A True Understanding of Beauty Can Make Us Better Leaders

While in college, I agreed to meet someone at our church. No one else was at the building. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. I was able to let myself in, because I had a calling that required me to have a key. As I think back on it, I cannot remember who I was meeting or why; I just remember that this person stood me up. I sat for an hour in the foyer. Staring out at a gray, rainy sky, I thought, “What a miserable day!” I lived in Monroe, Louisiana where we would get a lot of rain. If every rainy day was a miserable day, I was going to have a lot of miserable days. I chose then to look for the beauty in that day. Everything looked clean and shiny from the standing water. I appreciated the different shades of gray. I saw bright sunlight peeking out through the clouds. I beheld that it really was a beautiful day, and my mood lightened considerably.

Frederick Longbridge said, “Two men look out through the same bars. One sees the mud and the other the stars.” Both are incarcerated. Both are in a bad place, yet one sees hope, and the other sees despair. One sees beauty and the other ugliness. Many people feel trapped in their lives, their work and their circumstances. They see so much of what is wrong and so little of the beauty that surrounds them.

The lens of seeing the good can be a powerful tool for anyone and especially for a leader. When we look for the good in people, we will find it. When those we lead know that we see good in them, they feel valued and respected. They want to prove that our faith in them is well-placed. They will often rise to meet our expectations. If we find concerns in their performance, we are able to weigh those concerns against all they bring to the table. We would not so blind our eyes to tolerate any kind of bad behavior. There must be accountability. Yet a strong tendency to look for the good is more likely to be right and to be effective in leadership than a strong tendency to look for the bad.

When we face great challenges in our organizations, we may see them as an opportunity to survive or perish. We should remember that the great men of history are made or revealed by the great challenges that have been thrust upon them or they have imposed upon themselves. Winston Churchill found his place in history because he was prime minister in England’s darkest hour and rose to meet the challenge.

In the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo says: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf answers him saying, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.” Most organizations are faced with serious threats. We must not see these as our doom. These are beautiful opportunities to rise to greatness as leaders.

My own Christian faith is the source of my next thought on beauty. It occurs to me that Jesus Christ must see each of us as beautiful. I am certain that there are some expressions that He is not pleased to see, but I do not believe that He sees any of us is ugly. So, what makes us beautiful to Him? To answer that question, I want to take you to an assisted living facility in Rochester, New York.

It was the Christmas season. We had gone as a family to visit a beautiful, octogenarian couple we knew from church. We had with us three-year-old Abigail and infant Michael. Small children get a lot of attention in assisted living facilities. As we were leaving, we were invited into a public room that had the feel of a living room. In this exchange of laughter and joy, I captured with my camera a remarkable image of Abigail standing in front of a very old woman holding her chin with the tips of the fingers of her upturned hand. Each gazed on the other with a look of pure love. As I have studied the picture, it occurred to me that Abigail only saw beauty. I thought about all the grandparents and great-grandparents all over the world, many of whom are quite weathered and withered with age who are adored and are seen as beautiful by their perfect grand and great-grandchildren.

I am sure that you have known where I was going with this. We are seen as beautiful by Jesus Christ, because he loves us. This has caused me to realize that if I ever see someone as ugly, it tells me far more about where my heart is and should not be than it does about the other person. When we love people, they are beautiful to us.

So, a true understanding of beauty has brought us to love. The kind of love that I am speaking of is philia or brotherly (or sisterly) love. When we truly love, we cannot abuse. We seek the interests of others. We are as merciful as circumstances can allow. If hard choices must be made, we implement them as softly as possible. Love is one of the great and essential leadership qualities. Our ability to see beauty is a powerful indicator of our mastery of that love.

someone in their 80s

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The Empowered Physician Leader

Today’s healthcare environment is shifting at an ever-increasing pace. The transition to community health focused care is both daunting and challenging for most organizations. Now, more than ever physician leadership can play a crucial and important role.

Setup Your Physician Leaders for Success

Before we begin, it’s foundational to understand how physicians view leadership. Physicians are trained to work independently, they value their autonomy and can be reluctant to delegate authority. All good qualities if you’re the patient. My colleague once said me, “these trauma surgeons are sure difficult to work with.” My response, “Of course they are. They are trained to take charge, assess situations quickly and be right, every single time. And If I’m critically injured, that’s who I want taking care of me.” But yes, when we ask them to take on the mantle of administrative leaders, they need our help.

Read Full Article.

