The Human Factor Turnaround

I was honored to interview Paul Hiltz last week in Cincinnati. Several years ago as the new CEO of Mercy Hospital, after a string of leaders before him had come and gone, one of the often side questions he would get was, “So how long do you intend to stay?” Paul never had any intention of leaving the hospital, even as it was losing almost 10% annually as a business. He started not only by providing a grand vision of excellence and profitability, but also by focusing on the people part.

Let me explain. You would expect the grand vision board meetings, and senior leadership meetings that happened. What you wouldn’t expect is that he spent much of his days not couped up behind closed doors, but out in the hospital learning the names of everyone who worked there, and what they cared about in their work environment. Paul first argued to the financial team that they should be investing in simple cosmetic and aesthetic improvements – paint, carpet, repairing or replacing damaged and old equipment. With these gestures of recognizing and knowing everyone in the hospital, and investing in the infrastructure and cosmetics, it gave everyone an uplifting sense of being a part of a rejuvinated place to work.

That was just one small part of the equation. Paul wasn’t done yet. The next thing he did was to hire healthcare financial advisors who conducted workshops to teach the caregivers and staff how the hospital financial model worked. People who had worked in healthcare for over a decade were surprised to find that some of the standard practices they had been engaging in to create value and positive revenue for the hospital, in fact had the inverse effect. Many of the ways in which they were working with patients had a negative financial effect, and they never knew until Paul brought in experts to help them understand how the business worked.

Throughout the last few years of Paul’s tenure, there has been very little of the headcount and project slash typically expected in turnaround efforts. True, Paul has helped to optimize some aspects of the hospital operations, but throughout the organization people will consistently say that what has been the most powerful and effective part of Paul’s efforts has been his ability to be present, persistent, genuine, honest, all despite immense financial pressures to perform.

In the face of adversity, think like Paul. Focus on the human aspect, because in the end it’s the people that make the difference.