You know that show Undercover Boss, where high-minded corporate executives get a dose of reality working side by side with their employees? It exists in real life as well, and without the reality TV spin or scripting.
On this week’s CEO Exclusive, we get our own version. I am pleased to welcome the CEO of Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Marilyn Margolis and their CMO, Dr. Adedapo Odetoyinbo. As a model for a new kind of healthcare facility and approach, they are on the cutting edge of improved techniques in patient treatment, family involvement, and staff management. They are truly redefining the “care” in healthcare.
This is happening because the leadership at Emory Johns Creek is stepping out of their offices and learning the day-to-day operations of the facility, even getting involved in some of the more “unsavory” aspects of their staff’s routine. They are really spearheading a more interactive approach between the C-suite and employees. They are in no way hiding behind their titles.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
Emory Johns Creek is a high performing organization, and one of the ways they maintain their standards is by removing the “us vs. them” mentality from their culture.
I asked Margolis – a former nurse – to explain her approach, and she was glad to offer up the details. “One of the ideas is a program we instituted a while ago called Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” she said. “What we do is, everybody in leadership takes a time every month to go upstairs, what we call upstairs, and work with a department.” Sounds a lot like Undercover Boss, doesn’t it?
Of course, the executives aren’t incognito. In fact, everyone knows them and loves it. For Margolis and Dr. Odetoyinbo, it’s a chance to ‘put the scrubs back on’ and see what’s working and what needs improvement. “We go to the pharmacy, we go to accounting. We just find out what everybody does,” according to the CEO, and with that, comes a level of input that staying secluded in your office can’t provide.
Take it From the Board Room to Floor
Such a style has its perks, and its pitfalls. “People were much more likely to talk to you about what does work and what doesn’t work when you’re sitting next to them, or you’re helping get a patient situated in bed,” says Margolis. It’s to Emory Johns Creek’s credit that they then turn around and implement changes based on what they learn. It’s become one of the best ways to judge what ideas are helping, and which need improvement.
It all comes down again to the concepts of strong core values and the building of a successful corporate culture. As we’ve mentioned before here at CEO Exclusive, strong ethics and integrity are crucial to overall success. But it goes deeper than just stating your principles. They have to be implemented, and the one sure way of seeing that through is by working side by side with your staff. Only then can you figure out if everyone is on the same page, what’s working and what isn’t, and how best to address any gaps in communication or implementation. What good is an “open door policy” if no one walks through it?
Don’t be Afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty
Like they say, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Even Emory’s Chief Physician, Dr. Odetoyinbo, isn’t ashamed of lending his highly trained hands to help out, no matter the mess. “I was out on the floor and somebody needed to be moved, and well, just to keep it clean, they needed to be moved in a way that really wasn’t very pleasant,” he said. “But, they were looking for help. They called for help and I was right there” Whatever it was, it’s something he’s seen before. He’s a doctor, after all.
While this may seem mind-blowing, it’s par for the course for these two executives. “Our culture is such that that’s not strange, and it wasn’t seen as strange to the people that I work with,” says Dr. Odetoyinbo. “I’m on the floors all the time; I’m in patients’ rooms all the time.” Margolis takes it one step further. As her CMO explains, “Marilyn actually has her phone number in every patient’s room, her cell phone, and she gets very interesting calls 24/7 from patients. That is our culture; our culture is to really be as close to the front lines as we possibly can be.”
Emory Johns Creek also uses frequent stand-up meetings to bring people together. “One of the other very successful programs that we’ve instituted,” according to Margolis, “is called The Huddle. It’s when you get together with the people doing the work and you discuss the day’s events.” But, what makes this different than your standard morning get together?
It starts with getting everyone involved and having an open dialogue about what’s concerning the employees. As Margolis explains: “All of the management people go, we have front line people there, and we talk about what’s going on in their department? Are there any safety issues? Are there any staffing issues? Is there anything broken, is there any equipment broken? Is there any way that we can do something right now?”
She believes that this approach breaks down the barrier between managers and their reports creating a line of communication crucial to the hospital’s continuing success. “You have to walk the walk,” Margolis explains. “You can’t just say, we have integrity or we’re patient focused and then say, you can’t visit right now. It’s all about creating a welcoming environment, one that follows new models in “transformative care” and an emphasis on health more than a trip to the hospital.
It creates a climate that’s really inviting. “Our people want to help you,” stressed Margolis, “and that’s what we strive to do every day. So if we’re not out there and doing the same thing that we’re asking people to do, we just don’t have any credibility.”
Be Present and Listen
One of the biggest challenges facing the leaders of Emory Johns Creek comes inherent in the business they are guiding. Hospitals don’t close, and the need for a CEO’s input must remain open as well. When it comes to access and availability, “we do day shift and we do night shift. You have a 24 hour operation; you have to be there 24 hours to see people,” says Margolis.
But, there is more to being a successful leader than just being around. It’s how you treat employees and customers that’s key to staying on top of your game. As Margolis puts it, “I think it’s the presence and the respect, that’s the other thing. I know respect is a very large term, but I think for us what respect means is, it means being present and listening to people and then acting on those things that they talked to us about.”
All this is part of Emory Johns Creek’s radical re-imagining of what a hospital can be. From zero harm and population health, to clever acronyms like SIBER (structured interdisciplinary bedside rounds) and HATCAT (a term for Value Acceleration Teams), they are working hard to stay on the cutting edge of healthcare. They also understand that progress cannot be made from the ivory towers of the Executive Suite. You have to get into the trenches. Being open and available makes all the difference. Staying “undercover” doesn’t.