The equalizer Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Jack Lynch was walking down a hospital hall one day when a security guard stopped him.

“Where is your ID badge?” the guard asked. “I’m the president,” replied Lynch, who is also the CEO of Main Line Health, a $780 million health care system based in Bryn Mawr.

Lynch sounded like he was asserting that he didn’t need an ID badge, but he actually had an ulterior motive.

After the guard gave him a perplexed look, Lynch let him in on the joke.

“I’m just kidding,” he told the guard. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you would stop me and tell me that I need a badge, even though you know I’m the president. You’ll never see me in this hospital without an ID badge again.”

Lynch had mistakenly left his ID badge in his office, but when the guard questioned him, he used it as an opportunity to reinforce a key part of his vision for Main Line Health: No one person is any more or less important than another. All employees, from doctors and nurses to parking lot attendants and administrators, are all key cogs in the Main Line machine.

By valuing his employees equally, Lynch says he is enabling them to do more for his company’s customers — the patients who are treated at Main Line’s facilities, which include four hospitals in the Philadelphia area.

Employees are the working parts that make your company go, but Lynch says that if you want them to be at their most focused and productive, they all have to be on the same page, working toward a common set of goals. That starts with the words that come from the CEO’s office.

Boots on the ground

When Lynch became the CEO of Main Line in August 2005, he was faced with the task of making a good company great. He says it can be a difficult task to take the reins of a company that already appears to have just about everything on the ball and make it even better, but relying on his previous experience as a hospital administrator in the Houston area, that’s what he set out to do.

The first order of business was to focus every employee in the company on providing the best possible customer experience.

Lynch says it doesn’t begin or end with the transaction, or even when a customer enters or leaves the building. A customer’s experience begins when they drive into the parking lot, and it never really ends, because they take their experience with them and pass it on to other people.

With that in mind, Lynch says it was important for his vision to reach every corner of Main Line’s ranks, all the way down to the parking lot attendants and custodial staff. So he went to all of Main Line’s facilities, engaging employees and beginning the initial steps of getting his work force to buy in to the future of the company. And, as important, he listened to what everyone else had to say.

“I spent the first year really listening, boots on the ground, getting out into our community, getting out into our facilities, looking at the (hospital) board’s plans for growth,” he says. “There was really no need to go right or left. It was really grabbing the baton and continuing to move forward, but hopefully, at an accelerated speed and with a bit more clarity.”

To aid in providing clarity, Lynch shortened what had been a lengthy vision statement, an essential step for clearly communicating it to 10,000 systemwide employees.

“We had a full-page vision statement, and if I asked the employees what the vision statement of the company was, nobody could articulate that,” he says.

An effective vision is a vision that management is able to relate to each individual employee, showing each person how he or she fits into the larger picture of the company. That was the starting point for Lynch to create a broad, wide-ranging company vision that applied to everyone at Main Line, medical staff and nonmedical alike.

“If we talk about something broad, like we talk about having a superior patient experience, if a cashier is crabby with someone leaving our parking lot, that is inconsistent with a superior patient experience. So I tried to make the message very clear and give a really clear line of sight as to how the person receiving the message can impact the performance of the organization.”

Constant communication

Making his initial rounds to all of Main Line’s facilities helped plant the seed of a new vision for Lynch, but everything he’s done since has been with an eye toward making the vision take root. That is accomplished through a constant dialogue between employees and management.

Lynch says two-way communication is important for any business that wants to improve. As the CEO, chances are you’re not bashful about communicating with your employees, but he says, your employees need avenues to talk back to you and your senior management.

“Making communication a two-way street is very important, and we encourage people to talk directly to or e-mail their manager, their human resource director, executives within the organization, the hospital president or me,” he says. “My e-mail is not filtered. Any e-mail from an employee gets a personal response.”

If you set an example of being approachable to everyone in the company, they will take notice and follow suit. Lynch says that if you are going to hold employees accountable for following the rules you have set, you need to be willing to let them hold you accountable for the job you are doing in steering the company.

“I try to avoid the feeling that there is a hierarchy of importance. We’re all here to do a job and everyone else is important, and we have a sense that there is an environment where there is an open door throughout the organization.”

