Connective tissue Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2010

James Luck is an inclusive leader. As the president and CEO of the 250-employee Orthopaedic Hospital, there is more to that statement than meets the eye.

In his position, Luck has to bring together employees from a wide range of disciplines — doctors, nurses, administrators, office and support staff, among others.

To make it all happen at the hospital, which generated $34 million in 2008 revenue, Luck has to focus on communicating clearly and frequently and identifying others who can help further his communication strategy. It’s a team-focused approach that has worked for Luck throughout his career.

“I really like to have everyone feel that they’re having an active role in decision-making for the organization,” Luck says. “It’s my personal psychology. My whole life, I have very much enjoyed team efforts as opposed to individual efforts. I relish the idea of working with a team on a challenging, complex problem and coming up with a solution.”

Smart Business spoke with Luck about how you can build great communication throughout your organization.

Take an interest. Styles of communication are highly variable. People can be great communicators and do it in a variety of ways. But one of the most essential components is that the leader has a strong personal desire to communicate, that the leader cares about communication and cares about the people of the organization and cares about how they relate to the mission. That personal interest level is critical, and there is no substitute for it. You can’t fake that.

Great communicators are focused on people, a ‘people person,’ but they vary in terms of how extroverted they are. But they genuinely care about the communication, care about the people they are talking to and care [about] being able to engage people in the discussion. That is pretty obvious when you listen to these people speak. You do get engaged because they have established a connection with you. That is the most essential element of a good communicator.

What form the communication takes, writing or verbal, that is not so critical, but it is critical that they have that strong personal interest in communicating.

I am very much a walk-the-halls kind of leader. I’m personally involved in the health care delivery — I see and take care of patients in addition to my administrative responsibility. I walk the halls and understand the challenges that exist in the various departments. I’ve been around here long enough that people know me well, and they’re not hesitant to come up and talk to me if they have some ideas or concerns.

Doing the things I do, especially the patient care activities and the residency program, really gets me out with people. ... We also have managers that do a great job with their own particular departments. For example, if I were not a physician, if I were just an administrator working in my office, there would be a whole different level of communication and awareness about what is happening.

Identify and develop communicators. You do have to try to identify people who have the potential to be good communicators, even if it is not well-developed potential initially. But we do recruit and recently did recruit the head of our children’s program. One of the key things we were looking for was vision and communication skills. That can be enhanced and fostered in someone in a variety of ways. You can send someone off to courses and stuff like that, and that is of some value. But I think setting an example and establishing communication as an important accomplishment, then monitoring their progress, that is what you need to do. Someone coming into this organization should see that there is a high level of communication and be a part of that, then gradually assume more and more of that responsibility.

When it comes to finding people with communication potential, there are two factors at work. First, it is what they have accomplished thus far and what you can glean from letters of recommendation. If you look at someone and you see that they have moved up the leadership ladder, that they have been asked to assume leadership roles and responsibilities, that generally would indicate that they have pretty good communication skills. You don’t get there without good communication skills.

Second, it’s the interview process itself. We ask our applicants to give presentations, to study our organization and give a fairly lengthy presentation on what they see for the future, what they would establish as priorities and goals and where they would take the organization. That is then open for discussion afterward. It is an elaborate process to determine if that individual really has that communication ability.

Bring people together. Direct communication is what I’ve found to be the most effective. Newsletters are great, people look at them, but they may or may not take the time to read or think about it. Getting a group together and giving them an update on what is happening in an institution, but even more important than that, getting them to ask questions and get engaged in the discussion, that is the best method.

We have team meetings on a regular basis. We have senior team meetings twice a month, and we have employee forums quarterly. We have an internal journal newsletter we send around on a quarterly basis. We have a lot of functioning groups that meet as often as necessary in every department. For the physicians who work here and senior staff, we have lunch together every day. That is extremely valuable, a lot of important communication occurs there.

We place an emphasis on team building. As an example, I am part of a team that takes care of patients with bleeding disorders. The reason they have orthopedic problems is they bleed into their joints and have terrible arthritis starting in childhood. The only way people can make progress in a disease of that magnitude is with a team, and that team has to be a very broad team of hematologists, orthopedic surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, social workers, clerical staff and so forth.

How to reach: Orthopaedic Hospital, (213) 742-1000 or www.orthohospital.org