Go ahead and have a seat in Mina Ubbing’s office and, you know what, just call her Mina.
She doesn’t want you or any of her roughly 2,000 employees to call her Mrs. Ubbing, even though she is Fairfield Medical Center’s president and CEO.
Courtesy titles were always used for the bosses she had while she was working her way up the system at the $189 million, not-for-profit health care system. So when she took over in June 2001, she took the formalities out of it, because she wanted to take FMC’s culture in another, more collaborative direction.
“Since I was promoted from within, I had always gone by my first name and typically the hospital administrator is referred to as Mr. or Mrs., well forget that, I was Mina the day before I got the job, I’m Mina today,” she says.
And so she is. But while she may just go by Mina, her effort to build a friendly and collaborative culture wasn’t just about smiles and more employee outings. Collaboration from employees equals more effective patient care, and that, after all, is the reason FMC is around. So while she wanted a happier culture, she worked to put the proper systems in place to keep that culture moving forward. It started by evaluating what kept employees from doing their best through balanced peer reviews. To make sure the evaluation process is truly effective, Ubbing has also done assessments of her own strengths and weaknesses to make sure she’s giving FMC the right push from the top. And, along the way, she’s taken to hearing out just about anyone who has advice on ways to improve evaluation processes to keep FMC on top of its game.Create a fair evaluation system
When Ubbing decided that she wanted a more collaborative culture, she quickly ran into a problem: She wanted ways to evaluate people on that without bringing out a discipline stick.
“We look to really make a change in what we’re doing so that our employees in the future will be much more focused toward employee effectiveness than toward employee discipline,” she says.
So, while it took some tweaking, FMC now uses 360-degree peer evaluations that gauge collaboration, using input from people’s immediate peers. To give a fuller perspective, the system allows departments to evaluate co-workers from other departments through in-house customer surveys. Finally, to respond to employees who complained that they didn’t get to comment on their bosses, people get to review their immediate supervisors with the next boss up the chain. It’s an honest look in the mirror, which means FMC had to realize sometimes the finger of blame was pointed back at management.
“At the management level, I’ve seen some eyes opened, and I’ve seen some people really change as a result of what they heard,” Ubbing says. “If you’re emphasizing teamwork and working collaboratively, you have to know that. That’s a message you may not want to hear, but it’s an essential message.”
The essential part of that has been a better look at external and internal things people handle daily.
“You don’t do it with the idea of terminating somebody, but, ‘OK, what do I do with this to help them,’ and in a couple of cases, we found a situation where people were simply overwhelmed,” she says. “They were stretched too thin; we were taking advantage of them.”
When you’re doing such evaluations, Ubbing warns that your default setting has to change to thinking that flawed internal systems may be more of the problem than the person.
“If they’ve been there for a while, ask what’s going on, where are the barriers,” Ubbing says. “You work together to solve the problem instead of replacing the problem and perpetuating it and bringing someone in who is set up to fail as well.”
To Ubbing, it’s also worth spending the extra time to correct small things that come back from evaluations instead of starting over with an area of your business that may have an internal flaw.
“Frankly, we spend about 52 percent of our budget on human resources,” she says. “The investment in your people and the development of your people has to be a huge priority, that’s where your money’s going. If it wasn’t a huge priority, why would you let the money go there?”
So as part of a more fair evaluation process, FMC has changed the way it deals with employee difficulties.
“The first step is to have an honest conversation,” Ubbing says. “So often a high-achieving employee will be reluctant to say, ‘Hey, I’m in over my head.’ Sometimes you have to do an intervention to get there. Usually, you become aware when things just don’t match up. You know that they’re a really good employee and yet you’ve got these indicators of deadlines missed, poor employee satisfaction. ... If you look to that and say, ‘What can I do to help,’ as opposed to, ‘You need to be replaced,’ you’re in a whole different world.”
With all of this openness comes the obvious caveat that crimes against professionalism must still be handled quickly.
“You falsify a record, you steal something from us ... there are still things that will lead to termination or, as the new expression is, help you park your car at home,” she says.
And, while you have to give people a chance to step out from under a stressful situation, you have to make them realize there are limits to the help you can give them.