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Mitigating Decision-making Errors Along a Transformation Journey

In Part A of this two-part article on decision-making errors, the main categories and types of decision and judgement errors were reviewed along with some associated logic fallacies.

So What?

Two practical questions emerge. First, what can we do to improve our judgement? A combination of antidotes is often recommended to mitigate the untoward effects of these decision traps: being humble and aware, knowing yourself and knowing others, and following a process are the top three. The first, being aware, is like telling a pitcher to “throw strikes” (well-intended, but not of great practical help – this is what the pitcher is trying to do but it does not help him/her do it!). The second, to know oneself, is harder than diamonds and steel, according to Benjamin Franklin. The third, following a process, offers the most tangible promise for something we can actually do that can consistently make a difference.

(Read Full Article)

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The Power of Simplicity

My father taught us, “If you want to be happy, simplify, simplify, simplify.” He loved the quote from the movie, Amadeus, in which the Austrian emperor told Mozart that his music had “too many notes.” My father did not agree with the criticism of Mozart’s music, but felt the quote was great for describing anything from cluttered architecture and art to overly complex solutions to problems. His house that he built from steel is pictured with this article. It is an expression of his design and artistic philosophy: clean, smooth, uncluttered, simple lines.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Steve Jobs surely met this definition as he brought us the power and complexity of computing through as simple a user interface as possible. He took the complex and made it simple.

We often find that we cannot complete all of the tasks that are already on our “to do” lists let alone other tasks and goals we should be adding. We can choose what is most important to us and drop some good things from our list that are standing in the way of our accomplishing better. Advice I received from the book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland, helped a lot. Give yourself a short deadline. I needed to write an application to the Texas Medical Board to start a hospitalist fellowship. It seemed to me like this should take several weeks to complete which I did not have so I kept pushing it down on my to do list. I gave one of my hospitalists and me two hours to complete the application. We were done, and the application was accepted. My inner OCD wanted to overly complicate the task. I needed to simplify. Read Full Article.

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What learning to fly taught me about handling adversity

""When everything seems to be going against you, remember the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it", Henry Ford.

Ask any pilot if they remember the first time they flew the airplane alone. And you’ll get a resounding yes! The solo flight is a milestone in each pilot’s life, it’s the time when preparation and opportunity all come together. You are alone in the airplane, no instructor by your side correcting mistakes, keeping you safe, it’s all up to you.

Although my solo was over 20 years ago, I remember it as though it were yesterday. The weather, the sounds of the engine and the wheels rolling down the runway. But what I remember the most about that day is looking over to my right and seeing that empty seat next to me, knowing I was completely responsible for returning this aircraft safely to the ground, intact.

Whether your piloting an aircraft, an organization or a team, how you face and ultimately handle adversity will largely determine your success or failure. What my instructor taught me long ago was a simple lesson, the goal for each flight is for takeoffs to equal landings, what happens in between is up to you and will determines your success in achieving this goal. Read Full Article

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Systemizing Healthcare: The Integrator Role

This is Part 2 of a Four-part Leadership Transformation Series (LTS). (Read Part 1 Here)

Transformation in healthcare is personal: it requires the transformation of health system leaders. This LTS begins to speak to key differences in some of the fundamentals of transformational vs traditional leadership in healthcare.

This article focuses on the changing role delineation of leaders.

The leadership need for ‘the Integrator’ is re-shaping traditional CEO and COO roles.

A few decades ago, the role of ‘the Integrator’ in healthcare leadership did not exist – at least not in the form needed today. Unlike roles with new names – CTO, CMIO, CPHMO, etc. - the same titles of CEO or COO may be used for a healthcare system, yet the shapes of these roles bear little resemblance to those with the same titles used in a hospital or other ‘vertical.’

While a hospital administrator/CEO is expected to stay close to the pulse of acute care operations, the system CEO is expected to transcend operations to assure an aerial view/perspective, i.e., to become more visionary and system-focused. The transition from hospital to system requires a view that is less entrenched with how we have run hospitals and more focused on the population served. Despite use of the same title for both roles, it is the difference between being ‘tied down’ and ‘freed up.’ (REAd Full Article)

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The Fourth Discipline: Transition Management

Leadership Transformation Series

This is Part 1 of a Four-Part Leadership Transformation Series (LTS).

2012 Womens Olympic Triathlon finish in London - After two hours of racing with the best in the world, what would one or two seconds in transition time have meant for the top three athletes?

Transformation in healthcare is personal: it requires the transformation of health system leaders. This LTS begins to speak to key differences in some of the fundamentals of transformational vs traditional leadership in healthcare.

