February 24, 2014

Health Care Brand Leadership: Mission, Vision and Values

I recently read a list of the top challenges for hospital CEOs in 2014. The only mention of people/organizational issues is simply stated as “personnel shortages.” Really? The list includes the usual pressures of finances, reform and patient satisfaction, but they all cry out for leadership to articulate your brand’s mission, vision and values to associates and patients.

The hospitals that align the performance of their employees with the pressing demands of the healthcare transformation will help address all of the top challenges on the list—and ultimately rise above competitors.

I just spent 10 days in the hospital with my daughter. I watched the staff care for her and thought about all of the industry changes these people are facing. Care is an operative word. It refers exclusively to people. Machines and balance sheets can’t “care”. I couldn’t help but wonder how leadership and culture didn’t make the CEO list. You can’t compete in the complex healthcare environment without highly capable people who can both perform and adapt in high stake customer interactions. So how can hospitals best align the behavior of their employees with the pressing needs of the healthcare business?

A strong mission, vision and values framework is a key ingredient to success amid industry transformations. It defines and reinforces the right behaviors in an organization—which is crucial if you want to grow in times of tumultuous change.

A mission describes why the organization exists. A vision articulates what you aspire to become or be known for. Values describe the desired norms and behaviors that nourish and protect your brand. Of course, all of this must be done within the context of your specific business situation. Most organizations surely have some version of this, but in my experience it is often poorly done.

Outside the healthcare space, a meaningful mission, vision and values framework that is crafted through a diligent process often helps support the best brands. Your people need leadership most when the future is murky. This is the moment you must reshape your mission, vision and values to light the way forward. This means more than a few meetings and filling in some blanks. Here are a couple of tips when crafting your mission, vision and values framework:

Mission, vision and values language must be concise.

Long, philosophical mission and vision statements that no one understands or buys into often backfire and only generate a cynical response from associates.  If you want them to be memorable, you should have no more then five values.

Get input while designing the framework.

Fully and honestly consider the business situation/environment. Doing this right requires a commitment to honest conversation and a culture where disagreement is encouraged.

Below are a few pointers to weave your framework into the organization so it doesn’t just vanish into an employee guidebook, never to be seen again:

Measure your employees with the framework.

Convert your behavior-based values into your performance management system. Will employees really be held accountable for modeling the values? Connecting your framework to compensation is vital to give it real meaning.

Build your mission, vision and values into recruitment.

Will you hire a highly credentialed candidate that does not appear to exemplify your organization’s values?

Instill your mission, vision and values from day one.

Incorporate mission, vision and values early in the on-boarding process. Your new associate is a blank slate and needs a good first impression.

Integrate the framework with your branding.

Assure the behavior on the inside is consistent with the organization’s brand message. This ensures that leadership is walking the walk.

Adequately communicate your mission, vision and values.

Go beyond posters and town hall gatherings when you launch it. Be creative. Develop a detailed internal communications plan that treats your associates as the valued audience they truly are.

Developing and implementing a meaningful mission, vision and values framework is an investment in the future of the organization. It’s a journey that requires time, honest conversation, rigorous execution and courage. Get it right and you are on your way to building your brand on the inside and out. While many organizations will emphasize strategy and numerical targets, culture ultimately trumps strategy.

Sure, some will dismiss this as “soft stuff” that is difficult to measure and implement. I argue that the soft stuff is the hardest. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t make the CEO list. However, in a hyper-competitive world, it’s all hands on deck. There simply is no place to hide.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in healthcare, a perfect storm of change, threats and opportunities. Your ship and crew are waiting—they simply need to know what course to set to get them home.