By Neil Meltzer
In large organizations it’s culture that determines how people do things. Culture is invisible and mysterious, yet its effect can be felt, seen and experienced in tangible ways. When culture is undefined, everything is more difficult. When it is clear and crystallized for thousands of employees the organization becomes a force to be reckoned with.
As the CEO of LifeBridge Health, one of the fastest growing health groups in Maryland, one of my key goals for 2019 was to begin the process of changing our culture to be more focused on our core purpose which is to create healthier communities, together. Like many large healthcare organizations we face a range of challenges. Over the years, LBH had built in lots of procedures, and for many good reasons. But those procedures had also slowed the organization down. My team and I sought to evolve LBH culture to be agile, innovative, and patient-centered. I knew it required a journey to align and galvanize all employees. My leadership team began with a search for purpose.
Given the hostile reimbursement environment over the past several years, our focus drifted to financial stability. In some ways this was natural because it is fundamental as a foundation to provide the core clinical services required. Although we always strive for balance, I began to see the scales tip too far and wanted to bring the organization’s soul back to what made me and so many others historically proud of LifeBridge Health. I and other leaders recognized that we needed to do something bold and we needed to change the culture to be more focused on galvanizing our team and then sharing our message more broadly to the communities we serve.
We found our solution by turning to an approach that harnesses a growing trend in the broader marketplace. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 36% of Americans say they have “felt the urge to organize or participate in a public demonstration” in the past year. That’s up from only 10% the last time Gallop asked that question – which (believe it or not) was in 1965, a time of great social unrest related to the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war and beyond. Another 2018 poll from the Washington Post found that 20% of Americans had actually attended a political or social protest rally within the past year. With the political season heating up we can expect these numbers to rise even higher over the next two years.
Data like this highlights that we are living in a new social climate in the United States. Whatever we believe in, we’re more adamant about it than ever before. We also see it in the realm of social activism. You can find it in the consumer sector as well. More and more people seem eager to act on their strongly held beliefs, whatever those may be.
This has proved to me there is something happening here. That there is a ‘new/different’ leadership at play here in the age of movements. And that this is something that a CEO can use more explicitly to achieve culture and employee habit change. A movement finds and renews its own motivation and inspiration.
Culture change is often the most challenging part of any organizational transformation. It demands new leadership skills and behaviors, which can be the opposite of focusing on operational efficiency. That’s what makes movements so powerful if they can be achieved from the inside out.
We took this challenge and launched what we called the Care Bravely Movement with the help of an expert in the field, Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog and author of Uprising: How to Build a Brand–and Change the World–By Sparking Cultural Movements.
The goal of the Care Bravely Movement was to shape the collective perception of “how things are done” at LBH. We began by clearly defining what Care Bravely means: To see each individual as a person not simply a patient. To make going above and beyond our normal. It’s a mindset that we bring to all that we do. Not just care for every person but to Care Bravely.
We brought the movement to life with a very clear stand, defining what we are for and what we are against. We launched the movement with actions and training, and with a powerful communications program, which made use of our own people, inspiring them to take on the Care Bravely norms and mantra. We started with an internal website where thousands of our own people submitted genuine stories about when they provided brave care or saw their colleagues provide Care Bravely. On the site we count the number of brave acts being done. We increased the momentum of the moment by filling all the walls our all our hospitals with massive posters of our people with powerful statements such as I CARE BRAVELY.
The movement ignited moment when we created a group of ‘igniters’ — people inside the LBH organization picked because they are highly influential and have the wind at their back. We trained them to be Care Bravely leaders. Each was sponsored by a member of the C-Suite, and were in constant contact with them through the first 6 months of the program. Furthermore, to spread the movement we produced films, stories, digital prompts and nudges, social media all targeting our own people, and then we went outside the organization to our communities with posters, digital and TV advertising on all major stations.
There is an old African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” This was certainly apt in regard to our movement. We sought buy-in and assistance from the Board of Directors and involved leadership at all levels throughout our 13,000 members of our team.
The true test of a movement inside is, not only whether it is met rapturously when it is unveiled by the leadership team, but whether it is being adopted and used by front line staff now and in 18 months.
Since the launch of Care Bravely this past spring, we’ve seen a dramatic deepening of engagement, as evidenced by 80% of our staff completing their employee engagement survey. Besting our goal this year. We’ve been certified as a Great Place To Work, something I attribute directly to our Care Bravely movement.
What I learned through this process is that creating movements internally can be a powerful leadership tool. It’s a move from the traditional top down leadership, “Do this because I tell you to do it,” to a more egalitarian cross-company leadership, “Let’s do this because we all want to do it – because it’s something that really matters to us.”
By bringing our own people into the movement, and thus engaging them, they are helping to build this new culture. And we were able to create a new sense of ownership and excitement within our culture and see our employees put our Care Bravely movement into action in their everyday work.
In spite of a number of external factors working against the organization, our fiscal year 2019 ended up as the most profitable in the 21 years since the inception of LifeBridge Health. Our objective quality metrics are in the top quartile and we received Great Place to Work designation. Since that time, we have been selected by another local hospital as their partner who will be merging into our health system in the next couple of months. I couldn’t be more proud of our Board and leadership team for taking the leap with us and embracing this movement, and most importantly, for the 13,000 plus team members who are on the front lines every day performing heroic acts on our behalf across the region.
Neil Meltzer is the CEO of Lifebridge Health, based in Baltimore.