This article focuses on how the nature of our work is changing.

Many compare the healthcare transformation journey to one of our oldest Olympic sports: “It’s a marathon!” Although this might reflect the persistence, resilience and endurance sentiment, I offer an analogy upgrade from one of our newest Olympic sports: “It’s a triathlon!”

Why?

First, transformation requires mastery of multiple disciplines. We – and our organizations - may have competency in one or two disciplines, but adaptive learning is required to develop and integrate the different and stronger skills needed for next level or breakthrough performance. We cannot count on simply doing more of the same ‘one foot in front of the other’ plodding and grinding to advance our mission – our people are burning out. Unlike in the run or bike, the first triathlon discipline – the swim - does not ask as much of the legs. While the upper body provides most of the forward propulsion, for swim speed it is more important to reduce drag. Drag is not a material factor in running, but it is in running our organizations – and barnacles, barriers and anchors come in many, mostly self-inflicted, forms.( Read Full Article)

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Want to build your culture -- start by sweeping the floor!

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories, inspirational stories on leadership, one of my favorites involves President John F. Kennedy and his first visit to NASA in 1962. As the story goes, the President was touring the facility when he came across a janitor carrying a broom down the same hallway as the touring President. Kennedy, a great lover of people stopped him and asked him what he did for NASA, not missing a beat he replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the absolute simplicity of this statement, but also the way it speaks volumes. This individual clearly understood that he was an integral part of the team, no matter what the role. If he did his job well, he contributed to the overall success of the team, engineer, scientist, astronauts etc. His job, although different in almost every way imaginable from his colleagues, still contributed to achieving the overall goal, that of putting a man on the moon. Read Full Article

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Miracle-Gro® or Roundup® - Which One Are You Using on Your Network?

Why is it that some people thrive and others survive in business? Much of it comes back to their network. A network is like a garden. You have to water it on a consistent basis for it to grow. However, most of us put our heads down and focus on daily tasks. We say that we are too busy to network. We end up neglecting our networking garden and focus mainly on what others can do for us. Unfortunately, this self-referenced behavior is the equivalent of spraying Roundup® on your lush networking garden that you worked so hard to create. So what’s the cure?

Reciprocation is the Miracle-Gro® of networking. Without it, your network will shrivel up and look like you won a pallet of Roundup®. Here are three ways to rethink how you network, which can start to produce some Miracle-Gro®:

  1. When you talk to an executive recruiter next time, see what you can do to help them find a new client (not only a referral to a candidate). Go out of your way to introduce them to someone you know that might take their call. This can do wonders for your relationship with the recruiter.
  2. Instead of thinking of suppliers or vendors as another salesperson, invest time in getting to know them personally and see if you can introduce them to someone that might make a difference in their business. Remember that vendors may visit hundreds of organizations each year and their network could be very large.
  3. Focus on informational networking rather than looking at how you can find a new position. Invest in the relationship, find out about their journey and see what you can do to add value to the conversation. You might decide to follow up with writing an article that is relevant to the other person.

By investing in relationships over the long-term, thinking of others first and finding ways to reciprocate, you will develop a beautiful networking garden for many years to come.

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Take your team to first place -- by putting yourself last

Many high performing companies have discovered the value of servant leadership, which simply defined is serving others first. When leaders make this simple, but fundamental mind shift, the culture and the organization will follow as will bottom line results. Employees working under leaders who put their needs first, build self-confidence, make decisions more autonomously, have greater job satisfaction and engagement, and are more likely to practice this same style with their direct reports.

How does servant leadership build organizational and team performance? Read Full Article

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Does your new hire have the right stuff? How their personality has a long-term impact on your organization’s bottom line.

In healthcare, how often have you heard this, he/she is a great clinician, but has no personality. Or, take me to hospital A, but if I’m really sick take me to hospital B, this assumes hospital A is the “Nice” hospital but Hospital B is where all the best clinicians work. So, the obvious question is, can’t you have both? Yes, if you select the right people.

