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Book Summary: “Healing a Hospital” by David Herdlinger

It seems strange, I realize, that a hospital would need to be healed. But that was the situation that existed a decade ago at Southeast Georgia Health System.  Costs were out of line with revenues, employee morale was awful, doctors weren’t happy, and the patients were not getting the appropriate level of quality care. The situation had to change dramatically if the hospital was to survive, prosper, and operate in a manner that would allow it to best serve its community. The Board was faced with many options, unfortunately "All were frightening options with enormous risks. But the risks of doing nothing were even greater."

The problems at the hospital and the tremendous turnaround that occurred are chronicled in this book by my friend and fellow business coach David Herdlinger. David was brought in by the hospital’s CEO and board of directors to assist in the sweeping changes that were necessary to help "heal" the Southeast Georgia Health System.

The lessons that abound in this book are relevant not merely to hospitals but to all businesses and organizations. I have extracted some of the most salient points for employees, management and others who want to improve their business’ culture and results.

1.  Don’t just bring your problems and concerns…bring your "fixes." The employees should know what would bring about improvement and suggesting solutions instead of merely reporting problems engenders ownership, pride and creative thinking. Management must promote empowerment so that employees at all levels are truly motivated to look for ways to improve.

2.  Working together works. Embrace the value of teamwork. It has been proven time and again that 1 + 1 + 1 can equal 5. Instead of calling each other employees, call yourselves team members. Focus on what can be better and don’t play the "blame game."

3.  Look, listen and learn.  Being blind and close-minded to the reality of a bad situation will severely hinder the opportunity for change and progress. Healthy organizations welcome openness and change because they’re focused on achieving excellence. Unhealthy organizations tend to foster secrecy, protectiveness, and fear.

4.  Take risks to improve. Management must buy into this so that someone isn’t punished for trying something new. No one wants mistakes…but if you make a mistake and learn from it, that’s a good thing. Admit your mistakes; don’t try to hide from them.

5.  Perception is reality. Be careful what you say, especially in front of customers. How you portray and talk about your organization contributes to the image that they see. If you’re having a bad day at home, leave your problems at the door. Otherwise it will reflect unfavorably on the whole organization. "The image we have in our minds determines what we become and what we achieve."

6.  Embrace strategic "advances." Set aside regular and meaningful time to step away from the day-to-day of running a business to focus on the strategic elements of success. Some businesses call their offsite gatherings "retreats," but "advances" connotes going forward, not backward.

7.  People are naturally resistant to change. Changing the culture of any organization required enormous effort over an extended period of time. Settling for mediocrity comes more naturally than shouldering the burdens and risks of pursuing excellence. Pointing fingers is easier than taking ownership. Making excuses is simpler than striving for excellence. Invest in developing a culture of innovation and change.

As the last item references, it typically takes months if not years for meaningful and sustainable change to occur. The turnaround at Southeast Georgia Health System occurred over the course of several years…resulting in the changes becoming ingrained in the fabric and culture of the organization.

I hope there are some takeaways from the lessons learned and employed at this hospital that can benefit you.