So, yesterday I got to see – in practice – why management gets such little respect from clinicians and hospital staff. A micro-case-study, if you will.
Let me set the scene.
SuitGuy goes to an event to meet a Board Member. He’s in a flashy suit. Well-dressed, clean-shaven, with a matching watch and briefcase. He represents a big company well-known in the city, and for all intents and purposes is doing well with his life.
Enter scene. Scene is a hospital boardroom. The hospital itself is new, flashy, full of glass and chrome and marble benchtops. No expense has been spared building this facility. But there’s one thing SuitGuy forgot to account for;
The workplace culture.
All things being equal, it was fairly reasonable to assume that SuitGuy fit in to this place…except for the culture, and in the space of an hour SuitGuy proved why this was the case in a sequence of 4-strikes-you’re-out.
So SuitGuy enters the meeting precisely at the start-time.
In Health Care Executive, being precisely on time means you’re late. As one clinician once told me, “If you’re not ten minutes early, you’re late.” And this guy….was really late. He walked in, hovered outside because the door was closed, and made his way to the back of the room because he walked in precisely when the event was meant to begin. The Board Member, conversely, had been there twenty minutes early as executive standards dictate. I had arrived ten minutes early – ‘on time’ – and used those ten minutes to chat to the Board Member one-on-one. SuitGuy didn’t have that chance.
Once everyone was seated and assembled we went around the room introducing ourselves, and telling the Board Member why we came. There was a fairly standard crowd with fairly acceptable reasons. Clinician wanting to listen to their hospital’s leadership, a fellow executive-level individual wanting to hear how this board member did things, and myself – present out of curiosity, and to hear what the person had to say. Then, because he came in last, SuitGuy got to introduce himself last. His introduction was littered with management jargon that eventually boiled down to ‘I’m here to secure a contract with this facility to survey staff for you’.
In Health Care, people are people – not resources. Everyone else was in attendance for the board member – but SuitGuy was there to make money. Hidden under a poorly-veiled guise of trying to ‘understand staff perspectives’ and ‘boost productivity’ was the goal of prestige and income, not actually to help anyone or solve a problem. However, the way that the SuitGuy also presented the statement also put everyone on the wrong foot. Even the board member themselves, under their breath, muttered ‘phew, smooth’ after SuitGuy finished.
(Which, by the way, is not a compliment. I’ll get to that in a minute).
At the end of the presentation, the room was open for questions. At this point I was politely letting others speak, letting the board members’ responses answer my questions, and saving a relevant (but different) question for later. I was happy to wait, as I already had a channel to contact the board if I wanted to, and was aware that others in the room might not have my level of contacts available. However, when SuitGuy decided to take his moment and ask his question (time was limited), the question was down to the SuitGuy’s attempt to get an ‘in’ with staff. I can’t even remember specifics, but it boiled down to SuitGuy asking the board member – not a local member of staff – how best to secure the contract, by better understanding front-line staff needs.
It doesn’t take a genius (I should know, this was a question I had two years ago), to understand that if you want to understand front-line staff needs….you talk to front-line staff. Which I did. I didn’t waste two minutes of a senior executive’s time with a question that could be quickly, and respectfully, answered by buying a doctor a coffee sometime and chatting over lunch. While the question in itself was poorly thought-out, the format was also wrong. You don’t go to the CEO to ask a question a receptionist can answer, so why go to a board member if you can wander into a cafeteria and ask anyone around? The corporate beast had its claws into SuitGuy, and he was in dire need of a shake.
Well, eager to stop SuitGuy from asking any more career-ending questions, the board member called the end of the meeting as people gathered outside to use the room next. I had missed my window to ask a question myself, which was annoying, but I could live. I thought, this guy needs help, so I went over to chat to him, leaving others the opportunity to approach the board member while they had limited access. I quickly got SuitGuy’s email and made my way over to see if I could say farewell and thank you to the host before I left. SuitGuy also made his way out after quickly shaking the board members’ hand, where the final blow to his ability to initiate the contract was made.
It was such a simple, yet significant mistake. See, the Board member had spent their entire presentation hammering one contextual point home. Respect. Pay attention to your staff, learn their names, greet them and be present, learn their names. Now, the name of the board member wasn’t a secret. It was advertised prior to the event, the man introduced himself, and others used his name when asking questions.
So, on the way out, SuitGuy waved over his shoulder and called the board member the wrong name.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I strongly dislike being called the wrong name. My name is important to me, as it is to many people. I always smack my own forehead when I forget peoples’ names, but at least I keep asking so I get it right. ‘What do you prefer to be called?‘ I make sure to ask. If I forget, I don’t even attempt to call someone the wrong name; I just ask again. Blame my memory, not my attention span. But in this case, the name of the board member was hammered home. Even I, someone with a memory like a flour sifter, could easily remember it. And it wasn’t that the name was totally wrong, just slightly wrong. Like calling a guy called Dan ‘Dave’, or a guy called Kent ‘Kevin’. Not the same. Not ever. It’s just wrong enough to get attention, and attention it received.
So, after sitting in a room for an hour, it was evident that SuitGuy didn’t listen at all, playing straight into the trope of bureaucratic management seeing people as resources, and things to exploit. Which, by all means, is nothing new compared to the hospitals’ current management – but that also meant that SuitGuy literally had nothing to offer.
On the other hand, I was already incidentally doing what SuitGuy set out to do, because the man hadn’t bothered to do a quick level of organisational research before showing up to speak to the person of highest authority in the organisation. My role is to already survey frontline staff, to report back to the CEO and the Board with my findings to help the hospital become more effective, and I’m doing it in a way that nobody else can. I’m doing it from an empirical, peer-reviewed perspective and from an academic base. My results will be valid, robust, and validated by the university. Or, at the least, the two professors supervising the project and the third academic chairing my progress committee. I’ve designed the project so that it will not fail; and, perhaps all the better in the eyes of the board member I met that day, it’s free.
Well…free for the health service. I’m being paid a scholarship stipend to do the research, but the research is coming at no cost to the hospital aside from the volunteered time of staff, which is at their discretion to begin with.
As I sat, watching SuitGuy make error after error that shot his career in the foot, leaving the man limping away with a failed network connection and potentially no idea why, I felt sorry for him. Sorry that we had likely gone to the same university, done the same course, and come away with two completely different approaches to our work. I prefer to be underdressed and overqualified, whereas he prefers the inverse. I prefer awkward and authentic, whereas the carefully curated veneer of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ sails SuitGuy past authenticity and into a mould which every bureaucrat before him fits. When I’m working, people around me know I’m doing it because I want to, and I’m passionate about the work I do – not because of some ‘corporate account’ or desire to ‘achieve targets’. That distinction makes all the difference, particularly when people are concerned. And, need I remind my readers, that healthcare is inherently concerned with people and their needs?
Remember how I mentioned being called ‘smooth’ by a health care professional is not necessarily a compliment. Hospital staff, particularly those in the executive, are well-versed in disingenuous professionals attempting to make a ‘deal’, largely because health contracts are worth millions of dollars. Being a contractor, or an exclusive supplier to hospitals, is basically a secure income for a long time. I won’t deny the reality of that fact. What I will identify is that being a cardboard cut-out of a management archetype that is unresponsive to individual needs and unobservant to the individual staff working in the facility won’t win any contracts in healthcare. Healthcare doesn’t want that, because it’s what they already have. What they want is something new. Something personal, and caring. Something that breaks the mould.
So, will SuitGuy be getting a call from the board member about that contract? I’d say it’s a safe bet to assume that answer is ‘no’.