In Jim Collins book, “From Good to Great”, he writes, “People are your most important asset,” or rather the right people are. In today’s healthcare market many organizations are making the move from Volume to Value, with Quality being a primary focus, but how do our patients define quality? Sure, having the best possible outcome is right up there, with no medical mistakes or errors please. However, most patients come to our organizations assuming great quality, and value the interaction with their caregivers as high if not higher than any other part of the patient/caregiver interaction. Read Full Article

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Silence is NOT Golden

The English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn. That is, in part, because it is full of “sayings” or “idioms” that we use in everyday speech, most of which originate from cultures around the world. Such sayings make no linguistic sense unless you know the story behind them. Nearly all cultures pass wisdom down to us in stories and proverbs. Over time these stories are shortened to phrases, giving birth to these confusing riddles and idioms. One such idiom that dates back to the days of the Egyptians is, “speech is silver; silence is golden.”

This is wise advice to the child listening to his mom instruct him on what to do or not do, but in business, silence is not your friend. This is particularly true with individuals I work with on a daily basis in the career transition industry, such as those gainfully unemployed and recruiters looking for viable candidates for their client.

Here is what often happens. My client applies for a job, does not get a response, or gets an automatic, “thank you for your application,” message. Then the silence comes... for days and days. And it is in the silence that the situation starts to break down. My client creates a story around the WHY. “They must have Googled me and found xyz article... and have eliminated me from the candidate pool.” On the flip side, the recruiter or hiring agency may also be waiting for the candidate to follow-up, or perhaps they are waiting on their client to move the search forward. Again, the problem is the silence. The void of information, leaves us room to create a story, giving us room to build your reputation according to our perception. It is incredible really. Proof that human imagination is still thriving.

Here is how you can break the silence and take control of your reputation.

Keep in touch. Respond in a timely manner. Even when you do not have time to fully address a request or have an immediate answer; tell them that. Do not give them the opportunity to create a story. Stories created in silence are nearly always much more negative than the truth.

Remember: Both what you DO say and what you DO NOT say sends out a message. You bind your reputation to be what you want based on your behavior, which is entirely within your means of control. By responding and filling in the silence with your perception, you can build your reputation the way you want it to be built.

If breaking the silence is so easy, why do we not do it?

  1. We are not aware of our own impact on people. We do not realize that a simple communication from us, keeps others from judging us and creating a story to close the gap.
  2. We do not know how to say no, so we say nothing at all. While “no” might not be the desired response, it is an honest one, and at the very least shows respect to the person making the request, that ample consideration was at least given. People need to feel heard.

We need to do a better job closing the loop and in doing so we control our reputation. I continue to work on this area myself and strive to close every loop. To those I have not done this effectively with in the past, I sincerely apologize. The individual who consistently closes the loop separates himself/herself from the pack and will stand out in a positive way.

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Where’s your sweet spot? The balance between confidence and arrogance.

Why is it that too much of something becomes a bad thing? We have all heard that phrase, “too much of a good thing.” And while we might not like to admit it, it is true. I have a weakness for sugar, but if I eat it too often, I gain weight. This causes a chain reaction because being fit is also important to me. So, I compensate for this love of sugar by increasing my hours in the gym. As I increase my hours in the gym, I forgo time at home with my wife and family. Life is full of balancing acts like this one.

Another such balancing act is needed between confidence and arrogance. As an executive transition coach, I work with clients on confidence frequently. Although, it should be noted that even though I have been in the healthcare business for 30 years, I can name only 10 people I thought were truly arrogant. Most people in healthcare seem to be somewhat humble, but when that is overstated it too can become a negative.

What is arrogance? Somebody once said to me “confidence becomes arrogance when performance dips.” At what point does confidence become too much? When does arrogance come into play, and how can you strike a balance between the two? The answer lies in humility ...or rather in your ability to be humble.

Urban Dictionary states that, “To be humble is to have a realistic appreciation of your great strengths, but also of your weaknesses.”

Your confidence level is absolutely essential in securing your next position. Sometimes the client is overly afraid of coming across as cocky, other times the client is already so cocky, we have to work on humility and self-awareness. Whatever side of the spectrum the client falls on, we talk about ways to meet in the middle and find their sweet spot.

How to find your confidence sweet spot:

  1. Take an inventory of your professional accomplishments. Be honest with yourself. Be proud of yourself. Self-awareness is the first step in identifying whether you fall on the arrogant or the self-deprecatory side of the spectrum.
  2. Record yourself talking about your accomplishments. Then play it back so you can hear how you are coming across. Does it sound like bragging to you? Or perhaps you are actually downplaying the work you put into a project? Neither scenario is ideal, but if you are able to identify it, you can modify your message and practice a new approach to telling your story. One that is genuine and strikes a healthy balance between what you accomplished, while giving credit where due.
  3. Observe others. Seek out and observe people with the right level of confidence and write down your observations. It always helps in defining what the right level of confidence is for you.
  4. Ask a friend or two to be candid with you. Look at yourself through their eyes. Put your pride to the side and take note of any areas they identify where you could make improvements. This is sometimes very difficult and hard to hear, but if you really listen, it can be invaluable feedback.
  5. Be willing to take responsibility, but not too much. Arrogant people don’t like to take any responsibility, while confident people admit their error, and create an action plan to remedy the error.

