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Building patient trust from the top down

November 7th, 2012

by Anthony Cirillo

In my July blog post for Hospital Impact I called for the healthcare industry to create a more compelling vision for itself.

Supporting this need for a bigger vision are two things: "The Edelman Trust Barometer" and IBM's "Leading Through Connections, Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study."

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer examines trust in four key institutions--government, business, media and non-government-organizations. The trust in the credibility of CEOs in mature markets such as the United States dropped 12 points to 38 percent.


As CEOs become less a source of trusted information, people are once again turning to their peers. "A person like me" has reemerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, along with a rise in trust in the credibility of regular employees. People trust one another more than they do established institutions.

Edelman urges companies to look for ways to activate their employees and connect them with customers and the community.

It outlines the path forward as follows:

  • Exercise principles-based leadership instead of rules-based strategy. Business should not go to the edge of what is legally permissible but rather stay focused on what is beneficial to shareholders and society.
  • Recognize that the operational factors responsible for current trust in business won't build future trust. Research shows consistent financial returns, top management and innovative products are the primary factors on which current trust levels rely. However, societal and engagement factors such as treating employees well, putting customers ahead of profits and transparency are vital to building future trust.
  • Practice radical transparency. Speak first to employees, enabling them to drive the continuing conversation with their peers.
  • Shape the public discourse on issues. Explain the advantages for customers. Business must exhibit its role as community partners.

The IBM report perhaps frames a blueprint for how to accomplish the above. Its CEO respondents desire to create more open and collaborative cultures. They note that openness comes with risk, so to mitigate that organizations need a strong sense of purpose and a shared belief system to guide decision making.

IBM suggests that as CEOs look for employees who reinvent themselves, CEOs need to reinvent themselves as well. In its words, the CEO must "organize a major wake-up call" and the entire C-suite must lead the shift. Going forward, IBM continues, employees must truly believe in the purpose, mission and values of the organization. And to develop a shared belief system, employees must help create it.

It is eerily familiar to how we work with organizations. When we reinvent CEOs and employees, we call it "mastering self"--you know that passion, purpose, compassion and empathy stuff I harp on each month.

Our CEOs create a compelling vision. Then everyone from the C-suite staff to the environmental services staff has a shot at it. They co-create the purpose, mission, values and vision for the organization. In the process, the bonds of team members are so strongly cemented that trust grows. We call that "mastering relationships."

Then a funny thing happens. The vision becomes unlike anything their industry has ever seen, because it is so much more than about making money; it's about making meaning. It turns out consumers like "nice" companies that care about their communities and society. Those companies succeed. We call it "mastering a game worth playing."

If patients trust "a person like me," than they are putting that trust directly in their caregiver. The patient experience starts with each individual employee. Each employee is both chief experience officer and chief marketing officer. And how they show up is important.

In a PwC Health Research Institute Report, healthcare providers were compared to other industries in terms of customer experience. More so than in other industries, one of the biggest reasons for positive experience in hospitals was the staff.

Consumers are about twice as likely as those in the airline, hotel and banking industries to say staff friendliness and attitude contributed to a good or bad experience. Staff attitude was cited as the main contributor to positive moments of truth by 70 percent of consumers in the provider sector, compared to 38 percent of retail shoppers and 33 percent of bank and airline customers.

A winning attitude starts with a winning vision that employees share because they created it. So let's give a shout out to IBM. A wake-up call is what is needed in business, none more so than healthcare.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, is president of Fast Forward Consulting, which specializes in experience management and strategic marketing for healthcare facilities. He also is the expert guide in Assisted Living for and Healthcare Channel Partner for CEO².


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