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The power within Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

When Bill Corley needed help with part of a $170 million expansion, he turned to his employees.

Corley, president and CEO of Community Health Network, a $1.17 billion health care provider, was overseeing the expansion of his Community Hospital North facility. The patient rooms needed to be as functional and comfortable as possible, so he sought out employee input to help make that happen.

Rather than studying a pile of drab, lifeless blueprints, officials transformed a room at one of the company’s existing locations into a mock-up of the new accommodations. Employees were then asked to provide their feedback.

“You put furniture in it, you put a hospital bed in, you put where the oxygen outlets are going to be, and then you say, ‘What changes do you think we should make?’” Corley says.

Those who had proposed specific aspects of the room had a chance to explain the reasoning behind their idea to the board of trustees. When the project was completed, the pride of those who had taken part was clearly evident.

“We had over 1,000 changes, and they were little things, but they were suggested by employees,” Corley says. “When we had the open house, the employees were there. “When somebody has passion for an idea, I think you engage that person by just asking questions to try to get that employee to fully develop the idea or the concept. By showing that kind of interest and then using someone’s idea and giving them credit for it, you have an employee for life.

“If your employees are an asset, the point is you have to listen to them. When you listen to them, sometimes they have ideas. The question is: How many of the ideas or the improvements do you try?”

Tapping into the imaginations of your employees is a key step to building a healthy and fulfilling culture that will keep an organization moving forward.

“It’s the employees that build the reputation of the company,” Corley says. “A lot of leaders sometimes think it’s them. ... When you read the autobiographies or stories about various leaders, the message almost is that this person was bigger than life. Everybody in the organization helps the organization to be successful.”

By fostering a spirit of enthusiastic participation among his 10,700 employees, Corley has helped Community Health Network to be one of the top 20 integrated health care networks in the nation. Here’s how he does it.

Engage your people

You can talk all day about how passionate you are about your business and how others should feel the same way. But if you want to reach your employees and get them to buy in to your energy, you need to openly demonstrate your passion in everything that you do.

It’s not as objective as passing along information or learning to do a skill. In most cases, it’s not something you can talk about or send out an e-mail to describe.

“Passion comes from your heart,” Corley says. “People often say you can teach people to do things with their hands and you can teach people to do things with their head. The third thing is you need to be able to engage their heart.”

Consistency demonstrates your passion about the direction of the company and a conviction for the decisions you are making.

“In too many organizations, the values on the wall are not exhibited through the behaviors of the leaders on a consistent basis,” Corley says.

“If it’s written on the wall and you aren’t consistent or your behavior does not exhibit those values, then that’s where the culture of the organization becomes different than the values on the wall.”

For example, one of Community Health’s values is based on collaboration.

Corley uses small group meetings to get people to share ideas about how to improve the organization.

He also uses those small groups to pilot ideas before introducing them to the entire organization to see how they might work.

“We always say to people, ‘How can you make a difference today?’” Corley says. “There are situations that come up all the time. It’s a question that every business ought to be asking every employee: How can you make a difference, however small it may be, every day?”

The broader goal of idea generation is to get employees passionate about their jobs and how they can do them better.

“We’re trying to say to all of our employees, ‘Hey, you have two jobs,’” Corley says. “‘One job is to do your job well, and then two, it’s to improve your job or improve the service that you provide.’”

The important issue is you have to make them think it was worth their time to make a suggestion.

“The only way they are going to feel like they got something out of it is did you try it or did you consider the idea seriously,” he says. “If they never hear anything, how many more times do you think they will suggest something?”

Build relationships

One of the best things you can do to help your employees do their jobs is to provide them with good leadership at all levels.

“People leave organizations because they don’t get along with the people that they work with or their manager,” Corley says. “Our managers’ jobs are to make sure that the employees achieve their maximum potential. When the employees perform, they make you look good. Employees want to do the right thing.”

An effective manager needs to be able to relate to his or her people.

“The output of our work is important,” Corley says. “But we emphasize not only the quality of the care but the quality of the caring. Not just to the patient and their family but also to the employee. How do you know whether your organization cares about you as an employee? Do they listen to you?”

Community Health holds a regular twoday course on relationship development. The goal is to emphasize the importance of regular communication about what everyone’s role is in the company.

“It’s critical that people understand what their job is and what the expectations are,” Corley says. “We try to make sure that’s very clear.”

Those discussions about job and expectation should take place in multiple ways. Corley and his managers regularly eat in the company cafeterias in order to interact with employees in a more casual setting.

When new employees join Community Health, they take time to sit down with each group of rookies in order to get to know them a little better.

“It’s a commitment we’ve made,” Corley says. “It’s amazing the number of times people say, ‘You know, I worked for another organization for 10 years, and I never met the CEO.”

The point is to build a sense of team among your leaders and your employees through the sharing of information.

“Provide a lot of information to the managers and leaders because they are the ones who have day-to-day contact with the individuals,” Corley says. “They are the ones that communicate the information. You know that the culture runs through the organization when you hear that directly from employees. It’s when employees take the challenge of improving the exceptional patient and family experience or the exceptional physician or exceptional employee experience.”

Use stories to motivate

An e-mail or memo is useful for passing along the time for a meeting or the latest data to show how your company is performing. But it can’t convey the details that are required to feed the flames of passion needed to help your company grow.

“Stories are much more powerful than memos,” Corley says. “Just about every week, I will tell stories on our voice mail system to our employees about other employees and the significant impact they have had on our patients, other employees or physicians’ lives. The stories are very, very powerful.”

Corley recalled a time earlier in his career when he was a shareholder in a company that made stents for patients. It offered a lesson that stories can come from leaders but also from others both inside and outside the company.

“At an annual meeting of all the shareholders, who did they bring in?” Corley says. “Sure, the president and CEO talked, but they had either patients or patients’ loved ones talking about the stent that they made to save his wife’s life.”

You need to find ways to capture the good things that your employees do and share those moments with others.

“Tell those stories about how one of your employees handled this most difficult situation and turned it into a plus when it was headed for a minus,” Corley says. “It’s positive reinforcement rather than, ‘Oh, somebody did something wrong.’ No, it’s somebody did something right. It really is making sure you want to make this part of your culture and then communicating it to others.”

Developing a culture around storytelling and the sharing of experiences takes time.

“Don’t expect it to be a quick fix,” Corley says.

The key, once again, is consistency. Corley likens leadership to being a parent.

“If both parents are consistent, then there is not a lot of stress in the family,” Corley says. “Mom and Dad have talked about it and both agreed and so it doesn’t matter who gives the yes or the no. The no is going to be from Mom as well as Dad.”

The key to maintaining consistency across the organization is that each department follows the same goals of striving for the best experience for patients, their families, employees and physicians as well as strong growth and financial performance.

Those goals are posted in company materials and continually referred to in meetings and dialogue that take place throughout the organization.

Valuing the work your employees do is the key. “Your employees are your most valuable resource,” Corley says. “They are not a cost. They are a resource and an asset.”

HOW TO REACH: Community Health Network, (317) 355-1411 or www.ecommunity.com