Above all, be genuine and honest with not only everyone else, but perhaps most importantly -- to yourself. When you are able to see yourself objectively, both the positive and the negative, then you can speak confidently -- and with the right amount of humility -- during your next interview or conversation with a recruiter.

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Spender or Maker. Which kind of healthcare marketer are you?

Photo courtesy of toolstotal.com.

I was recently speaking with a hospital CEO about his views on marketing, and he said “You know, there are two types of marketers – those that spend money and those that make money. I prefer the latter.” Good point, of course. We should all fall into the “maker” category. How can you make sure you do?

Four ways to avoid being categorized as a “spender”:

  • Make data-driven decisions. There’s no better way to position yourself as a maker than using data to determine where and how to best utilize your marketing resources. Data can make the difference between doing what the “loudest voice in the room” blindly dictates and truly pinpointing the way you as a marketer can bring in volume and the best payer mix. Also, use data to set attainable goals—how much volume is realistic to anticipate, and in what timeframe? If stealing market share is necessary, where will it come from and how much? Which leads to my next point.
  • Track everything against goal. Once you’ve used data to identify your best course of action and set goals for your marketing effort, track everything. Everything. In addition to volume and market share (which can take a good bit of time to actually gather), key performance indicators (KPIs) can quickly tell you how well your conversion funnel is performing. Calls, clicks, form fills, online appointments, and other KPIs are absolutely essential to watch closely during the course of your campaign. This also allows you to adjust as needed if the funnel is not converting as well as anticipated.
  • Use a CRM platform. If you’re one of the last marketing leaders out there without a CRM platform, get one. Now. I’m not recommending one over the others; there are several really good CRMs out there. It all comes down to the quality of your account team, in my experience, so demand the best. It can really make a difference in how well you and your team use the technology behind CRM to create vey effective, very efficient campaigns. And, you can show your results from a data-driven perspective. Which again leads to my next point.
  • Report your results. How will others know you’re a maker—not a spender—if you don’t share your results? The key is to make your reporting format as easy to understand as possible. Infographics are always king, but also have the hard data available for those who prefer it. And do this on a regular basis. Share it more frequently with senior leaders and don’t forget to let other levels of the organization know how well their marketing dollars are working for them. Because you’re a maker.
  • I hope these tips are helpful to you in either affirming what you’re already doing or giving you some things to consider working into your marketing program. It can be easy for marketing to be left out of C-suite discussions, and it’s so critical that we’re there so we can provide our best service to the organization. Spenders don’t get a seat at the table. Makers do.

    Read other posts by Janice:

    Process Transformation: a Way to Reduce Cost, Improve Quality, etc. etc. etc.

    Your Healthcare Marketing Plan: What’s Missing?

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    Process Transformation – A Way to Reduce Cost, Improve Quality, Etc., Etc., Etc.

    “Gary Skarke is an expert in the area of transformation. His company’s success, for the most part, has been outside of healthcare but has touched healthcare on a small scale. As we all know, healthcare is going through a significant transformation and most of what he will share in the article below aligns well with what is happening in the healthcare industry today."

    This is the third article in a series of articles focusing on the many types of transformation his company has helped other organizations navigate successfully and how these same situations are occurring within healthcare today.” – Jim Wiederhold

    Click here to read the first and second article.

    Process transformation focuses on making major changes to the activities and tasks (the how) by which the organization delivers its products and/or services. A core process (i.e., one that adds value to the customer) might be inquiry to order, order to cash, or product line development. Tools used to transform processes frequently includes business process reengineering, process redesign, Six Sigma, Lean or other quality related tools.

    A global software manufacturer reduced the cost to process a customer order from $800 to $125. Sales reps saved an average of two hours a week (7% improvement) contacting customers by phone. The CEO said, “Sales reps tell me the time they used to spend putting together sales forecasts now spend that time on strategies to make that forecast a reality.” Initially, the client was frustrated because they spent several months analyzing the “as is” order process and the team was totally unmotivated. Their over analysis was paralyzing them. They quickly re-energized when they shifted to redesigning the “to be” process.

