Category : Smart company stories

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.

Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. “This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can’t wait to see what she has that week for them.”
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. “This is essential,” Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His “otherness” has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.”  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.


Purpose = Profits

Check out this analysis by Morgan Stanley of some of the largest public tech companies in the world: Companies with “simple, focused” missions achieve the biggest gross margins.

Fascinating, yes?  Note that QlikView and Salesforce have the biggest gross margins AND more simple, focused missions than the other companies.

A clear mission is so valuable, but so many companies struggle with finding the courage and commitment for standing for something.  Or they fall into gobbledygook corporate speak that lacks inspiration and clarity. Or the “mission statement by consensus” process is so draining that people end up with “whatever” missions rather than something simple and great.

Big hint: If  the mission process gets painful, you have the wrong people involved.

(See the story that accompanied the chart over at Harvard Business Review, “Employee Values = Stakeholder Value” by Lars Bjork, CEO of QlikTech.)

Leadership advice from JetBlue’s CEO

David Barger, JetBlue Airway’s president and CEO, shared some of his insights about leadership recently in the Sunday “New York Times” column, Corner Office column..  Highlights I found particularly interesting:

  • Simplifying complexity: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the 13,000 people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.”
    •  (Note:  Four years ago JetBlue had 23 objectives, 14 in year two, 10 in year three, and now just two key objectives. Also, the company has just five values and it interviews candidates with those five values in mind: safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion.)
  • To lead doesn’t require titles: “Be mindful that there is incredible leadership all around you. Go find it. Go tap it. Go mine it.”
  • Key question: “Would you want to report to yourself?”
  • Leading is teaching: “I think the best leaders are teachers…You’re not just doing and communicating what you’re doing — you’re teaching people why you’re doing it.”

Courage to lead: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras

True leaders are rare. Especially among  elected government officials, who tend to make tough decisions based on how it will affect their re-election chances.

One of those rare leaders is Providence Mayor Angel Taveras,  guiding the city and its people through some exceedingly painful yet necessary decisions in order to fill a $110 million  deficit.  And Providence isn’t just any city. It’s been historically  fraught with corruption, closed-door wheeling and dealing, and an unhealthy influence of self-serving insiders.

I often hear people excuse leaders’ inability to lead, saying things like, “Well he’s got a complicated situation to deal with.” Or, “It will take years for anyone to be able to change this place.”

Yet Taveras is deftly guiding the city through difficult change in order to get on firm financial footing. Imagine being a first-time urban city mayor and having to make tough decisions like closing schools and laying off community teachers, firefighters and police?

Despite these always unpopular decisions, Traveras is earning respect and collaboration from his constituents. The reason? He’s focused on doing what’s right, and working WITH diverse constituents. He isn’t dictating how to get to financial stability; he is collaborating in the true sense of the word with the people in the city who best know how to make changes on a tactical level.

Six critical leadership competencies that Taveras brings as mayor:

  1. Focus on a clear, shared goal: restoring the city to a sound fiscal foundation. Taveras’ message is clear about the urgent need to solve the deficit crisis.  Period.
  2. Honesty: revealing the city’s dire financial situation right after his election. No spinning bad news. No taking time to socialize ideas and tend to politics. Taveras has been a straight shooter, presenting the reality, and calling for people to come together to figure out solutions.
  3. Transparency, sharing: sharing the data to help everyone make better decisions.  Fire union president Paul Dougherty recently said that previous mayoral administrations would withhold financial information and often say, “Find it yourself.”  Taveras’ negotiators, however,  have “been straightforward, and they give you information when you ask for it.”
  4. Admitting missteps: acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. “They’re right,” said Taveras of crticism from the teachers union on how the city revealed teacher layoffs. “We certainly could have done a better job with our teachers and I learned from it.”
  5. Not having the answers: great leaders set goals and ask people with a stake in the outcome to create the best way to achieve those goals.  This approach speeds change. The solution isn’t dictated from above, it’s created by the people closest to the issues who know the issues, and will  be responsible for executing them. Taveras doesn’t claim to have the answers, and believes that Providence’s leaders have the ability to create the “how” now that the why is so vitally clear.
  6. Belief and fortitude: Taveras has a steadfast belief that the city will solve its problems, and he’s steadfast in his belief and his values. “He’s showing me intestinal fortitude that I didn’t think he had,” says Joseph Rodio, a lawyer for the police union. “Most politicians, in their first 60 days in office, become somebody different. He hasn’t.”

Quite simply, Mayor Taveras seems to have the courage to govern for the people and with the people.  That’s the type of leader — not politician — we should be supporting if we really want to make our cities, states and country a better place to live.


Putting words to why your company exists

A great company purpose  is a rallying cry that inspires employees and customers.  It moves people emotionally, creates a differentiation that has nothing to do with products or price, and can be explained by anyone in the company.

The best example is Nike. While most of us know the company’s 20 year-old “Just Do It” motto, there’s much more to why Nike exists. Simon Sinek, author of the great book “Start with Why” shares this story about Nike founder Phil Knight over on his re:Focus blog:

Looking across the audience, Knight asked those who run to stand up.  And a good percentage of the room stood up.  Then he asked those who run three or more times a week to keep standing; everyone else was asked to sit down.Looking out at the people left standing, Knight said, “we are for you.”

“When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go for a run,” he went on, “even if it’s cold and wet out, you go. And when you get to mile 4, we’re the one standing under the lamp post, out there in the cold and wet with you, cheering you on.  We’re the inner athlete.  We’re the inner champion.”

