Monday, September 24, 2012

With the boards at Gundersen Lutheran

I was honored and pleased to be invited to make several presentations today to the governing bodies of the Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  This is an exemplary health system, with a wonderful focus on quality and safety and process improvement, but also with an expanded focus on issues of community concern, like environmental stability.

It is to illustrate this latter front that I am breaking protocol and giving top billing not to the CEO, but to Becky Hamit, his administrative assistant.  You see her here sporting a bag made from the recycled material of the cloth that is used to wrap surgical instruments in the operating rooms.  Ordinarily, this material is disposed of into landfills, and it is a high quality fabric that does not break down easily.  At Gundersen Lutheran, the staff has gotten used to looking for all kinds of ideas to reduce energy use and improve the institution's environmental footprint.  They have cooperated with a group of senior citizen volunteers, working through the RSVP organization, to take the fabric and sew it into these handy bags.  Some are used to provide clinical information packets to patients, and some are used in other ways.  A small example, yes, but illustrative of Gundersen Lutheran's focus on constant improvement.

Ok, now back to Jeff Thompson, CEO of the system, seen here presenting to his Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.  As you see from the photo above, Jeff doesn't pull punches with his board about the status of quality and safety issues and other strategic matters facing the board.

My job, after Jeff's update, was to present some thoughts about likely future trends in the industry and what attributes will be needed by high performing organizations.  The board members then broke into working groups to discuss risk assessment and mitigation in light of these thoughts.  I was not surprised, given this health system's leadership position in the country, to hear extremely thoughtful observations from the board members.

A highlight of the day was a presentation on servant leadership by Dave Skogen, founder and former CEO of Festival Foods.  Dave quoted with displeasure Henry Ford:  "All I want is their hands and feet.  I don't want them telling me how to run the company."  Dave stressed the importance of leadership in making feel people appreciated and engaging them in process improvement in an organization.  He reminded the group:  "The customers want us to serve as their agent for quality, price, and service."  But, he said, "You don't manage people.  You lead people.  Management is what we do.  Leadership is who we are.  What is it about me that others would change if they could?"

Dave suggests that the first question that should occur in an employee's performance review should be, "How am I doing as your boss?"  Only if the leader is serving the staff member well is he or she doing the job right.  A wonderful thought from a great leader and coach.

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