    In healthcare, organizations are compelled to improve their treatments, eliminate non, value-added tasks, reduce wait time and cost, treat more patients -- while improving quality and patient outcomes. Such dramatic improvements can generally only be achieved and sustained with a rigorous and aggressive process improvement effort.

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    Three Reasons Why Healthcare Marketing is Different

    In this time of ever-intensified focus on consumerism in marketing and the comparative lack of it in healthcare, hiring managers sometimes think of recruiting marketing executives outside of the industry to fill healthcare marketing roles. They want to bring learnings in from other industries, like hospitality, financial institutions, and retail – which is a great idea. However, I would suggest hiring an excellent healthcare marketing leader who understands this notion and can reach out to SMEs in other industries for insights and advice, then bring that intel back to the healthcare system and incorporate it strategically.

    Why? Because healthcare marketing is different. How? Read on.

    1. Physicians. While the marketing programs for most industries focus on either B2B or B2C, and others a combination of both, healthcare includes those plus a couple more: B2P (P=physicians) and P2P. Physicians are the actual conduit for the work. Without them, hospitals, ERs, surgery centers, and even other physicians can’t survive. While healthcare marketers must focus attention on consumers and employers, they must also be savvy in understanding how and when to promote physicians (within regulatory guidelines – which are tangled), as well as how and when to market to them for referral purposes. There are a lot of audiences, layers, and regulations.
    2. Payers. While physicians are the conduits for the work, payers are the conduit for reimbursement, in most cases – not the consumer or the employer. This adds another audience to consider from a reputation and consumer demand perspective. And there are different types of payers – governmental and commercial – with different outlooks and expectations, to some degree. So while we’re targeting consumers, employers, and physicians we must keep in mind that one of our goals is to be on the top of the heap in terms of positive reputation and consumer preference – from a payer’s perspective. There’s a lot more than marketing that makes that happen, but marketers need to message around this – very strategically.
    3. Long tail sales cycle. Patience is a virtue, and it’s absolutely essential in healthcare marketing. While retail marketers know immediately if their latest marketing effort is working, healthcare marketers usually don’t. We can watch KPIs like click throughs, calls, form fills and the like, but the actual medical procedure typically takes weeks or even months to occur. This would frustrate marketers who don’t understand the healthcare sales cycle. It’s important to understand this on the front end of a marketing effort so that appropriate expectations can be set, and accurate forecasting can be done.

    For those reasons, leaders should focus on finding healthcare marketing experts who understand the importance of looking at other industries for ideas, and also deeply understand the nuances of the industry. It is possible to find a marketer who can bridge the gap, but it is rare. More often it becomes a costly experiment that can set the organization back. And no one wants that! Be smart. There are some very talented healthcare marketing leaders out there who get it.

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    The recipe for creating value

    When I was in college, the church that I attended had a booth every year at the local fair. We made a pastry called an elephant ear. I have seen at fairs funnel cakes which are made by pouring a liquid batter into hot oil and frying it. The elephant ear dough was mixed in a huge mixer. It had eggs in it. The dough was allowed to rise. It was then punched down, weighed out into balls and set on large cookie sheets to rise again. Volunteers sitting at tables would pat the balls into flat disks. These were fried in hot peanut oil and then covered with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. In the mid-1980s we sold these for two dollars apiece. They sold like, well, hotcakes. Many people would pay to get in the fair solely to buy elephant ears. There was always a line. If people saw that the line had gotten short, they would run to get in the line. We could sell as many as we could make.

    I was in the booth one Saturday morning patting out elephant ears when I noticed Brother “Jones” handling sales. He was a very kind and pleasant man but age was upon him, and he was absolutely overwhelmed with the task. He had before him a line of people who were eager to get elephant ears and behind him stacks of elephant ears growing cold. I spoke to the team leader and asked him if he could arrange for Brother “Jones” and I to exchange positions, of course, handling it in a way that was not hurtful to Brother “Jones’s” feelings. The team leader declined to have us exchange positions but asked me to assist Brother “Jones” with sales.

    We began to quickly make sales, and the stacks of unsold elephant ears got much shorter. Soon Brother “Jones” was at one of the tables patting out elephant ears. This was not a terrible place to be. There was always lively and pleasant conversation at the tables, and the task was ideally suited to his capabilities. I now had helping me another brother who was young, like I was, and energetic. We found ourselves waiting for elephant ears to be produced so we could sell them.

