Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management

By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.

What can a hospital executive do when “poor communication” continues to come up as a staff complaint?

Intractable Pain

It’s aggravating isn’t it? You’ve written for the hospital newsletter, sent out memos, presented your case to the management staff, maybe even set up a phone message that updates staff as to what’s going on. Why do they keep complaining about communication – what is their problem?!

This is a very common issue, and yet it’s important to address because so many things related to staff morale and productivity hang on it. Lots of executives are conscientious in passing on information to the company, but very few understand what employees consider critical to communication – which is, “Have you heard me?”

Is Anyone Up There Listening?

Being heard is a very basic need in all human beings, and is most noticeable in children. Ever had one of your kids trying to tell you something while you’re busy reading, and when you keep reading have the little tyke grab your arm and say “DAD! Will you look at me and listen?!” Try to ignore it and you’ll learn what “persistence” can really mean!

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal Mart stores, really had a handle on the challenges in this matter. Here was a guy worth billions, running a company that set the world standard for retailing, who probably had reports and data by the gigabyte coming into his office every single day. And what did he do? Sam made it a point to pop in and visit stores and distribution sites throughout his organization personally.

Sam would drive up to a loading dock at 3 AM with several dozen doughnuts, pull the staff off the job for 30 minutes, and sit and ask them about the problems and issues they were having. He would listen, make notes, and when he got back to his office make sure that what he had heard was addressed, and that the staff knew it. Now, what did that accomplish for him?

First, it endeared him to the ones in the company who had to make things work. Is that important? Well, consider what a difference it would make in your organization if the nurses, techs, billers, and support staff had the opportunity to talk informally with you, especially if they knew you were going to act on what you heard.

Second, it verified the official information Sam was getting up through the formal lines within the company. How much more honest do you think those reports were when management staff knew their reports were being checked against firsthand information?

Two Parts to the Treatment

There are two key parts to this: not just the listening and noting, but also acting on what’s been heard. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything suggested – staff don’t expect that. But it DOES mean you report back to them how their concerns were considered and what WAS done with the information. And you have to be consistent about doing that.

A top-notch executive will work these activities into his or her schedule, and make sure they’re done regularly. Such an executive will drive up company performance, while finding communications complaints dwindling into the category of minor issues.