When Robert B. Conroy Jr. attends new employee orientations at St. Petersburg General Hospital, he makes it a point to know
beforehand something about each employee. Whether it is where he or she previously worked or where he or she went to school,
the president and CEO of the 219-bed hospital, which employs about 550 people, sets aside time before each orientation to
memorize the facts and bring them up in conversations. Conroy does this as a way to connect with new employees and open the
lines of communication with them. And, he says, the feedback he receives tells him that his effort shows employees he has a genuine
interest in them. Smart Business spoke with Conroy about how to show people you are listening and how to communicate change.
Be visible. In our case, since we’re a hospital, the customers are obviously the
employees but equally so are the physicians and the patients. So we sort of have
multiple customers. My visibility to the
organization with all the customers, I think,
To the extent that the patients are not
cared for in my office, I prefer to visit with
the staff and the physicians out in the hospital. My main objective is to do as little
business in my office and as much out in
the hospital, and that subsequently creates
By being accessible, typically the customers — the patients, physicians or
employees — will engage me when I’m out
there and give me their ideas.
Stay in touch with your work force, and
your work force probably is in touch with
the customers. Then, obviously, don’t be
100 percent dependent on your work force
to keep you in touch with the customers.
You have to have some direct communication with your customer in order to really
understand what they are thinking about
your organization and how it’s performing.
If I was in window manufacturing, if I had
a plant, I’d be visible in the plant. If I had
customers, I would have to go to the customers to be more visible where my windows are being sold.
Listen. We are in a service industry, and I
think when you are in service industries,
you need to have good listening skills,
whether it’s the employees talking about
the organization and the culture or the
physicians talking about the services that
we’re assisting them with as they treat their
patients or the reason we’re here, which is
taking care of patients.
There is a lot to be learned, and, as a
leader, we need to harness that information
in order to use it to make our strategic
Show people you are listening to them. First
and foremost, it’s the one-to-one contact.
As they engage you, you have to make
some time to have the personal one-to-one contact with your customer. On a group
basis, obviously, I think you have to have
your normal meetings, either with your
employees, we call them town-hall meetings, or with your management team.
Have an exchange of information and
leave time so that it becomes a two-way
dialogue and not just a monologue or delivery of information on my part. Always
allow enough time for them to express
their opinions, either about what I am talking about or what may be on their minds at
You have your presentation, and then you
open up the floor, so to speak, about the
presentation, and then you leave time
about any other issue that may be out there
that may not be on that particular agenda.
Clearly communicate and monitor change. When we are communicating change, you have to make sure that everyone knows
the direction you are headed. That’s the
senior management team, the middle management team, and since you have them on
board with the strategic plan and the vision
for the organization, then they can assist
me in imparting that to the employees.
Since we are a 24-7-365 organization, it’s
almost impossible for me to individually
communicate to everyone.
I’ll have group meetings … but I’ll also delegate that responsibility once I’m sure they
understand it, and I’ll hold the middle management and the other senior managers
accountable for sharing and communicating that message. Just like advertising, I
think it has to be repeated a lot.
In that context, if it is coming from more
than one person, it shows a team effort, it
shows a team commitment. It also allows
us to get the message out several times, so
as no one misses it. And, if we are making
changes, that they are aware of those
changes and they hear about them before
they experience them.
In our situation, we have multiple customers; we have changes we have to communicate to the patients, changes we have
to communicate to the employees and to
When I’m out and about, I’ll ask people if
they’ve heard about the changes and validate that on a personal level.
Don’t give the impression that you always have
the right answer. As leaders, I think we may
think we have the right answers. Leaders
often get the right answers, but typically,
they don’t do that alone. They do that by
surrounding themselves with other good
leaders or future leaders.
The pitfall would be not listening to the
people you have surrounded yourself with.
If you’ve done good, targeted selection and
selected the right people, then I think listening to those people and engaging them
and using their ideas would be the best
advice I would have for avoiding pitfalls.
HOW TO REACH: St. Petersburg General Hospital, (727) 384-1414 or www.stpetegeneralhospital.com