    A new problem became apparent. The elephant ears were coming out of the vat and were stacking up waiting to have cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar applied. I spoke to the team leader who moved someone to assist with this task. Each time product piled up at a certain point in the process, I would ask the team leader to add or exchange human resources to speed the flow of product through the production chain.

    The following day was Sunday. It was announced in church that the elephant ear booth averaged about $11,000 per year in sales, yet the day before we had sold $4000 in elephant ears. The fair would run each year for 11 days. We were not open on Sundays so we would run our booth for nine days each year. This gives us a daily average just over $1200. While Saturdays had more people at the fair than weekdays, demand always exceeded supply even on weekdays. We had tripled our sales that day by simply using our available resources more efficiently.

    Several years later while in college, I read The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. This book is a business novel that describes the same process I did in the elephant ear booth but done in an air conditioner manufacturing plant. The protagonist identifies bottlenecks in the production stream by where product in process piles up and then eliminates the bottleneck by moving resources to that step. I highly recommend this book for business leaders.

    The ideal value strategy requires no additional investment of resources but uses the current resources more efficiently to deliver quantity and quality, such as: a faster moving line delivering more and hotter elephant ears. We must not be afraid to make small investments when we know that there will be substantial return on investment. Large investments may be necessary and wise, but the larger the investment, the greater we risk, and the higher returns that are necessary to create a value result.

    Read previous articles related to this topic:

    Article 1: Your business’ future lies in an abundant strategy – not in scarcity

    Article 2: Maximum Wow Strategies Lead to Scarcity

    Article 3: Fat cutting from an organization can be taken too far – Are you starving your organization?

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    How to find 3-7% more Net Revenue at your Hospital

    A recent survey of 146 CEOs by the Advisory Board (1), the CEOs voted that “sustainable cost control” was the number one priority. This is an imperative that every hospital in America must be doing in the current health care environment. Net revenue is tightening up. Smaller and smaller increases from government programs are the trend and health plans are taking the position that any new net revenue be tied to improving quality or costs. The routine annual increases are not routine anymore.

    What CEOs should be focusing on is collecting all net revenue. What is the best that can be expected in net revenue collections from the revenue cycle area? Is it 90% of expected? 93%? 96%? What is preventing your organization from collecting closer to 100% of expected revenue?

    We know that nothing ever happens at 100% in any field, endeavor or undertaking. Asking the question of “why not 100%” is the start of reviewing what is preventing your organization from improving on net collections. If your organization is at 91% net collections (including vendor fees, etc. from handing off old accounts), that’s pretty good. But can your organization get to 95%? Or 97%? Or 98%? What steps can be taken internally to earn an extra 3-7% of net revenue? That extra money could be the difference in meeting budget or bond market targets.

    How to find your 3-7% extra net revenue:

    1. Adoption of a new attitude. Policies and procedures have been adopted over time that balance the effort and expense of collecting versus the return. Making policies that allow for write offs of cases under $500 or $300 creates the mindset that it is ok to “just write it off.” If $500 is ok to write off, then why not the $15 co-pay? The concept is to reinforce the attitude that NOTHING is written off without a “good” reason. Hospital revenue cycle leaders get under pressure to lower A/R and it is too easy to compromise on small amounts that can add up. But when its ok to write off $15 it becomes easier to write off larger amounts. Additionally, reinforcing the attitude of no write off without a good reason helps support collection efforts of the front offices as well as in the back end
    2. Trend analysis needs to be refined and acted upon more quickly. The new analysis is one plus one equals a trend. Reporting in revenue cycle often trends towards financial statistics and contractuals. Reporting needs to get more granular and specific to highlight trends in more real time. The best way to get real time information is to educate and empower your skilled staff.
    3. The staff need to understand that when they see something happen twice – sound the alarm. Getting a denial or a rejection you don’t understand once happens. But twice is a trend. You do not need to wait until 10 or 50 or 100 examples occur to request an investigation, create a report and send to a payer. Health plan payment systems are very precise and anything unusual needs to be acted upon immediately.
    4. Get better at reporting and documentation – fast. To support the staff, create rigor in the documentation of issues with plans. Nothing helps contract discussions for the managed care lead than starting off with how difficult the health plan is administratively. Reporting also needs to be detailed and refined in new ways to spot trends and support the managed care staff.
    5. Establish new interactions with payers – set expectations and standards. Monthly meetings with payers need to reframed. The managed care lead needs to get agreement on performance and service expectations of the health plan. Simple expectations of responsiveness, service turnaround, etc. is imperative and needs to be enforced with the health plans.
    6. Use process improvement techniques – be rigorous. Collecting the last few percentage points of revenue requires focus and discipline. Using process improvement techniques and their rigor is a must to gain and sustain results.