Though many business leaders think the term “open-door policy” is cliché, Lynch says the concept is still relevant, and furthermore, it is essential to a culture that encourages open communication.

“It’s a classic example of behavior far outweighing the words,” he says. “When people know I’ll take a phone call from somebody, management begins to understand that if they don’t take a phone call, it will eventually get to me.”

However, when you make yourself open to everyone in the organization, people will come to you with their problems, be it with another employee or an organizational policy. When that occurs, Lynch says you have to make sure that you aren’t passing judgment on a situation without knowing the full story.

If you do, not only might you make an error in judgment, you run the risk of usurping authority from a manager below you.

“Executives have to be very careful that they don’t undo things that were done below them, without adequate information about what they’re doing,” he says. “I don’t draw conclusions immediately when somebody shares something. I’ll often direct someone who comes to me to the appropriate level within the organization.

“But if you do that, I think you begin to develop a reputation that, hey, these people (in management) are approachable. They do care about what you think.”

The power of people

Though, in many cases, the college degrees might be more advanced, Lynch says recruiting employees for a health care company isn’t much different than recruiting for a bank or manufacturing company: You want team players who will take your vision and company values and run with them.

Lynch says that is the most important aspect of any hire he makes, calling anything else a new hire brings to the table “added value.”

“One could conclude that we want people who are all the same, who look alike, act alike, do alike,” he says. “But I don’t care what you look like, if you come in here and don’t embrace our values, I don’t care how good you are, I don’t want you here.”

Lynch says your best recruiters can be your own people. If they believe in what you are doing and believe that they are making a difference in the company, they will be more inclined to recommend others to your company.

Though Internet job boards and the newspaper want ads have their place, he says word of mouth is probably the most powerful recruiting tool a business can have. Your reputation among the public can affect your recruiting positively or negatively.

“When the word gets out that people enjoy working for Main Line Health, we tend to see our applicant pool rise,” he says. “Where we have problems on a particular unit where supervisors aren’t behaving in line with our values, we’ll see turnover go up, and we’ll see people not wanting to apply here.

“There is a constant nurturing of the organization that has to take place, to make sure the environment I described is going on, and when it’s not going on, addressing it and fixing it so that it does.”

As economies become more globalized and the world becomes effectively smaller, Lynch says diversity is a growing issue that many businesses need to address.

If your business has a large, diverse customer population, they will want to see a large, diverse employee population taking care of them. Lynch says it isn’t only about equal opportunity, but it also makes good business sense.

“We’re in a global environment right now where we’re caring for people from more walks of life than we traditionally might have in the past. If we’re not committed to diversity, I’m not sure we’ll have enough people to care for the patients we’re expected to care for.”

Occasionally, Lynch has been forced to take a stand with regard to diversity. Once in awhile, he says an elderly patient who grew up in a different era of racial and ethnic tolerance might object to having his or her care provided by a doctor or nurse of a different race or ethnicity.

As he did with the security guard, Lynch takes it as an opportunity to reinforce his vision.

“If we believe a caregiver is appropriately trained and providing the quality that we expect, we’re not going to change that caregiver out,” he says. “It shows a lack of respect for the caregiver.

“That says a lot about you valuing your employees. The symbol it shows your employees when you are reinforcing that is dramatic. If I lose a patient to another hospital, I lose a patient. I won’t lose an employee because I devalued them by taking them off that assignment.”

Lynch says Main Line has placed a policy on the books that a caregiver will not be removed from an assignment based solely on the request of a patient. That policy, he says, has been one of the biggest steps he has taken in getting employees to buy in to his vision and values.

“It comes back to the culture,” he says. “It’s not something every employee believes you are willing to do. When I got here, I found that historically, the organization believed the right thing to do was to satisfy the patient. But when we started talking to our employees, we realized how demeaning that could be to an employee that was changed out.

“It’s one of those things that takes just hours to get through the organization, when senior management comes down with a policy that demonstrates that you really value your employees.”

HOW TO REACH: Main Line Health, www.mainlinehealth.org