“That’s the best thing I know to do, be available and being accessible,” Ubbing says. “When someone comes to me with a problem, a need, whatever it is, saying, ‘OK, this is what I can do,’ and it may not always be what they want me to do. But saying, ‘This is what I can do, this is approximately when I can have it done, this is how I’ll let you know when this is accomplished,’ or, ‘This is who you’re going to hear from next on this.’ And tell them like it is — don’t sugarcoat it. I’m a little bit blunt, and you build trust over time when you don’t try to sugarcoat things that don’t deserve to be sugarcoated.”Diagnose your weaknesses
When you’re looking to fully evaluate your company to help with direction, a self-evaluation is an important part. Ubbing knows the most successful organizations have diversity in thinking and skills at the top, and as talented as she is, she knows she can’t keep all the balls in the air by herself.
“I always hire among those with whom I’ll be working most directly to my weaknesses and not my strengths,” she says. “I don’t need six Minas here; I need one and people who can supplement my skills with skills that are not mine.”
In order to find out what skills someone would need to complement you, you have to do a survey of your own skills. That means taking a moment to figure out the things you know to be your weaknesses.
“I’m not clinical at all, my background is finance and accounting, obviously I’m going to hire some very good communicators that are very well trained in the clinical aspects of the organization and can handle that,” Ubbing says.
Beyond obvious gaps in your own skills, you have to be willing to understand who can do some of the things you can with higher efficiency than you.
“Our CFO is much more detailed than I ever was as a CFO, and he enjoys the analysis,” Ubbing says. “I can still interpret a financial statement and develop a budget. … I just know that there are others who can do them much better.”
Another indicator of where you need more help is in things you just don’t enjoy doing — that may be telling. You can’t delegate everything on that list, obviously, but it may be a sign you’re not efficient in some things.
“Sometimes it comes around, and this is the advantage of being a CEO, it comes around the things that I don’t enjoy doing,” Ubbing says. “Of course, there are things I don’t enjoy that I have to do.”CASE other companies for ideas
Throughout both her self-examination and the process of creating better systems for collaboration at FMC, Ubbing has come up with a philosophy regarding improvement systems: Take them wherever you can get them.
“There’s an expression, and I don’t know where I learned it, and you have to keep it in the legal, moral and ethical context, but it’s called CASE: copy and steal everything,” she says. “The point is, go to your colleagues if you’re hit with something and you don’t know what to do about it. You don’t have to invent solutions. Has anybody else done this? I’ve got networks that I can go with that and get that. Sometimes when you just talk to someone else about the problem you’re having, verbalizing it takes you back to a potential solution.”
Ubbing is constantly putting her problems into the context of other organizations and people. Internally, she often bounces ideas off her experienced CFO. She recently returned from a trip to Chicago and threw some things at him.
“I came back, and our CFO was in the office early and we were talking about it, and I said, ‘This is what I think we need to do,’” she says. “And I could see some hesitancy, so I said, ‘Let me tell you why I think we need to do that.’ And just talking through that led us to another point, and that really makes a difference, being able to have those conversations and have them calmly and agree to disagree. That’s something I’ve learned over time. There are days I’m not the best at it, but … I’m better at it more days than not.”
Getting better at that is part of her own career development, as she’s learned a simple mantra along the way that she’s happy to share with other leaders.
“Stop,” she says. “Not every problem can be solved in a minute. Look at what others are doing and listen for the needs of others. Look not only at what they are saying but also body language and other hints about what is really in their hearts and mind. You don’t have to answer every question on the spot.”
By doing that, she says you’ll be surprised how often the answer will come if you just float the problem out instead of insulating yourself to find a solution.
“Through our efforts in communication and making myself available to talk with stakeholders, sometimes somebody very distantly related to an issue in the thought process will show up and say, ‘Hey, did you ever think about this?’” Ubbing says.
You still have to look for opportunities for improvement wherever they’re available. FMC has had a few head-to-head turf disputes with Mount Carmel Health Systems over the years, but when the two collaborated on an emergency care center, Ubbing stumbled into a new training opportunity. Mount Carmel was fully trained in Six Sigma, so when it called looking for a way to get the organizations better acquainted, Ubbing had a way to break bread. She asked for help with Six Sigma, and Mount Carmel helped FMC build a relationship with the company that taught it the system to get them started with the program.
“Again, that was just gathering information and looking for opportunities,” Ubbing says.
By taking the time to improve systems of evaluation at every level, Ubbing has seen great strides in FMC’s overall culture. She says it’s not always a tangible thing, but it has created ways for nearly 2,000 people to collaborate.
“We’ve moved the culture of this organization to be more open and friendly and to work more collaboratively,” She says. “The cultural part is a little less tangible, but I’m pretty proud of that.”
How to reach: Fairfield Medical Center, (740) 687-8000 or www.fmchealth.org