To succeed, organizations must prioritize these 4 soft skills

Organizational success and performance require a continuing focus on key strategic and operational issues – most often reflected in business metrics dashboards. The ones that get the most attention are financial, capital investment, quality outputs, supply chain, market share and personnel – often referred to as the “hard issues””  All are extremely important, of course, but there is another side of the business that deserves equal attention – and are key to organizational success, especially in healthcare. These are referred to as the “soft issues.”

Soft skills provide a necessary complement to the knowledge and talent that employees bring to their jobs, and ensure that the many individuals involved in a patient’s care are able to communicate and interact effectively. Though some make the mistake of thinking that an organization’s success is based on the financial bottom line, it is a series of more qualitative, intangible measures that truly determines success or failure.

Here’s my take on the four most important soft skills for leaders to prioritize within their organizations.

1. Trust: Trust should not be regarded an abstract concept without real-world consequences, but instead as a fulcrum that promotes productivity and reduces the risk of dissention. If employees do not trust their supervisors, they are less likely to take direction or work to the best of their abilities. Mistrust deflates employee morale and decreases engagement. If employees feel coworkers or management cannot be trusted, productivity suffers.

When leaders of hospitals or health systems attempt to secure funding from financiers, the strength of their word is often as important as the data they present. Unless money managers trust that leaders are responsible financial stewards, they will be skeptical of the information they are given.

Trust and credibility are powerful factors in any relationship. Leaders must also prioritize trust when hiring or promoting individuals to maintain credibility with colleagues at every level of management.

2. Loyalty: People often mistake loyalty as obedience to a particular individual. The kind of loyalty that I emphasize is not blind loyalty to the potentially misguided actions of a superior, but to the greater mission of an organization. It is vital for leaders to clearly establish that employees’ greatest priority is a commitment to the organization. Creating a culture that discourages petty office politics comes from the top down, because without the right kind of loyalty, departments run the risk of becoming siloed and leadership teams can become splintered. Like players on a successful sports team, every employee must be loyal to the goal of winning — not the team’s captain or coach.

In our field, the overarching goal is obviously to ensure the best patient outcomes and experience. In the end, our collective loyalty must be to the patients and their families.

3. Interpersonal Relationships: Delivering and paying for healthcare is unbelievably complex and requires the cooperation of many different parties. To make the process as effective and seamless as possible, everyone in a healthcare organization must have excellent relationship skills – from the parking attendants to the physicians and nurses. Unless people know how to properly interact with people inside and outside the organization, they will create friction and negatively impact the experience of our employees, patients and their families.

People with what I call sandpaper personalities will always rub others the wrong way. In a people business like ours where forging new partnerships is essential to an organization’s success, it is imperative for leaders to recruit those with this attribute and focus on continually developing the relationship skills of all their employees.

4. Teamwork: Simply put, healthcare is a team sport. No one member of the care delivery team can succeed without the partnership of others. We hammer this point home by including all frontline staff during simulation trainings conducted at our corporate university. When we simulate a surgery, a baby’s delivery or a medical emergency, the surgeon, nurses and all other support staff involved in caring for patients in those situations need to be active participants in the training to make sure we get it right. Without everyone working together to the best of their abilities, we cannot deliver the most effective care. Whenever our chair of cardiac surgery speaks at a news conference or presents to our board or other leadership, the first thing he does is thank his fellow physicians, nurses, perioperative staff and other members of the surgical team — and underscore the fact that without their hard work and dedication, success would not have been possible. It is a CEO’s duty to instill this belief among employees and avoid the ego-boosting that can sometimes fester in our field. If employees do not observe a collaborative and generous spirit among their leaders, they will have no incentive to practice it themselves.

Every Monday morning, I meet with about 150 new Northwell employees and spend the majority of my time emphasizing that they do not work alone. From the moment they begin their first shift, they are part of a team. Working as a team not only means supporting each other, but also ensuring there is enough respect and professionalism to speak frankly and perhaps critically when needed. This freedom to share views and influence the behavior of others only comes when there is trust and loyalty among team members. It all helps support our mission to improve the health of the communities we serve.

