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Don't be afraid to commit to hospital values

April 8th, 2014

by Thomas Dahlborg

This past weekend we brought our son to a student acceptance day at a college he is considering attending.

As we participated in the numerous events of the day I was struck by the similarities between academia and healthcare, i.e., colleges and hospitals.

We began the day with hundreds of other students and parents listening to the opening presentation, where much focus was placed on sharing the history, mission, good works and values of the school. The pride of the president, admissions director and other organization leaders was clear. And each made note of how they instill these values in each student of this prestigious school.


At lunch we directly witnessed many of the school's values. Living the values of compassion, excellence, respect and community were the caring cafeteria workers, as they went out of their way to ensure each young man and woman and each parent understood the workings of the cafeteria, how and where foods were prepared, and that they each had access to foods that met their individual dietary requirements, e.g., gluten free, nut free, and did so with genuine thoughtfulness and a smile. They even circled back and checked on people to ensure they were satisfied. The food itself was high-quality, healthy and delicious--all a testament to truly living the values of the organization.

Later, we made our way to the academic sessions to learn more about the business administration department of the school. Here we met with the chair and co-chair of this department, and after a brief introduction and a very helpful description of the department, they opened the floor to questions from parents and students. After a few important questions relative to internships, job prospects and work abroad programs, I took the opportunity to ask ...

"Would you please describe the alignment between the school's values and the business philosophy taught at the school?"

Unfortunately it appeared I caught the department chair off guard. A number of times in his response he referenced a business ethics class and then finally confirmed, "Tough question. I have never been asked this before. Did I answer the question?"

With my continued focus on compassion and empathy in healthcare, I followed up by asking specifically about the connection between the school's value of compassion and its business philosophy. At this point the chair answered brilliantly. He made the link between compassion and empathy and empathy to good business practices. He shared how the understanding and practice of empathy improves critical thinking and leads to better decision-making and that yes these are important parts of the business administration program.

The co-chair added that they intentionally model the behaviors they are seeking to instill in their students. And then the department chair said: "Yes, we care about our values ... and we are not afraid to say it."

As healthcare leaders:

- When was the last time you made note of your organization's values?

  • Were you doing so for a presentation or were you truly being mindful and reflecting on those values you share?

- Do you know who is honoring your values throughout your organization?

- Are you being intentional and looking for those who are doing so?

  • Note: They may be working in your cafeteria, custodial services, linen service, security department, nursing and many other areas.

- Are you appreciating and honoring those who are doing so?

- Are you modeling your values?

  • Do you ever make justifications for not honoring your values?

- How are you instilling your organization's values in your board, leadership team and throughout your organization?

- Are you ever afraid to say you honor your values without exception?

Want to innovate healthcare without investing huge amounts of money in technology? Honor your values without question.

Want to improve patient and family partnerships, engagement, satisfaction and outcomes? Honor your values without exception.

Want to improve employee engagement, satisfaction, retention and commitment? Commit to your values as you would have employees do so.

Want to improve the financial health of your organization? Actively appreciate all those who live your organization's values.

Want to improve the health of your community? Instill these values throughout your networks.

Yes, academia and healthcare are quite similar. And each can learn from one another. As healthcare leaders, let's ensure we do.

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is chief financial officer and vice president of strategy for NICHQ (National Institute for Children's Health Quality), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being.


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