Any business in the world will only be as successful as it is in
meeting the needs of its customers. The trick for leaders is to
know how best to do that, and who really does it. The simple truth,
of course, is employees make the difference, and only those
companies who first meet the needs of their employees will truly
excel in meeting the needs of their customers.
In our organization, The Poudre Valley Health System (PVHS) in Fort
Collins, Colorado, our customers are the patients we serve. We
believe that each patient deserves world-class healthcare and that
we have a responsibility to provide it. So we established a clear
and direct set of priorities to drive us toward that goal. Our top
priority may surprise you.
Priority 1: Meeting the needs of our employees
While our goal is to provide world-class healthcare, it is our
employees who provide that care. It is unrealistic to expect that
we can treat patients appropriately if we don't first treat our
employees appropriately. That's why our first priority is to meet
the needs of our employees, just as we expect them to meet the
needs of our patients.
To do this we implemented an employee survey to determine how well
we are meeting their needs. I believe that the leaders in our
organization provide a service, and that service is management. We
ask our employees regularly how well we, as leaders, provide that
service to them. Supervisors in the organization then use that
information to discuss opportunities for improvement with their
employees. Every leader creates an action plan to improve the
service he or she provides employees. Each employee should know, at
any given time, what their supervisor is doing to better meet their
By first listening to our employees and devoting the resources of
our organization to meet their needs first, we have developed a
culture of "family" within the organization. We regularly grill
lunch for the employees; senior staff personally visit all
departments in the organization; we pay salaries that are
competitive, have staffing plans that are at the top of the
industry, and, to be honest, we have a lot of parties. People enjoy
working at PVHS. In fact, I regularly tell our employees that if
this is not the single best place they have ever worked, I want to
know about it. I, along with the CEOs of the other hospitals in our
system, have given out our home phone numbers and have made a
commitment to see any employee with a concern as soon as possible.
We truly want to make a difference with employees, and for the
leaders throughout PVHS to be equally committed to this philosophy.
Time and again managers in our organization come up with their own
new and innovative ways to better meet the needs of their
Many have criticized this strategy as being too extravagant, but I
think our results speak for themselves. Over the past 10 years our
employee turnover rate has dropped from nearly 20 percent per year
to less than 7 percent, giving PVHS perhaps the single best
employee turnover rate of any healthcare company in the country.
This lower turnover has resulted in a decrease of millions of
dollars a year in expenses needed to find and hire new people, and
millions saved as a result of increased efficiency because the
employees we have are simply better at their jobs.
Priority 2: Meeting the needs of our physicians
Hospitals don't run without physicians. If you can't meet the needs
of physicians who practice at a hospital, the hospital will simply
not be clinically or financially successful. Therefore, we also
measure how well we meet the needs of our physicians and, with our
employees, create action plans to do it better. This is another
reason why Priority 1 is so important. By first meeting the needs
of our employees, we are in a better position to support our
physicians. To expect employees to meet the needs of physicians
without first having their own needs met is unrealistic. Skeptical
at first, the doctors now receive such excellent support from the
rest of our employees that they now understand the importance of
Priority 3: Meeting the needs of our customers
By meeting the needs of our employees, who in turn meet the needs
of our physicians, we are in a better position to provide the
world-class healthcare that is our ultimate goal. The success has
been dramatic. Poudre Valley Hospital (PVH), the largest facility
in our growing system, has been selected as one of the top 100
hospitals three years running. PVH has been selected by
Healthgrades as a distinguished hospital and by the American Nurses
Association as a Magnet hospital, making PVH one of only a handful
of hospitals in the country to simultaneously have both of these
distinctions. Clearly, our goal is being achieved.
We have been able to increase revenue and decrease expenses, and at
the same time, we have increased the quality of care. That is very
unusual in our industry.
To provide world-class healthcare, we established a system of
priorities built upon first meeting the needs of our employees.
Those who are on the inside often joke that, at PVHS, quality is
"Job 3" because we established the other priorities first. Perhaps
they are right. But in the end, by establishing the strategy built
upon the foundation of our employees, we have successfully kept
costs down and quality up. In healthcare, that is a pretty big
deal. And that is what constitutes good leadership.
2006 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.