So as much as we value the knowledge and technical skills of individuals in our workforce, hospitals and health systems need to place a high priority on the importance of soft skills. Organizations that promote trust, loyalty, relationships and teamwork among their leaders and other employees are more successful over time and can survive periods of instability because of the strong foundation of comradery they’ve built. It is also critical to promoting a culture of innovation, continuous learning and transformation. To learn more about this topic, I encourage you to read, The Soft Edge: Where Companies Find Lasting Success, authored by Rich Karlgaard.

8 timeless pieces of leadership advice

When it comes to offering leadership advice, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, has vast experience to draw from.

Mr. Dowling has led Northwell Health since 2002. Before that, he served as the health system’s executive vice president and COO. Prior roles include senior vice president at Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield and various roles in the New York State government, including director of Health, Education and Human Services and deputy secretary to the governor.

At the helm of Northwell Health, Mr. Dowling has guided the system through numerous accomplishments, including the expansion of its footprint across New York, the launch of a health plan that covers more than 100,000 people, a systemwide rebranding and the creation of an office dedicated to population health management.

Mr. Dowling’s leadership style is refreshingly candid with high integrity. A regular contributor to Becker’s, Mr. Dowling has shared innumerable pieces of valuable advice with our audience. Here, we’ve collected some of the best.

On health system strategy
Hospital and health system CEOs deal with a myriad of responsibilities every day of their long work weeks. It’s critically important not to get bogged down in the daily distractions. Instead, we must keep our eye on high-level objectives, such as ensuring the organization is on track financially and supporting our clinicians as they provide high-quality care. At the same time, we strive to promote a positive and engaging culture for the workforce.”

If your organization is in the transformation game, keep pushing the agenda forward in 2017. A lot of people are concerned about what’s going to happen in Washington with the new administration and Congress, particularly the fate of the Affordable Care Act. Irrespective of the outcome of those debates, healthcare leaders should never let their organizations be completely controlled or constrained by them. If you’re already transitioning your organization to deliver value-based care, my advice is not to be perturbed by the craziness that goes on in Washington — keep transforming.”

We thought long and hard about launching a health plan before committing to do so. It’s a risky venture. Creating an insurance product requires building an entirely new infrastructure, hiring the right people and a significant investment in data analytics.”

On population health management
The definition of population health is broad and contains many elements. It is the notion that healthcare providers must take a more proactive role in patients’ health outside of the hospital walls. Instead of ‘sick care’ — only engaging with patients when they arrive at the hospital with an illness or injury — population health places strong emphasis on prevention. It also accounts for the social determinants of health, such as an individual’s socioeconomic status, housing, employment, access to transportation, mental well-being and relationships.”

The growing momentum behind population health management represents a marked departure from traditional healthcare, in which providers saw patients when they were ill or injured, treated them and sent them on their way. At its core, population health management requires a fundamental reconstruction of our mindset as providers.”

On innovation
The culture and DNA of an organization has to be one of innovation and transformation. Innovation can’t be a one-off project for a small group of people. If it is, it is unlikely that any effort to implement something new on a systemwide scale will yield much success. Instead, innovation must be regarded as a fundamental component of the organization’s strategy, of which all employees play an important role.”

While CEOs have traditionally viewed technology as a responsibility belonging only to the CIO and IT department, that mindset can be detrimental to healthcare organizations in today’s rapidly changing environment. It will lead to missed opportunities for innovation and growth. Although IT professionals provide expertise and support, CEOs must be closely involved in technology strategy and management.”

On having gratitude
Given the work that we do, healthcare professionals should feel unbelievably privileged to have the opportunity to do our jobs and be in a position where we can touch people’s lives in such an intimate way. In some cases we are performing miracles for people who are in terrible situations. We are blessed by the opportunity to put families back together who might be broken apart by mental health problems, addiction or other major illnesses. There are not many professions that offer their employees the ability to provide the kind of care that we do.”