How Janet Meeks helped transform the culture of St. Ann’s

Janet Meeks, former president and COO of Mount Carmel St. Ann’s, believes in stretching yourself.

Her career started in banking, and her mentor constantly gave her unfamiliar tasks. He asked her to create a personal banker program and named her interim vice president of marketing, a year out of graduate school.

Today, Meeks tells young professionals, particularly young women, don’t be afraid to take risks.

“Always step forward when there are opportunities for stretch assignments because that’s how we learn and grow,” she says. “And that’s how you begin to develop the full set of tools that you need in your toolkit as far as your leadership competency.”

She applied those same lessons later in health care, after switching industries in 1983.

Mount Carmel Health System recruited Meeks in 2004, and she told the CEO she’d be delighted to move from Florida to Ohio in return for one thing.

“In this case, I was making a multistate move, and I had a long-term dream of leading a hospital,” she says. “So I made a commitment that I would come and help them get the corporate development programming refined if they would let me lead one of the hospitals at some point.”

Eighteen months later, Meeks became president of St. Ann’s. The next nine-and-a-half years were among the most gratifying of her professional career, as Meeks helped create a culture of accountability.

Strategic change

In 2006, St. Ann’s financial performance was suboptimal, patient satisfaction was among the worst in Central Ohio and the employees weren’t fully engaged. While the staff was proud of its culture of compassion, Meeks says there wasn’t accountability for consistently achieving results.

In order to transform the culture, her leadership team followed triple “A” leadership — alignment, accountability and acknowledgement. The change was easy to articulate, but difficult to pull off, she says. It was a five- or six-year journey.

“In a culture that considers itself to be compassionate, when you start introducing more granularity or more specificity in the goals, some people will say, ‘Oh, this is counter to our culture.’ Or other people will say, ‘You’re micromanaging.’ Or, ‘You don’t trust us,’” Meeks says.

As you increase the levels of accountability, you have to bookend that with lots of praise when people get it right, she says.

It helps when your team embraces the new vision, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have difficult conversations with the few still not on board.

You need thick skin because you will fall prey to criticism, Meeks says — even though you’re correctly acting as a fiduciary on behalf of the organization.

“There are a lot of people who think that when you talk about culture that it’s soft stuff, and it’s not. It’s absolutely strategic,” she says.

Corporate culture is, in fact, moving front and center in the boardroom. Meeks believes it should be a top priority for the C-suite because the health of the corporate culture will most likely correlate with the organization’s performance in the long run.

It’s personal

With culture change, employees must see the connection between corporate goals and their daily work. It needs to be personal and hit the head-heart connection.

The staff also needs to know how they are doing, no matter how busy you are. You have to let people know they’re making a difference.