Outside Leadership Welcome in HC, Finally

Posted on February 6, 2014


In my opinion, the Advisory Board promulgated one of the most important articles on healthcare in the past five years last week.  The article in question was titled “Hospital CEO Wanted:  No Healthcare Experience Needed“.

The promise, not premise, of this article is: healthcare now has an appetite for ideas outside its industry.  Furthermore, these outside perspectives are welcome at the ultimate C-Suite level:  CEO.

This may not seem groundbreaking, but it is.  Historically, healthcare has been notoriously suspicious of outsiders, like consultants.  In fact, the partitioning of knowledge has been so hidebound, many non-profit healthcare systems eschew hiring executives from for-profit systems.  It was implicit:  you chose one path or the other—non-profit or for-profit—and never went back.  Rural only hired rural.  Like begat like, unnecessary and manufactured partisanship.  These decision patterns went unquestioned by Boards for decades.

For example, only recently have non-profit systems welcomed the shrewd cost-cutting, among other skills, that executives in for-profit healthcare have learned and used to successfully manage…and for-profit appreciates non-profit executives with sound customer service and patient experience knowledge.

Now, it appears healthcare is looking more aggressively outside its industry to hire leadership with a new set of skills and a fresh approach.  This is a monumental step because it not only confronts the insular views and group-think endemic to traditional healthcare leadership, which has limited the entire industry’s improvement, but it signals maturity for healthcare:  healthcare is willing to accept ideas that have worked well in other industries.  In other words, serious innovation is right around the corner.

The retail and technology companies we know, use, love, and spend our dollars with—Apple, Nike, Amazon, Facebook, Google, to name a few—swap executives all the time, especially to get fresh leadership and product or service ideas.  For a real kick-start, someone from 3M might move to J.Crew to improve a specific aspect of the company, or Yahoo might hire someone away from Starbucks.  On the surface a disconnect perhaps, but strategically essential for knowledge transfer and cross-pollination.

Besides, outside ideas are exciting!  Designers and builders  have been trying to bring in beneficial ideas to improve healthcare business for some time, like Lean, Six Sigma and Simulation.  Healthcare is still in the early adoption phase for all three, I feel, but moving forward nonetheless.

One lesson Haskell learned by paying attention to our customers in different industries is that Fortune 500 companies study and verify a project with simulation before they put money at risk in the physical plant.  This is one reason we now offer and encourage clinical simulation for clients:  you want to know something will work before you do it.

One of the best examples that comes to mind of a non-traditional background healthcare CEO leveraging his varied pedigree is Gerard van Grinsven, CEO at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.  His past working for the Ritz Carlton I’m sure gave him some insight and understanding of ROI in the ‘softer’ side of healthcare like customer service and patient satisfaction. He made that abundantly clear in his astute insights on human resources vs. hospital infrastructure investment.  There are thousands of value connections and discoveries waiting to be made in healthcare, at high levels, where leadership can really impact patient lives through better business.

One article a trend does not make; nor does it signal majority or universal adoption.  But the Advisory Board has its finger on the pulse of healthcare, and I believe more hospitals will look outside their backyard for new leadership and ideas to thrive in the post-reform healthcare world.