But Steve Rector has another take on the subject: “Poor communication is the root of all evil,” he says. “That’s the theory with me.”
The president and CEO of Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point has a lot at stake when it comes to communication. He oversees a staff of 1,000 people, employed in a variety of departments and disciplines. If communication breaks down on his watch, the results can be far-reaching and difficult to correct.
“Effective communication has been the most consistent challenge across the whole organization,” Rector says. “How do you not break that chain of communication; how do you keep it flowing from the bottom up and top down, horizontally and vertically? It has been a huge challenge to ensure that we keep communicating effectively each and every day.”
Rector has met the challenge by acknowledging the various ways a large group of employees will seek and absorb information, and then working with his leadership team to construct varying avenues through which management can disseminate information.
“You start to learn that people will learn and absorb things in different ways,” he says. “Not everybody learns the same way. Some people are visual learners, some are auditory, some have to touch the message and have it in their hands in paper form. So it’s communicating all the time, in various media so that it’s constant repetition. That’s how to start to make it effective, and make sure it’s a two-way street.”
But there are always ways to communicate more, and that is the ongoing task for Rector and his management team, in an effort to keep everyone throughout RMC Bayonet Point engaged and motivated to carry out the center’s health care mission.
Keep the signal strong
Communicating over multiple levels of an organization can result in a loss of signal strength. The message starts out loud and clear from your office, but by the time it reaches the people on the bottom rungs of the company — the employees who are likely interacting with your customers — it has lost a lot of power and might have been distorted as it has passed from mouth to ear or screen to eye.
Rector combats the loss of signal strength by turning his people into signal repeaters.
He and his leadership team work to stimulate feedback from different departments and levels of RMC Bayonet Point. Rector aims to create the dialogue so communication becomes interactive, as opposed to allowing employees to passively receive messages.
The way Rector creates dialogue is through his willingness to admit he doesn’t have all the answers within the organization, and looking to others to provide suggestions and ideas concerning a wide range of issues.
As the leader of your organization, a person who is by definition an authority on the business, you might find it difficult to admit that you don’t know the answer to something. But demonstrating your fallibility can help remove the apprehension that many employees feel about approaching upper management.
“I’m going to be wrong a hundred times this week, so no idea from anyone in the organization is going to be too far-fetched or crazy,” Rector says. “‘Let’s come up with ideas and play this out.’ You have to encourage those types of open discussions because people have to get to know you. Otherwise there will be people out there who feel like they don’t know you well enough to have that type of open conversation with you.”
You have to be willing to set the tone for open dialogue with your work force. You and your leadership team need to demonstrate your desire for open discussion from the top tiers of the company, and do it frequently.
“Everyone on our leadership team has that personality where we don’t think we have all the answers, and we engage everyone in discussion to make sure we are going in the right direction. We realize that it’s an intrinsic trait of leaders that we always want to have the answers. But oftentimes we don’t, or we may think we do until someone points us in the right direction. That’s why everyone on our leadership team knows it’s important to be willing to say, ‘I don’t know that answer; let me go research it. Can you help me with it?’”
To facilitate an ongoing dialogue between employees and management, you need to have leaders on your management team who are willing and able to communicate. That means you need to choose wisely when you recruit and hire the people who will become the future leaders of your company.
Rector calls it “hiring tough.” When you hire tough, you refuse to settle for a warm body to fill a position. You are willing to struggle with a shorthanded staff in the short term to reap the benefits of a good hire and a more cohesive team in the longer term.
“You might be overwhelmed with work, but you do not settle for a person who might get the work done but doesn’t share the same intrinsic values,” Rector says. “I never want someone who is going to come in here and be a yes-man. If I were to come into a meeting and tell everyone that I wanted to paint the hospital pink, I don’t want everyone standing around me and telling me that’s a great idea. I want people to tell me, ‘You might want to think that over first.’
“That’s why you want to have a good hiring process, to make sure that you understand who you’re hiring and that they share some of the same values that you do. Maybe they don’t have all of the same ideas or thought processes but the consistent values are there.”
In the hiring process, Rector and his staff formulate questions geared toward finding out about a candidate’s set of personal values. They want a candidate who brings an adequate skill set to the table, but they want to find the cultural match first. Skills can, to an extent, be taught by an employer. Personal values can’t.
“We have a pretty specific interview process that engages a candidate in questions that aren’t just work-related but reveal a lot of their values set,” Rector says. “It’s lasted as long as I’ve been here, and it’s a process that works very well for us.”
Rector and his staff also employ peer interviewing sessions, in which management-level candidates speak with their prospective peers and subordinates. A candidate for a director position is interviewed by other directors but could also be interviewed by the people who will report to that position.
“Candidates are probably going through five or six individual and five or six group interviews over the course of a few days,” Rector says.
You need a cultural match when you look for hires, because you need people who are willing to make your organization’s mission personal. You might not deal in saving lives the way Rector’s organization does, but the need to have your employees internalize and live your message is still there.
Rector doesn’t want his managers and employees to memorize the mission statement at RMC Bayonet Point. He wants them to believe in it. If, as an employee, you can parrot the organization’s mission and core values back to a manager, it should be because you’re living the mission and values each day, not so that you can placate your bosses.
“We can create a set of rehearsed core values that look important, but our core values are exactly what they are, and our team members have to embrace them,” Rector says. “So we have to keep things very simple along those lines. One of the questions I always ask people is, ‘How do you know good care when you see it?’ And you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I treating this patient the same way I’d be treating them if they were my own family?’ If that’s the standard we’re using for treating people, we’re probably going to do a really good job of delivering care.”
Value your employees
As the leader of your company, one of your jobs is to continually make sure that the puzzle pieces of your organization fit together. You do that by showing people in every area and department of your organization how their daily tasks help the organization meet its overarching goals and mission.
At RMC Bayonet Point, showing employees that they matter means showing them how their work improves the experience of the patients who are seeking treatment at the facility.
Arming employees with that knowledge can mean the difference between an adequate customer experience and a great experience that makes customers loyal to your service, product or brand.
“When people come to our organization, they expect us to help them get well,” Rector says. “So if we do everything perfect and help them get well, we’ve met their expectations. But how do we exceed their expectations? It’s typically those small things around the periphery of their care. Did we notice that someone was cold and, without asking them, went and got a blanket? Did we set up someone’s dinner tray the right way? Did we help them prepare their food the way they want it? Do we offer a simple smile and introduction to a patient when we walk into a room? Those little things turn a hospital stay from a clinical success, which is a good stay, to an exceptional stay. We need to focus on those little things.”
Focusing on those little things comes back to the principles of good communication and reinforcing the foundational building blocks of the culture. That means relying on good top to bottom communication that maintains a strong signal from your desk all the way to the bottom of the organizational ladder.
If making your mission personal helps to engage the employees who interact with your customers, your managers and directors need a way to make their jobs personal, as well.
“We want all of our director-level people to become CEOs in a sense,” Rector says. “Each of our directors have big business units with lots of employees. If our units were separate businesses, they’d still be among the largest in the community. So we ask them to become CEOs. I always ask them what they would do differently if their income was dependent on what was left over at the end of the day, then take that view as an entrepreneur. ‘What would you do, how would you retain customers, how do you measure their satisfaction, and what might you do differently the next time?’
“It’s not as hard to do if you have engaged management that is able to move ideas across an organization and facilitate communication with employees. That ability to communicate, facilitate and share best practices is really the mark of a great leadership team.”
How to reach: Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, (727) 819-2929 or www.rmchealth.com