Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Please check with mom before writing

As noted below, we are holding town meetings with our staff to get ideas on how to narrow our budget gap. Several hundred people have attended so far. In addition, I have received countless emails with questions and suggestions. People have been honest, forthright, curious, attentive, and sometimes even humorous.

And then we have also set up a chat room for people to submit comments. Here, they can do so anonymously. Just like blogs and comments on posted newspaper articles, the vast majority of people are civil, polite, and appropriate; but then there are a few people who take some pleasure in being nasty to their fellow workers, or sarcastic, or mean.

This is the dilemma facing a CEO or other top administrator who chooses to set up an open process of employee involvement. In an effort to make the forum open to all, without fear of reprisals for anything said, some people will take advantage of the situation and be nasty or otherwise inappropriate. If this gets out of hand, these kinds of attitudes can spread and poison the atmosphere for all.

Some people in my hospital have already asked me to take down the chat room because they have been offended by some things that have been said. For example, one person said, "Take this brainstorming session down. I am embarrassed to say I work with these people!!" Others have asked me to delete those kind of comments. I have refused to do either. My response to the above post was:

"Hey, it's a free country. Unfortunately people who are commenting anonymously sometimes say things that are ill conceived or mean. But the forum is still useful to those of us who are taking it seriously and trying to learn from one another. To take it down would let those who misbehave steal an opportunity from those of us who want to participate."

Also, I post a comment right after each nasty comment suggesting to the author that he or she is engaged in bad behavior, is insulting their fellow workers, or is otherwise undermining the spirit of openness and collaboration that we seek to foster.

Meanwhile, staff members, too, post their own comments encouraging better behavior. Here's a sample: "Before you scoff at an idea presented, think about how fortunate we are to have this forum in which to 'vent' and to present ideas. Most companies just make decisions regarding cutbacks and notify their employees once the decisions are made. We are being given a unique opportunity here to be part of the conversation and ultimately the solution. Be mature and show some respect to everyone that at least comes to the table with something."

All in all, I have been pleased and heartened by the response of our staff. Having worked at BIDMC for seven years, I am not at all surprised by their involvement and helpful ideas and their desire to support one another. To the bad eggs in the crowd, I offer a simple suggestion, "Please don't post anything that your mother would find objectionable!"

19 comments:

Judson said...

If it really gets out of hand a consensus policy about conduct might be a good idea. Different online cultures do it in so many different ways. Keep pushing back though, don't allow the culture to accept the negativity. If there is a policy it should come from the community, but they need the tools to do it. If it's really bad, the idea of deleting things isn't terrible, I assume people aren't directly insulting each other etc. If you want to be more creative something like disemvoweling might be fun. :) Wikipedia has a very strong culture of civility, but I would assume such an *ahem* mature (some might say bureaucratic ;) policy might be a little much.

bacigalupe said...

Hi Paul,
It seems we are all having these conversations at our own institutions. It is at the same time an opportunity while also an exhausting proposition for everyone. It is interesting this time, not the first time we are dealing with budget cuts in academic institutions, that there are also more principles at stake. How to deal with the budgets while also saving energy, or streamlining the administrative processes, or digitizing and getting rid of paper, etc., etc.

mbhoward said...

I'm very glad that you chose to keep the lines open, Paul, by deciding not to close the anonymous forum. I would guess that a hospital which seeks to nurture an "open, caring and engaged" community and workforce does not need to impose or threaten tacet censorship. Just the goal of
he goal of encouraging real-time conversations is admirable. And the fact that real conversations do produce as well as reflect emotions, I am grateful to you and others for your leadership and, frankly, for your lack of timidity on the issues we face right now. It takes a little more faith than most of us have had to muster
to believe financial recovery is as much a reality as the financial hurricane we experience today

MbHoward

Anonymous said...

As a BIDMC employee I have been gratified to see thoughtful, sincere suggestions being made by the majority of posters. The few that are mean-spirited stick out like sore thumbs. Thank you for your leadership.

Paul RN said...

Hi Paul,

It's sad that a few people can ruin a forum with nasty comments. It's a bad representation of the majority of employees who are working hard and trying to be creative.

Also, a quick question. Do you think any of this stimulus money that is going to the state of MA will help the hospital at all?

Paul Levy said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks. The stimulus money might show up in three ways: 1) increased NIH funding for our researchers; 2) funds for certain information system projects; and 3) aid to the state that might help the Governor not have to reduce medicaid payments further in the future.

Jerry said...

Hi Paul,

I have been very interested in reading my colleagues suggestions and have to say that it seems they are overwhelmingly positive. I also wanted to add that I, for one, appreciate the chance to participate in the process regardless of the end result. It is one of the many things that make BIDMC an incredible place to work.

Jerry Kelly

catsandmusic said...

I work at BIDMC as well, and wondered why the sarcastic and rude posts have been left to stand. I will be honest--by yesterday afternoon I was starting to get demoralized, thinking I must have missed the good intent of your letters and that I must be naive to believe that our ideas really count. Plus, it is hard to wait to see what will be happening in a couple of weeks. I feel a little better today, but I think I am going to stay away from the blog until your next letter.

Hillary St. Pierre said...

In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.- ALBERT EINSTEIN
Take a second, take a breath, and remember why you're doing this. It's for patients like me!
You are doing good things.

Alvin said...

You should capture ip addresses for those who post comments. Track them back to their workstations and take the issue up with their manager!

Maureen Bisognano said...

Paul,
Just wonderful to read the article in the Globe this morning. Your leadership in these troubling times is a model for its compassion and effectiveness.
Maureen Bisognano

lyette said...

I've always liked the solution proposed by this webcomic: http://xkcd.com/481/

My rule of thumb is to never say anything on the internet that I would not say face to face with someone.

Anonymous said...

I work as an RN at the University of Utah Hospital Health Care system and am impressed with what you are doing Mr Levy. Kudos to you and your employees and sticking to your beliefs of an open forum.

Nathanael Lark said...

Today I read a news article online about your efforts to keep staff employed by opening the floor to employee suggestions and involvement. After reading that article I looked you up and found this blog. I just want to tip my hat to you, sir. The empathy and compassion that you are demonstrating is so encouraging and enormously important!
I don't work in the health care industry. I'm just a regular guy who heard about what you're doing and wanted to send you some much deserved praise!
Thank you for your efforts.
Be well.

Susan in WI said...

Hi Paul,

I think you're great and are the type of leader we need more of. I have always been impressed with your insight and the way you've tackled different issues at Beth Israel, and when I saw you featured on the front page of Yahoo (the Globe article was linked) I thought I'd come back here and tell you what I think :-)

~Susan Stein

Rachel said...

I just read an article about you on Yahoo. I wish everyone had such vision and responsiveness in this economic crisis. You are truly a leader. I hope more are inspired by your approach.

Best of luck to you and your Beth Israel community.

Pam L. in Md. said...

Dr. Levy,

I have absolutely no affiliation with your hospital at all, but I just wanted to say that I am so impressed with a CEO with this much empathy and compassion. Such a rare commodity in this world today. I truly hope and pray that you can find a workable solution to keeping as many of these hard-working people employed as possible. God bless you for caring!

~~ Pam Llewellyn
Maryland

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul, There's a place in Heaven for you. Your family should be very proud. Thank you

Jess Chapman said...

Hi Paul,

I was surprised and delighted to read today about your solution to the possibility of layoffs at Beth Israel. When there is so much talk in the media of greed and corruption among top executives today, it is refreshing to see your brand of compassion every now and then.

Full comments here: http://thefutureamerican.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/voluntary-pay-cuts/

Sincerely,
Jess Chapman