Corley, president and CEO of Community Health Network, has applied this lesson to all of his organization's 8,500 employees. In fact, he's made it mandatory that all employees regularly give their managers input.
"You could be terminated if you don't express your opinion," Corley says.
Corley's vehemence when it comes to freedom of expression stems from the time he found himself on the opposite side of a position taken by Community Health Network's board chairman.
After debating the issue, Corley was convinced his opinion was the right one. So rather than acquiesce, he stood and fought.
"CEOs do not like being on the other side of the table from the chairman," Corley says. "And our chairman is different than a corporation's. Our chairman is always a volunteer."
Corley says this was the most difficult situation he faced during his business career.
"I knew if the rest of the board didn't support me, I was gone," he says.
Fortunately for Corley, the board did support him and the chairman resigned. But the experience was life-changing, and since then, Corley has worked hard to prevent a repetition. Accordingly, he stays in close contact with the current chairman to keep him informed and gauge his views.
"I've worked hard to ensure that everyone is on the same page," he says.
That philosophy translates to every member of Corley's work force, and he strives to ensure they voice their individual and collective opinions to managers and supervisors -- especially when they have complaints.
"Frustration causes burnout," Corley says. "Not overwork."
Research, Corley says, shows that people who are frustrated on the job are more apt to leave a company when a good offer comes along.
"Most people leave because they can't get along with a boss or co-worker and to get more money," Corley says. "But the major reason is the relationship issue. We want people to speak up. You use other people's ideas and give them credit. If you do, they will stay with the organization for a long time."
Considering the shortage of health care workers, it is not surprising that Corley recognizes that retaining his employee base is critical to Community Health Network's future. And, he says, those people must be able to express their opinions without fear of the consequences.
"I really want people to talk back to their managers," he says.
Ask Corley about his top five priorities for Community Health Network's future success and it's not surprising that the first three are people-oriented.
First, he's working to develop exceptional patient and family experiences. Second, the organization is developing what Corley calls an even better experience for its employees. And third, Community Health Network aims to develop exceptional experiences and partnerships with its physicians.
"We believe they, as well as the employees, are crucial to our success with patients and families," Corley says.
The fourth priority is to determine Community Health Network's growth direction -- what facilities, new programs and services will be needed at the various locations. And the final priority is financial performance and growth.
"We put them in that order," Corley says. "Our employees and physicians provide the exceptional services, which will lead to our strong financial performance and growth. So our focus is primarily on the first three."
To best accomplish these goals, Corley relies on input from several sources.
"We have what we call a summit and bring in people from outside to talk with us, stimulate our thinking," he says.
Then a cross-section of employees, first-line managers, department leaders and top managers gather to develop the operating plan. This cross-section ensures that everyone at every level is represented.
"We believe that good ideas come from all levels," Corley says. "Often, the best ideas do not come from managers and senior leaders."
Included in the operating plan are timelines for action items and names of responsible parties.
Even with all this organization, Corley says the plan isn't set in stone.
"We review [it] quarterly," he says. "We want to be proactive, not reactive. We can't be proactive and just look at the plan once a year or every six months."
Counting on change
In Corley's world, change is good. In fact, he expects a great deal of change over the coming years. And, he wants Community Health Network not just to keep pace with those changes but to be at the forefront of them.
Part of that encompasses the impact of technology on the health care industry, an area where Corley says his organization recognizes the signs of things to come.
"New technology is coming out so fast, our ability to handle it is like drinking water from a fire hydrant," he says. "People want that technology. They hear about it very quickly."
Among the innovations are new and replacement medical devices, equipment, procedures and information technology. But Corley says it will be IT that has the greatest impact on health care providers.
"In the next five to 10 years, all of the information that is on paper charts will be on computer," Corley says. "It will improve the safety, reliability and speed of treatment. Information will move much faster, and people will take action earlier."
All of this, he says, is part of a gradual shift in the industry, from reactive treatment to a preventive medicine model.
"You'll still have injuries and accidents," he says. "But with so many more diagnostic tools available, early health prevention techniques will prevent heart attacks, strokes and diseases like diabetes from occurring."
Even the reimbursement system will change, he says.
"An open heart surgeon is paid a significant amount, while a primary care physician that prevents disease only gets paid for an office visit," says Corley. "That will change. We're changing from an illness society to an early health, wellness and prevention one. Health care will not be as expensive as it is now."
That's a bold prediction at a time of escalating health care costs with no end in sight. But Corley, as he's proven in the past, is willing to stick his neck out for something he believes in.
That's why he's preparing Community Health Network today for what he sees peering over the horizon. With input from his staff and employees helping to guide his decisions, Corley says he wants to act now and not wait for everyone else to jump onto the technology bandwagon.
"We try to be proactive rather than reactive," he says. "In some cases, it takes a leap of faith to be ahead of the curve. But we'd rather be there than waiting for the curve to happen."
That's one reason Corley recently formed a partnership with GE to serve as a testing site for all relevant new technology.
"As new IT comes out, we are an alpha site for those new things," he says. "We did our research and believe this is the way to go."
And when Corley says "we," he means it. Most decisions are reached through that all-important employee input, he says.
"Our top management team knows we must reach a consensus as a team and live with it," he says. "We work until we find a decision that everyone can live with and support. We know that not everyone has the same talents and skills, so no one person is making all the decisions. All of us are smarter than any one of us."
And Corley makes sure this environment permeates Community Health Network because, he says, that's where the real secret to an organization's success lies, within its employees.
"We use a lot of people's ideas," he says. "That is the power of any organization, being able to unleash the good ideas from your entire work force, not just management, because t he employees closest to your customer know their needs better than we do. That's why we foster their involvement and engagement."
How to reach: Community Health Network, (317) 355-1411or www.ecommunity.com