Making your words count Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

If your idea of a great communicator is a leader who delivers inspiring speeches or writes best-selling books, you’re right — at least partly. Great communicators can do great things with their talents and skills.

However, if you don’t possess superlative oratory skills and don’t have a finished manuscript to show publishers, William F. Provenzano says you shouldn’t take that as a sign that you can’t be a great communicator.

The president of $56 million Ohio Valley General Hospital says that truly great communicators are measured not in the messages they deliver but in how they are received by their audience. If your employees think you are straightforward and genuine and that you value their input, chances are you’ll get high marks from them as a communicator.

But Provenzano says that getting to that point takes consistent reinforcement of your messages.

Smart Business spoke with Provenzano about how to become a better communicator in the eyes of your employees.

Know what to communicate. First, you need to know what you have to communicate. You really need to be able to step back and see what you need to communicate, what is it about the organization that is important and what is it that you need to talk about.

When you do that, you focus on the A priority, so to speak, and you’re not just chit-chatting. You focus on those, and then you communicate and discuss those issues.

So for us, it’s basically talking about where we’re going with the hospital, what is our strategic plan. You talk about that, and then you tie the other pieces together.

Say we need to build a medical office building, which we are actually just doing now. We need to get a contractor to build it, we need to go out and get the leases and meet with the physicians. We need to get them into the building and make sure they use the hospital services.

Remain accessible. Employees need to see the leader. They need to see who is running the organization and know them. But probably the most important part of that is people really want to feel part of the organization.

They don’t want to just be a worker. They want to be part of its mission and its future. They really want to contribute to the success of the organization. If you don’t involve them, you don’t talk to them and you don’t see them, they don’t feel like that. That’s the biggest key.

Employees will bring issues up to you. If they see something, they might e-mail you. But if I’m just walking around, they’ll say, ‘Hey, Mr. Provenzano, were you aware of this?’ Then you go back to the office and figure out how to address it.

So they’ll frequently talk to you, even if they don’t end up e-mailing you. And if they see you around frequently, they’ll feel more comfortable stopping you and talking to you.

Teach others to lead. You need leaders throughout the organization. You need people who take a leadership role in the lobby, meeting and greeting people, helping them with their problems and issues if they’re not sure where to go or what to do. You need someone to guide and direct them.

Everybody in the organization needs to be a leader. Everybody in the organization is responsible for the future success of the organization. That’s why we involve them. If an organization does well, it’s going to be because of people, not because of bricks and mortar.

I go over that with the new employees. I let them know that when a patient comes in here, when a doctor or visitor comes in here, act like you are the only person they’re going to come in contact with, that they’re going to judge the whole organization based on how you treat them.

No one goes and interviews 500 people to decide if this is a good organization. They don’t come to see me. It’s that person that sees them and handles them.

If they’re nice and take care of them, they’ll like the organization, and it will do well. The people on the front end make all the difference in the world.

Instilling that sense of ownership starts with the orientation, where we tell them that we’re going to listen to them and that we’re concerned about them and want them to have a future here, and that they’re crucial to the quality of care we can provide. People’s lives are in their hands, even though they are just one individual.

Then we try to keep them involved in the decision-making, in the philosophies, so they feel part of the organization.

Stay tuned to the future. I think the major role of a CEO today is to keep in mind that the world is changing rapidly, and you have to change with it. The success and future of your organization determines whether or not you put them on a strategic plan or initiative that is going to survive in that environment as it changes, and the way it’s going to change.

So you sit back and ask yourself what is going to happen ... within the next five years, what it is going to do. Your ability to predict that will likely determine how well you’re going to do.

No one has a crystal ball, but you try to predict what is going to happen, what is liable to happen and what is your role going to be in it, how are you going to position yourself. If you are able to do that, you’ll be in business.

HOW TO REACH: Ohio Valley General Hospital, (412) 777-6161 or