Without a single mention of their latest technologies or which athletes wear their products, Knight makes a vastly more compelling case for Why we want Nike in our lives. Nike may or may not be better, but we are drawn to them because they have a cause.

Nike doesn’t want to make products for everyone, they want to make products for champions.  Champions are not the ones who always win races, champions are the ones who get out there and try. And try harder the next time. And even harder the next time. Champion is a state of mind. They are devoted.  They compete to best themselves as much if not more than they compete to best others.  Champions are not just athletes.  Champions are entrepreneurs, politicians, nurses, soldiers, students and Hall of Famers.  Nike wants to make products for all champions.

Most companies have clever or meaningless tag lines (marketing) and bland, gobbledygook mission/vision statements (corporate communications). Few can express why they exist in a way that inspires.

Imagine what might happen if you could?  And you can.

A simple workshop exercise is to ask people, “If our company were a cause, what would our rallying cry be?”

Be prepared to be amazed at what your own people believe. And if they are stumped? Time for some corporate soul searching. If you don’t know why you exist — other than making money and improving shareholder value — you really can’t lead effectively. Manage, sure. Lead, no.


The eight most important behaviors of managers at Google

People leave companies for one of three reasons: a terrible boss, dislike of co-workers or a lack of connection with the company’s mission or the sense that their work matters.

Managers at Google have a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they feel about their work than any other factor. So Google embarked on an extensive internal research project to determine the most important behaviors of their managers on employee performance. Rather than apply generic management principles, Google uncovered the behaviors most important in its own corporate culture.

Since the company pinpointed the most important behaviors and started teaching them in training, coaching and performance review sessions they have achieved “a statistically  significant improvement for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” according to  Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations.

More about Google’s data-driven project to understand how to develop management behaviors that make a difference can be found in this recent New York Times article, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss.”

Here are the eight behaviors that work for Google, ranked in order of importance. Do you know the most effective behaviors for your company culture? And which are more important than others?

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice.
  • Make “stretch” assignments to help them tackle big problems

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and ease their transition

4. Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way; you both listen and share information
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees

6. Help your employees with career development

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
  • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work

One way to avoid corporate values going splat

Few people take corporate values seriously because they’re usually just good, well-meaning words on a page.  You know the common words: Be innovative. Honor integrity and  transparency in all we do.  The customer comes first. Excellence in all we do.

Most people in organizations have no idea how to live these words or use them as a guidepost to make decisions.

But here’s one example of getting it right.  To make sure its core value of “pursue growth and learning” happens, Zappos requires new employees to read specific books. They’re actively helping people live the value.

Hat tip to Ben Eubanks who included this point in his excellent post,  “Read This: Turning the Page on Employee Learning and Development,” over at the Monster Thinking blog.

Marketing assisted living homes: take two

The secret for  marketing assisted living homes: provide an extra ordinary client experience that makes people feel good.

Indeed, this is the basic marketing principal  for all services and products.

Sounds simple, but so many nursing and assisted living homes put operations first, client needs second, much like most industries. Whatever our fields, we become lulled into thinking that how we do business is the way to do business.  We rarely step back and question whether there’s a better way.

So let’s step back a minute.

Do you really need to  run your operations where  everyone lives on the same schedule, eats the ‘right’ foods, socializes with set group activities, sleeps at the appointed times?  Why must people live their last days in ways that may not fit how they lived most of their life? Does disciplined scheduling benefit your clients — or your organization, making it easier to run things?

Positive emotional experiences: good for people, good for business

New research shows that breaking away from operational norms and creating more positive emotional experiences is good for clients and good for business.

The New York Times recently wrote a fascinating article, “Giving Alzheimer’s Patient’s Their Own Way — Even Chocolate,” that explored the benefits of  flexible, client-centered care, finding that positive emotional experiences disminish distress and behavioral issues, especially among people with dementia.  (Note:  approximately two-thirds of people living in nursing homes have some dementia.)

In fact, providing a flexible living environment that works for each patient is proving to  dramatically reduced the need for anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic drugs, which often cause terrible side effects in the elderly. Flexibility means things like softer lighting, comfort foods, one-on-one vs. group activities, availability of food so people can eat when they’re hungry, encouraging clients to stay out of diapers, and personal touches, like using a perfume that the client so enjoyed earlier in her life.

The times article highlights the  research. More interesting to me are the interviews and stories of  Beatitudes Assisted Living in Phoenix, an innovator in client-centered alternative living. So innovative that many other facilities around the country are receiving Beatitudes training and now looking to adopt their practices.

These comforting personal touches improves behavior and enhances people’s lives because they “send messages that they can still understand;  ‘it feels good, therefore I must be in a place where I’m loved,’” explained Jan Dougherty, director of family and community services at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix.

All great marketing is the result of providing experiences that customers feel good about — and set you apart from the competition.  When people — usually adult children — are making decisions for their parents, most assisted living facilities “feel” the same and provide similar services and the same promise of keeping a loved one safe and healthy.

Beatitudes sets itself apart, providing emotional benefits to its clients and their families.  On top if it all Beatitudes has found that its innovative approach  saves money. This is marketing at its most effective.


Note: I wrote a post about marketing assisted living facilities almost four years ago, and that post has become one of the most read posts since I began blogging in 2005, which tells me that the interest and desire to innovative assisted living marketing is significant.  I will continue to address this topic as the demand for assisted living is increasing, as is the challenge of running profitable, client-focused assisted living facilities.