The communicator Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Janice Murphy started her career as a grade school teacher, but it prepared her well for her current role as president of Fairview and Lakewood hospitals.

“It all goes back to the fundamental principles,” she says. “It’s treating people with respect, always trying to drive them to be the best that they can be, but communicate in a way that they understand what we’re all about, and I think that has served me very well.”

Throughout her career, she says that she’s made hundreds of mistakes communicating with those around her, but she also notes that it’s through those mistakes that she’s learned.

“In hospitals, there’s a variety of stakeholders, so you can make a mistake in not dialing everybody in and getting their point of view,” Murphy says. “There have been times where we have, very well-intentioned, wanted to make changes but didn’t do our homework in terms of getting all the key stakeholders around the table and asking them, ‘What’s the impact of this change?’”

In one situation, Murphy and her team were making what they thought were great changes to their operating rooms in terms of what times they started surgeries, but they quickly came to find out that they hadn’t engaged all of the necessary parties — doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and patients.

“If there’s anything I would suggest, sometimes the environment is so intense and you know you need to change, but to take that pause and timeout and say, ‘Wait a minute, before we do this, have we missed anyone? Is there another group that should be dialed in that we can get better thinking on this? What are our flat sides that we don’t even see as we go through that?’”

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook these groups, but you have to be patient and take the time to communicate.

“You really have to slow down sometimes and, even though there’s a sense of urgency, it’s better to make sure you’re plowing all the right fields because you’ll pay for it later in getting delayed or people will try to sabotage it,” Murphy says.

But even when you do take the time to communicate, there’s no guarantee that you’re doing it correctly, so you have to make sure that when you communicate, it’s indeed effective.

“Always know your audience and understand, whether it’s your staff or your board of directors and the key stakeholders, what is it that they’re really interested in?” she says. “I always ask whatever group I’m with, ‘Is there a way I can do this better? Are there things you’re not hearing about that you want to hear about?’ I think that, in doing that, you can start to distill what is more meaningful information. If you want to be successful, that is a key skill set.”

She’s also mindful of the way in which she communicates.

“It sounds so basic that you’ll probably laugh at it, but keep the message simple, and I never try to carry forward more than three basic points,” Murphy says. “If you sit down with people with 35 slides of PowerPoint with hundreds of bullets of information, they are never ever going to remember it. But if you can actually distill and keep your information crisp and to a point, the staff will understand it, and they’ll be able to carry it forward in their work.”

Then lastly, she says that you have to know who the right people are to communicate with.

“I like to get a wide array of folks, meaning I like to get people at the senior level, and I love midlevel, but my favorite is front-line staff,” she says. “That’s because my front-line staff, they honestly know where the issues are, where it’s broken, where they need help, and believe it or not, they know the solutions to how it can get fixed, so I love talking to front-line staff. Even though upper administration and executives think they know, they really don’t.”

But as part of that, recognize how much you know and don’t know, and you’ll be a lot more effective as a communicator.

“You also have to be humble,” Murphy says. “I think that’s the first lesson you learn as a leader — you do not have all the answers; the staff does. Your job is to get it out of them and remove barriers so they can make it happen.”

How to reach: Fairview Hospital, (216) 476-7000 or; Lakewood Hospital, (216) 521-4200 or