When Cindy Schamp came to Alle-Kiski Medical Center four years ago, it was a battered institution. The medical center, which had been a struggling community hospital, then became part of a health system that went bankrupt before becoming a satellite hospital within another behemoth system. Schamp came in, listened and learned. She poured dollars into staff development and prepared the institution for the changes it would need to make to survive. And in the four years since she arrived, Schamp has led the hospital, which posted net patient revenue of $98 million in 2005, through uncomfortable changes while restoring the confidence of its medical staff, employees and the community. Smart Business spoke with Schamp about being a storyteller, what trumps strategy and confronting the pink elephant.
Listen a lot. People want to know that you understand who they are. Every place has its cultural pieces that are important, and if you tramp on them, you tramp on the people, and that’s never going to accomplish what you want to achieve.
You really need to listen for what the core values in place are and do your own assessment of what things are missing that you need to work toward. Immediate shakeup in management and leadership is a bad thing that sends a message that you don’t give people an opportunity to show their value. You can’t possibly come into a place and three weeks later know whether someone’s going to be able to do it or not.
Don’t use fear to manage. Fear isn’t the answer. I don’t believe in management by fear. There’s too much of management by fear, and I don’t think that brings out the best in people.
So the inspirational part of my job that I think is critical to being a CEO is helping people find their voice again, helping them find a way not to be afraid, to say, “Could we try this?” and not be afraid to fail. Because if we’re afraid to fail at something we try, then we won’t try anything. But they have to feel safe to try, or they will never go down that road.
Be a storyteller. I view my role as a number of different things. I view myself as the institutional cheerleader, in many ways, and as the storyteller. I’m the one who gets to articulate to the community and to the departments and to the medical staff the great things that are happening in the hospital.
If I’m afraid to tell their story, or if I’m too humble or too shy to tell their story, then I’ve failed them. I’m also the person who’s responsible for making sure we have a vision of where we’re going, that we’re on a path to get to that place and that I have a commitment to doing what I believe are the right things all the time for the patients, our employees, and the medical staff and the public.
Work on change in the middle. Twenty percent of the people are OK with change: ‘Change happens, we’re going to go there.’ Then there’s that big part in the middle who aren’t sure: ‘Show me why and I’ll go.’
And there’s the 20 percent who aren’t going to go there. It doesn’t matter what you say, they’re not going to like change. They’ll kick and scream and holler and say they’re not going to go. But if you can get to the middle piece enough to have the inertia go in your direction, then everybody makes that cycle with you.
But you can’t run too far ahead and go, ‘Hey, where are you? You’re supposed to be with me,’ because you’ve got to give them a vision to see why they should change and you’ve got to manage to do that, and be a little more tolerant of what it takes to do that, than for those of us who don’t mind change.
Encourage a diversity of viewpoints. I look for people who are not afraid to put the pink elephant on the table. For me, the proverbial pink elephant is, we’re in the room, and because I’m the CEO, nobody wants to tell me that it’s actually a bone-headed idea and I shouldn’t do it.
If I don’t have people around me who are willing and able to say what they really thought about it, it’s only half done because there’s this other part I need to consider. That’s the pink elephant that nobody wants to talk about because everybody thinks it’s a done deal, or it’s something that I want to do, and they don’t have any say in it.
If I only have ‘yes’ people around me who are too worried to tell me what they really think, then I might as well not have them around me. I need a nice blend of people around me who are constructively critical.
Culture beats strategy every time. I go back to a phrase I learned years ago: Culture eats strategy for lunch every day. You can have the best strategy you want, but if you don’t have the culture that’s going to advance that strategy, it doesn’t really much matter what your vision is because you can’t lift it.
You can lay out all that strategy and those tactics, but if you can’t lift it because the culture won’t go to what you’re identifying as the strategy, it doesn’t matter. So working on culture means bringing all those people along, bringing the organization along.
Invest in leaders. You have to assess your leadership group and determine whether or not they’ve had the investment in them that allows them to be able to lift things for you.
In this institution, we spent the better part of a year with leadership development, investing in people we look to in leading the organization. You have to listen, you have to invest in the people that you want invested in you.
And if you don’t invest in the people, where’s their loyalty and commitment and drive and belief that they’re valuable?
HOW TO REACH: Alle-Kiski Medical Center, www.wpahs.org/akmc