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The Unreflecting Organization – Not Worth Having

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Every time I moderate a strategic planning retreat, I learn something.

About myself.

About the investment of life force necessary to build and sustain a successful organization in the modern business day.

About the importance of heartfelt and mutually supportive communication among and between an effective executive team.

About how there is no more efficient use of business time than to step away from the day-to-day, to reset, and to talk about the big “whys “of an enterprise.

And from this talk, to refresh, refine and define the best, most strategic, and highest ROI use of executives’ time and of an organization’s capital.

I have the great, good fortune to moderate 1 - 2 of these “big” strategic planning retreats each month. 

This past week, the group was the eight person executive leadership team of one of the larger and more prestigious hospitals here in Los Angeles.

A dynamic and highly experienced group, these eight executives have management and leadership responsibilities for over 1,500 hospital employees - providing care to over 17,000 patients, including 4,000 deliveries and 8,000 surgeries annually. 

Yes, these executives have their strategic and tactical hands full to the highest degree.

In addition to the sheer scale and breadth of their organization and of the truly life and death impacts of their decisions, they also must grapple with and adapt to the sea changes beyond their control in our brave, new healthcare world.

The Affordable Care Act.

Payor consolidation, driving down reimbursements.

An increasingly Byzantine thicket of regulatory, liability, and organizational complexity that can easily make a hospital executive feel that even their best work will and cannot “tilt the windmill” toward high quality and cost effective care.

But here’s the inspirational rub of it all…

The bigger the challenge, the more engaged does become the effective executive.

And in this hospital executive team that I had the privilege of working with this past week, well they were engaged and committed at the highest level.

How so?

Well, how about this - in spite of having a more than a century of collective experience, and having to travel from their homes an average of more than 50 miles through Los Angeles rush hour traffic, all eight members of the team arrived at the retreat 30 minutes before its scheduled 9:00 am start!

Or, how about the fact that the organization’s CEO, in spite of being on the job for 17 years and being honored as one of the nation's top hospital CEOs, seeking critical feedback from a staff member on the job less than 90 days?

How about a willingness to, in spite of leading a wildly successful and highly respected 100 year old+ organization, to in an afternoon agree to scrap the team's existing meeting structure and try something completely new?

And my favorite, how about a willingness to take on the challenge of fundamentally rethinking the performance review structures of their vast and complex organization, knowing that yes, doing so will result in far more work on their already stretched plates, but committing to it as it is in the profound interest of the organization's mission and reflective of its values to do so?

And that is all that matters.

These kinds of discussions, and of course many more of the highly confidential, and often heated and pointed type, resulted in a high emotion and results-packed retreat day.

Undertake this work like our fair and fine hospital executives did this past week and watch the magic happen.

And, of course, ignore it at your peril.

Because, as Thoreau once famously said an unexamined life is not worth living.

And an unreflecting organization will, in the end, almost always turn into one not worth having.


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