Walking the talk Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

It’s not uncommon for employees at Bethesda North Hospital to see Sher McClanahan out mingling among them.

She loves spending time out of her office to know what is happening in the hospital and with her 4,000 employees. And that’s not unusual for a woman who started her career as a nurse and has been the hospital’s top executive for the past eight years.

In that time, she’s helped dig employees out of the parking lot, shoveled the sidewalk during heavy snows, delivered meals to employees working extra shifts and helped employees get the little things that allow them to do their jobs better.

“That lets people know that you care about what they’re doing, and that you’re willing to pitch in, in those situations, roll up your sleeves and do what needs to get done,” McClanahan says.

It also gives her opportunities to share her vision with a very diverse group of employees, and getting it across to all them is one of the biggest challenges she faces at the $375 million organization.

McClanahan says to be successful communicating your vision, you must model it, get to know your employees and reward those who help the company achieve its goals.

Communicate by example

When it comes to getting employees to buy in to your vision, communication is the biggest component.

“You’ve got to say it a number of times in a number of different ways and in a number of different forums,” McClanahan says. “Some people may get it the first time around, and it may take others a couple of times and some dialogue to understand what it is.”

If an employee does not understand the vision, you need to focus on that person and his or her words and body language.

“You can often tell a lot more about what’s not being said, and if you need to understand what’s not being said, then ask for further clarification,” McClanahan says.

In these situations, McClanahan uses the “help me understand” methodology, and questions the person with, “Help me understand this better,” or, “Help me understand what you mean by this.”

“What I am trying to do is understand what they are telling me,” she says. “It’s far different for somebody to hear that I don’t understand and I want them to help me understand it, than for me to turn back and say to them, ‘Where’d you get that idea?’ So I need to understand what they’re telling me, and in doing so, listen to what they’re saying.”

When you really listen to what they are saying, you can start to get at the root of the problem.

“I can remember hearing as a kid, ‘You have two ears for a reason and one mouth; use your ears twice as much as you do communicating, you probably will be able to be successful,’” she says. “If you listen to people, you’re going to be able to meet them and what their needs are, and then connect the dots between their needs and your organization’s needs. You’ve got everybody going in the same direction and feeling good, that this is what I’m getting out of it and what the organization is getting out of it, and it becomes this perpetual cycle.”

McClanahan says one of the best ways to communicate it is to let people see the vision in action and lead by example.

“In order for anybody to want to follow or be willing to go in the same direction, they’ve got to know that the leader is going in that direction, not only by word but by action, as well,” she says. “It’s important to be out and about a lot with the team members and to make certain that they understand the direction that we’re going and how their role fits into it.”

Part of Bethesda’s vision statement says that the organization will be a strong and caring community citizen. McClanahan demonstrates that by caring about her own employees first. She says if employees see you modeling the vision, they know you are dedicated to the same goals as they are.

“Stories are created and people see things,” she says. “I don’t want my employees coming in on an icy sidewalk, and if we haven’t been able to get somebody out there to get it taken care of, I’m going to go do it so somebody doesn’t get hurt. It’s things of that nature.

“It’s about reaching out and touching, being approachable, visible and a communicator, and coaching and counseling people, and rewarding them when they do their job well, so they get to their highest performing point.”

Get down to the employee level

McClanahan says getting to know your employees is critical when trying to communicate the vision to a diverse group. While she has more than 4,000 employees under her command, she gets to know them by walking around various areas of the hospital each day, speaking with employees or working alongside them.

“I ask them what they’re doing or ask them if there is anything that gets in the way of them doing the best possible job for the organization, and helping to remove any barriers that they might be bumping up against,” she says.

McClanahan says walking about allows her to truly know her employees more than just watching them from the sidelines.

“I call it keeping your finger on the pulse of the organization and what’s going on,” she says. “It’s one thing to hear about an organization’s performance when you’re sitting in a boardroom and looking at numbers, and it’s another to go out and see how those numbers are being enacted.”

McClanahan has countless duties each day, but she still takes time to go on rounds because of what she is able to accomplish during this time.

“When I’m out walking around, I’m still doing my job because I typically will see this physician or that director or this staff member who I need to have some interaction with, and I’d rather do it when I’m out and walking around than calling a meeting,” she says. “There are times when you need to set aside several hours to sort through a significant issue or develop a plan of action, but I like to see a little bit more of the management by walking about.”

Going out and talking to employees lets them know that you do care about them and their work, and also lets them know how they are important in achieving company goals.

“You care about them as a person and their contribution to the organization,” McClanahan says. “You can translate for them how their contribution is helping meet the vision of the organization.

“Sometimes, it’s trying to figure out where they are, what’s important to them and making the connection between what’s important to them and how that’s going to contribute to the vision. Find out where they’re coming from and understand their frame of reference in order to be able to help connect the dots.”

When people get the vision, they are enthused and energized about it and get on board to help that vision become a reality.

McClanahan says you need to get to that point, and you also need to be with your employees to know them on a deeper level.

“Interact with them, see and evaluate the performances that they do, help them understand what their strengths are and play to those strengths,” she says. “And if they have areas where they could improve, understand if they see that same need and help them get that improvement.”

Reward a job well done

Once you have all employees working toward the same vision, it’s important to reward them when they achieve goals that meet the vision and make the organization successful.

Rewards can be monetary or as simple as saying “good job” or “thank you” to employees. McClanahan receives recommendations from her leadership team regarding employees who have done a good job, and then sends a letter to the employees’ homes commending them on their hard work and dedication.

“Sometimes the greatest reward for an employee is to be recognized for what they do and do well,” McClanahan says. “When employees are recognized for a job well done, they don’t feel invisible, they realize what they do makes a difference and is contributing to the mission. An individual who feels like he or she is recognized and applauded for good work tends to do more work.”

McClanahan says it is also important to work with those employees who may not be performing at their highest level to get them to achieve the goals.

“Understand why they may not be performing at the level that you think they should be,” she says. “Do they lack the knowledge, the skill set or the motivation to do it? Depending on what you find out, you address each one differently. You get them the help they need in order to accomplish what they aren’t accomplishing.”

Bethesda North, a member of the TriHealth System, has received or been nominated for many awards over the years, including Top Employer by The Cincinnati Business Courier, Best Place to Work by Working Mother magazine, and one of the Top 100 hospitals for quality, continuous improvement and most wired with the latest technology. The hospital also recently opened a new seven-story patient tower, which allows it to serve about 10,000 more patients a year.

McClanahan said these achievements would not have been possible without the hard work of her employees, who were rewarded appropriately when these honors were achieved.

“I could never accomplish all of those things by myself, even pieces of them, so it means that it needs to come from the team,” she says. “The quarterback doesn’t win the football game, the team wins the game. The coach doesn’t win the game, the team wins the game under the leadership of the coach.”

McClanahan says showing appreciation toward employees makes them proud of their work.

“There’s nobody that gets up in the morning and comes to work and says, ‘I’m going to do a bad job today, and I like working for an organization that’s yucky,’” she says. “Most people come to work and say they want to do the best they possibly can. There’s a real sense of energy that’s gotten from being proud of the place where you work and the people that you work with.”

McClanahan says to be successful, you need to have the basic skill sets, know your business and people, and be willing to put yourself out there to communicate the vision and help your company reach the next level.

“Listen, know your business, communicate, be out there, be visible, be seen, roll up your sleeves and have fun,” McClanahan says.

HOW TO REACH: Bethesda North Hospital, (513) 745-1111 or www.trihealth.com