Whether in Healthcare or Elsewhere, It’s the Culture, Stupid!

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Earlier this week, alongside 199 of the brightest, most talented people in the healthcare space, I attended the 2012 Forbes Healthcare Summit. Held at the The Allen Room at Jazz @ Lincoln Center in New York, the conversation and content were as spectacular as the venue. Hats off to Steve Forbes for hosting an event that lived up to its billing, and for allowing me to attend. Given that we frequently coach and train managers and executives from hospitals, big pharma, device manufacturers, and eldercare, I attended the event in an effort to stay current on the trends, opportunities and challenges in their world.

Somewhere late-morning as I furiously scribbled notes, I realized that, despite not being mentioned on the meeting agenda, one word had come up… a lot, almost as much as words I was expecting to hear, like gene, physician, science, payor, and the like . The word – culture. “Its about the culture you need to create.” Mikael Dolston (Pfizer); “The problem is trust.” Peter Tippett (Verizon); “It’s all about culture.” Andy Slavitt (Optum); “The biggest challenges are culture, culture, culture.” Dr. Richard Rothman (The Rothman Institute). “The culture is critical.” Sandra Fenwick (Boston Children’s Hospital). The clear implication from each and every mention was that if you want to innovate, optimize, execute, and get better outcomes, you had better pay attention to getting and keeping the culture thing right. Indeed, sparks flew for a moment or two when one of the presenters suggested that his business might never have gotten off the ground if he had been forced to recruit workers with a public servant mindset from the government sector. Yikes!

Whether in healthcare or elsewhere, I don’t think it’s too big a reach to suggest that the primary burden of responsibility for getting the culture right rests with those of us who occupy a leadership role – generally anyone with a trailing “R” in their job title, like officer, director, manager, supervisor, or leader. So what does that entail? Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:

In my little pea brain, culture, at least as far as the workspace is concerned, is about expectations, customs, norms, and languages. It lends definition to the tribe. It means we have given serious thought to what it takes to be happy, productive, and successful here, gene mapping the organization if you will. It means that we have set, and abide by certain behavioral boundaries and expectations. It also means that we eject, like a virus, those who prefer to behave outside those lines. It means that, when recruiting, we are as careful about organizational fit as we are talent. Because of these expectations, things like respect and trust are usually in greater supply than elsewhere. As a result, people are more free to perform because they don’t have to waste precious time and energy looking over their shoulder. My questions to you are, how much time and attention are you giving to getting and keeping the culture right in your organization? How stridently do you, as a leader, explain and defend your culture?

These are my thoughts. You are invited to join the discussion.

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