of responsibility to our mission and our values. We reinforce that in any way we possibly can, no matter what topic. Where we are, how people are evaluated, how we make decisions — it always comes back to the mission.”
Once new employees are up to speed with how health care and business are conducted at the hospital, Reif further reinforces the culture through the stories of patients — the consumers of the hospital’s end products and services. By putting a human face on the ultimate product of the work each employee does, you demonstrate the ultimate benefit that the work of each person has to the end consumer.
“We have a major fundraiser every spring, and this year, we had 80 to 100 women involved,” Reif says. “As I was thanking them for their involvement in the effort, I reminded them why we were raising the money. This year, it happened to be that they’re raising money for a maternity unit, so in my presentation, I put pictures of four newborn babies on the screen.
“Another time, at the end of our budget approval for the following fiscal year, we had a board meeting. I showed our board 10 pictures of patients living with cancer. They’re people who we are treating, who agreed to be photographed for this presentation. I put their pictures in front of everyone and told their story. In both cases, showing the babies we delivered and the cancer patients we’re treating, it reminds us why we’re here as an organization.
“We share stories of patient successes, and even the times when we fail a patient. We need to learn from those stories as well. It always comes back to who we are serving.”
Reif says the real-life examples serve as a means of showing empathy. Effective leaders need to foster a sense of empathy within their organizations. That includes empathy between employees and management and empathy between those inside and outside the company.
If management does a good job of instilling a sense of empathy within the culture, that feeling will trickle down to the relationship your employees have with the people you serve — be they customers, clients or, in the case of Doylestown Hospital, patients.
“You have to be empathetic to your people,” Reif says. “You have to listen. If I’m showing empathy to the people who work here, the associates and why we value that, they are going to be more empathetic with regard to their relationship with the patients.
“If I remember who is providing the patient care and I treat them with respect, they’re going to continue that relationship with the people they come into contact with, which includes the patients and their families. Again, it’s always coming back to who you serve and what you are as an organization.” <<
How to reach: Doylestown Hospital, (215) 345-2200
Richard Reif, president and CEO, Doylestown Hospital
The Reif file
Born: I was born in Baltimore. I actually went on to become the CEO of the hospital I was born in, Union Memorial Hospital.
Education: Zoology degree from the University of Maryland; Hospital administration degree from the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU Medical Center).
First job: My first real job was as a Good Humor truck driver when I was 18. The following year I started working in hospitals.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
I learned to be genuine and be yourself, and find an organization that values you. Those are the two most important things: be sincere and fit the organization.
What traits or skills are essential for a leader?
Empathy, listening and consensus-building. Those are three things that Quakers do very well. In my time at Quaker hospitals, I learned to conceptualize, think long-term and be a steward to the community.
What is your definition of success?
It is a statement more than a set of criteria, and I can quote it from you. My wife and I both live by it: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (Attributed to William Penn.)