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!"