    Hospitals need to ask the question: what more can be done to gain net revenue? Re-evaluating the revenue cycle and creating a “need attitude” is key. Adding a new focus and training for staff will create the ability to approach payers in a new way for new results.

    (1) 2018 Advisory Board Research Annual Health Care CEO Survey conducted between December 2017 and March 2018.

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    Maximum Wow Strategies Lead to Scarcity

    See Previous post.

    A maximum wow strategy is when a lot of money is spent on something grand, splashy and showy that delivers little or no value to the company or its customers.

    A prime example of this is when a company builds an expensive and extravagant off-site corporate headquarters. When I was a young man, my father told me, “Son, beware of your ego. A man’s ego can get him into a lot of trouble and cost him a lot of money. Ego trips are very costly.” Many a company has been severely weakened by a CEOs ego trip of building a lavish corporate headquarters that often was not even needed. The offices they already had were serving the company just fine.

    For a counter example I would offer Walmart. Walmart is the largest brick-and-mortar retail establishment in the world by a very large margin. Its corporate offices have for many years been in the top of its warehouses in Bentonville, Arkansas. Top corporate officers are in plain offices with cheap wood paneling and utilitarian steel desks. This proximity to its distribution centers gave corporate officers a profound and intimate understanding of the needs of its supply chain. Walmart developed the most sophisticated automated distribution centers of any brick-and-mortar retailer. These sophisticated automated distribution centers are credited with a large part of Walmart’s competitive advantage over other brick-and-mortar retailers. This is Sam Walton’s legacy. As wealthy as he was, he was a man without an ego. He was a form follows function kind of man. Good enough was good enough. We will save excellence for our customers.

    If a competitor had wanted to destroy Walmart, instead of building a gleaming corporate headquarters in the downtown of a major American city for themselves, they would have built and paid for one for Walmart on the condition that they must house their corporate officers there. This would have isolated Walmart’s leadership from the needs of its supply chain and decreased the likelihood that they would have ever built their automated distribution centers costing them their current competitive advantage.

    Value is defined as quality divided by cost. So how do we define quality? Is it a large towering building built of the finest materials and sitting on a piece of prime real estate? Or is it proximity, awareness, humility and engagement? I would argue that Walmart’s choice of its corporate offices was the value decision not just because it delivered at a lower cost but also because it delivered a higher-quality leadership engagement for the company.

    A maximum wow strategy is company leadership writing big checks and taking on heavy debt to be paid for by the company for ego-driven projects that deliver low value to the organization.

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    Your business’ future lies in an abundant strategy – not in scarcity

    In Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, the authors make the point that technological developments and continuing innovation will bring to the world a future of abundance rather than scarcity, of increasing prosperity rather than increasing poverty. I believe that they are right so long as we can maintain freedom in general, free markets in particular, reasonable levels of taxation and relative peace throughout the world. As I pondered on the ideas they presented, it occurred to me that a business leader needs to have an abundance mindset in strategic development. An overall scarcity strategy cannot bring a strong and bright future to an organization. We cannot simply cut and slash our way into growth and prosperity. Nor can we simply spend our way into growth and prosperity. An abundance strategy is one of tremendous value generation.

    My wife and I built a home using a general contractor who builds custom, luxury homes. I commented to him one day that it had occurred to me that there are three types of people who buy a custom home:

    1. Maximum WOW! These buyers do not care how much it cost. They want to upstage everyone else at any cost.
    2. Maximum value. Value is defined as quality divided by cost. These buyers are willing to spend more money if they get a good return on their investment relative to their experience living in the home and to their resale value.
    3. Maximum value. Value is defined as quality divided by cost. These buyers are willing to spend more money if they get a good return on their investment relative to their experience living in the home and to their resale value.

    I told him that I thought that he could build homes for wow buyers and value buyers, but he could not build a home for an economy buyer to which he agreed.

    At first glance we may be tempted to see a maximum wow strategy as an abundance strategy, but maximum wow and maximum economy are both scarcity strategies. Both strategies are low value generation strategies, and low value generation will sooner or later lead to scarcity. In maximum wow the cost is too high relative to the quality generated. In maximum economy the cost is low, but the quality generated is too low relative to that cost. The abundance future is in high value generation that comes in a maximum value strategy.

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