Culture of inclusion Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

Bobby Keen believes that as a leader, you’re only as good as your employees think you are.

And for that reason, the president and CEO of Hancock Regional Hospital tries to keep his leadership style as participatory as possible.

“I have great respect for the people I work with, their skills and abilities,” Keen says. “In many cases, I know those people have a greater expertise than I personally do.”

Keen, whose organization posted 2008 revenue of $155 million, says that a leader can’t unite an organization without getting employees from all levels to buy in to the organization’s mission and core values. In order to achieve that level of buy-in and effectively leverage the talent of your employees, Keen says they must remain engaged in helping to shape their company’s future.

Smart Business spoke with Keen about how to foster a culture of inclusion in your organization.

Encourage free speech.
Most people come to work every day wanting to do a great job. They want to be productive for their organization. You have to give them an opportunity to participate and be a part of the organization.

My experience over the years is that suggestions for improvement come from places that you might not even think about. If you don’t realize in an organization that your suggestions might come from what you might consider to be an odd place, then you’re going to miss some very important suggestions for improvement.

You have to build a culture where people feel free to give their thoughts and suggestions. We have tried to build what I would call a no-blame culture, where we show our associates on a daily basis that we actually value their input and thoughts, and we’re going to take their suggestions and try to do something with them.

We have various ways of gaining input from the associates. When we do get a suggestion, we try to make sure the associate always knows we followed up on that suggestion. You have to let the associates understand that you do respect them, their opinions, and when they do come up with suggestions, you have to make sure you actually get back with them, that you’ve taken that suggestion seriously and you’ve followed up.

Build trust with people over time.
In every situation, employees are not going to respond if there are not a couple of elements in the organization. It all starts with respect and trust. If they respect you, if they trust you and if you are approachable, they’ll realize that you really do want their suggestions. You really do want their thoughts on where the organization is going. If all of those elements are there, you can have great conversations. You just get on those one-on-one conversations, and if all those elements of respect and trust are there, if they believe there is not going to be a punitive retaliation when they bring up things, it’s a very positive environment.

Remember to communicate.
These are some of the keys to communication: One, begin every conversation with heart. Two, be a good listener. A third key would be to stay actively engaged in the organization and with your people, so that you try to understand as best you can where they’re coming from.

The first part is important. Let’s assume that the economy got so bad that you lead one of the companies that is actually having to cut staff, giving out pink slips on Friday. First of all, I find that very difficult to do. But there might come a time in an organization where you have to do that.

If you have to do that, you have to go in to that with heart and go in to that with true empathy and understanding for those people whose lives you may be impacting. You just can’t look at your associates as a number. You have to look at them as individuals with different needs that you have to understand.

Communicate in person.
There are several ways I facilitate face-to-face contact with employees. First of all, every quarter, we have associate meetings. We invite all associates to come to those quarterly meetings. Most of the time, when we go in to those meetings, we try to start them out by saying ‘OK, the agenda is yours. What do you want to talk about; what do you want to discuss today?’ The quarterly meetings provide us with feedback.

I then do something else called ‘Food for your thoughts.’ We have a meal and ask every department in the hospital to send one representative to that session. That is a direct, face-to-face discussion with me. The associates come in, and we make that their agenda. We ask them what do they want to talk about, what do they want to know from me today. We listen and respond when appropriate. We might have to give an explanation of why we did something.

Another thing I do that some CEOs do not is spend time with every new associate who comes into the hospital.

I actually go and do the new associate orientation. I go and spend about an hour or hour and a half with all the new associates and present to them the hospital where they’ll be working, the culture, mission, vision and values. At the same time, I give myself a chance for discussion with the new associates.

HOW TO REACH: Hancock Regional Hospital, (317) 462-5544 or