“Have a clear vision, communicate it and allow yourself to be challenged by it.”
In the following excerpt from CareerBuilder’s recent interview with Robert P. Wise, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hunterdon Medical Center, Wise discusses, among other things, how growing up in a health care environment influenced his role as a leader in this industry today.
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO YOUR EMPLOYEES ON A PERSONAL BASIS WHILE ENGAGING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST COMING IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL ON A DAILY BASIS?
I have the benefit of having grown up in a health care environment. When I became an orderly in a nursing home it gave me an opportunity to see hierarchy at work. I saw how difficult it was for people at higher levels to communicate with people at lower levels, and I didn’t feel good about it. There was no reason why that should exist in an organization where people depend upon each other. A team is critical, and a team caring about each other and respecting each other is critical.
HOW DO YOU FOSTER A CULTURE OF LEARNING, ADVANCEMENT AND PERSONAL GROWTH?
We have a program where employees can catch other employees doing the right thing, called Caught in the Act. We probably have around a thousand Caught in the Act awards that we recognize every year in celebrations. It’s a way of [helping] employees see the good in each other and also spreads and reinforces the culture.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION YOU HAVE MADE AS A LEADER IN YOUR TENURE HERE?
I think that the most important one was when we laid off 26 employees. We had never had a layoff before, and we worked the numbers as well as we could. We had to confront the fact that we had to have a small reduction in force. To release those people I think was the toughest thing we had to do. And not only that, the workforce was negatively affected by it that rippled throughout the organization.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU SEE TODAY IN YOUR WORKFORCE?
First of all, we see employees staying in their jobs longer. The economy is telling people to retain their positions, and I think we’re the beneficiary of that retention. Experienced employees are important to reinforce the culture to celebrate our successes, and to be recognized for our growth. The second thing that they do is they reinforce the behaviors, habits and cultures in the younger generation.
WHAT ARE SOME FUTURE CHALLENGES YOU FORESEE FOR THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY?
When the tsunami of retirements hit the shores of HR departments across the country, we’ll be challenged to find talented replacements sooner than we had ever thought before. That’s why succession planning and communicating the message of the value of our organization to parents of youngsters is so important. It’s important for us to bring those individuals into our organization so that we close the understanding gap. We build that with talented employees who send the message out that this is a great place to work, and they fill the gaps themselves by recruiting for us. So the pressure is off of HR. There’s no better a reference than friend who says, ‘Come to work here because it’s a great place to work.’ You can’t beat that kind of recommendation.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR PEERS?
In our leadership positions, we CEOs have a tendency to insulate, protect ourselves and narrow our communication with others. We need to be much more vulnerable, the same way our employees are, to the changing dynamics of the organization, the economy and the every day decision. CEOs need to be more accessible to every level of the organization. You can’t do that without making sure you are in control and knowing what direction you’re going in. Have a clear vision, communicate it and allow yourself to be challenged by it and by those around you. They’re the ones to whom you’re going to delegate that responsibility for getting the job done, but always remember to give them as much autonomy and responsibility as their skills and their performance requires.
DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE HAVE INHERENT FEATURES THAT MAKE THEM LEADERS?
I have observed that there are certain people who are visionaries – who are blue sky, big thinkers – and who can express a vision. These people instill values by communicating effectively and come up with wonderful ideas. But it’s not just individuals, but a process of continuous improvement with the right challenge in check. And that means that [when picking leaders] you pick people who fit those roles.
ABOUT ROBERT P. WISE: Mr. Wise has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the Hunterdon Medical Center since 1990. He also serves as President of Hunterdon Healthcare System, Hunterdon Medical Center Foundation, Hunterdon Regional Community Health and Midjersey Health Corporation. Mr. Wise received his undergraduate degree from Boston College (1969) and his Masters in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh (1974). Prior to coming to Hunterdon Medical Center, he held administrative positions at Rancocas Hospital, Albert Einstein Medical Center and Kennedy Memorial Hospital.
ABOUT HUNTERDON HEALTHCARE.: Hunterdon Medical Center, acknowledged as a leader in developing comprehensive medical and health care services, is a 178-bed non-profit community hospital. Our goal is to meet the needs with health care that is compassionate and effective. We provide a full range of preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic inpatient and outpatient hospital and community health services. Our staff is committed to providing the highest quality care to our patients. The Hunterdon Medical Center is also a teaching institution and is affiliated with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The Family Practice Residency Program is one of the first in the nation for the training of specialists in family medicine. Hunterdon Medical Center is licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health, and accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). It is designated a Magnet hospital for superior nursing care.
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