Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, has reduced turnover by half while leading a financial turnaround at the $2.6 billion health system that employs 14,000 people. He engages with staff during “Friday leadership rounds,” when he visits one of the system’s five hospitals or 28 outpatient clinics. He has also implemented a program called “Employee 100,” which provides front-line staff with opportunities to regularly meet with him and share their thoughts on the business.
Scripps Health was on the verge of bankruptcy and losing $15 million per year when Van Gorder took over. Employee morale was low and turnover was nearly 20 percent. He implemented an on-boarding process for new employees that helped increase their comfort level when joining the organization. As part of a year-long training program for new employees, he meets with each new manager joining the organization, and he views front-line managers as key individuals who have “the most difficult management job there is.”
He says that making “the rounds” to meet with employees is all about building relationships, and that executives should schedule time to do it otherwise it can get overlooked as a key priority. Being accessible during the Friday visits with staff makes people more comfortable with raising issues and asking questions, he says, and his unconventional approach to meeting with employees has resulted in significant benefits, including major improvements in patient safety.
Van Gorder wrote a book about his leadership and management style which has received positive reviews from editors and consumers alike. “The Front-Line Leader: Building a High-Performance Organization from the Ground Up,” also details his career development, which included positions as a clinical laboratory manager, hospital emergency room clerk and even a hospital security guard.
During a chance encounter 35 years ago with a hospital CEO – while Van Gorder worked as a security guard – he was hoping to exchange a brief word with the CEO or even just get a handshake (it was the middle of the night when the two crossed paths in the hospital’s basement). The CEO didn’t even acknowledge his presence, which led Van Gorder to think that if he ever became a manager he would be sure to acknowledge employees and their work.
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