This review was first published in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Greenleaf Book Group Press
If I was president of the Niagara Health System, I’d invite Edna out for lunch.
Edna was the best of a pretty remarkable group of nurses and health professionals who looked after my mom last week at the St. Catharines General Hospital.
Edna didn’t just provide exemplary care. She genuinely cared about my mom and provided real comfort to our family. While her Sunday shift ended at 7 p.m., Edna stuck around until my mom got out of surgery nearly two hours later. They were still talking when my brother-in-law and I called it a night.
And although she was caring for other patients on the ward three days later, Edna dropped by to offer some last minute encouragement as my mom headed home.
So if I was a senior executive wanting to make a great hospital even better for patients and families, I’d go to the frontlines and look to standout staff like Edna for ideas on what to start, stop and continue doing.
“Interacting with employees and customers on a regular basis is the key to success,” says Steven Goldstein, past chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?
“The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room. It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”
Goldstein did exactly that while working for American Express in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That’s where he met John, a window washer who was ignored by every other executive in the building. Goldstein turned an impromptu 45-minute conversation with John into regular coffee breaks and end-of-day pints at a pub.
“I learned more in my first meeting with John than I could have ever learned reviewing reports or even talking to my team. He was extremely perceptive about what was going on in the business.”
So why aren’t leaders routinely connecting with frontline staff? Goldstein says it’s more a matter of will than skill. Yes, all senior executives are extremely busy with meetings. Some are introverts who aren’t blessed with the gift of gab. Others are insecure and believe they should already have all the answers. And more than a few leaders have developed over-inflated egos and take themselves a little too seriously.
Goldstein encourages senior executives to park their egos and venture alone and unannounced to the frontlines. Don’t bring along an entourage or send in an advance team to stage manage a royal visit.
Take notes so the people you’re talking with know that you’re sincere and serious about their ideas and opinions. Report back to your team and make sure follow-up items are implemented.
“The best way to convince people that you are listening is for them to see clear changes resulting from their feedback. They will connect the dots.”
Be yourself and be natural in your conversations. Avoid being stiff, officious or contrived.
“Most important, have fun and enjoy this,” says Goldstein. “It is really great to get to know the people in your organization, especially the ones who really care about their customers and their jobs. Visit people and talk to them; make this a priority.”
Connecting with employees and customers is one of Goldstein’s five principles of engagement. You also need to start looking at your organization with an outsider’s perspective, focus everyone’s attention on just two or three key metrics, be transparent with information and instill a bias for action. “Whatever speed you are going is too slow. Companies cannot assume they have endless time to evaluate, plan and launch new initiatives.”
When you have a highly engaged workforce, you don’t wind up doing dumb things like selling snowblowers at a Sears store in Miami. It’s one of many personal stories Goldstein tells from his 35-year career dedicated to helping leaders cure organizational dysfunction.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is grateful to the health care team at St. Catharines General Hospital.