The key contributing factor to achieving clarity, positive culture shifts and strategic organizational transformation
Dr. Hartley Stern, a Senior Consultant Healthcare with GPA, didn’t set out to be a healthcare leader and administrator.
He explains with a characteristically calm confidence that his career trajectory, including his position as CEO of the Jewish General Hospital, was simply the result of a desire to make things better.
“As a young surgeon, it was clear to me that there were people who performed surgery better than others. I needed to understand how and why that occurred, so I set out on a journey of discovery. Which traits and skills did I need to develop to become a high-quality surgeon who positively impacted the lives of many?” he enquires.
Hartley observes that peak performance and the likelihood of achieving growth toward full potential are rarely solely under the control of the individual doing the job. Instead, it is influenced by the institution in which they work. Determining the organizational position and identifying areas that may need to change requires asking some pointed questions. Are the right resources in place? Is the proper structure in place? Is the right leadership in place? Is the culture appropriate to allow strong performance?
“Instead of complaining about poor leadership, knowing there was a range of factors that would lead to my professional growth, I determined I would teach myself to lead. I sought out those who taught me how to be a good leader. In the process, I realized that while I could affect one patient at a time with good quality surgery, as the leader of ten surgeons, I could affect ten patients at a time. As I moved through other positions in the healthcare field, the recurring theme of driving improvement through leadership and organizational culture surfaced frequently,” he adds.
Listening: The catalyst for affecting culture change and obtaining buy-in
When he ran the Jewish General Hospital, Hartley convinced the Board that their objective had to change to being the safest hospital in the country, rather than the largest teaching hospital in the province. What was the seemingly insurmountable obstacle? How would he get 1,000 employees onboard to make it happen?
“In this case, it was my wife that prompted a shift in thinking. I took her for a walk around the hospital one day, and she said, ‘You know, this place is not clean.’ Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head,” he shares.
“The solution to moving the organization forward was simply to clean the hospital. I went to the Board Chair. I went to the head of the ladies’ auxiliary. I went to every staff member and the cleaning department and said, ‘How will we make this happen? We’re going to clean the hospital.’ Everybody bought into it because your place of work is like your home. Everybody wants a clean home,” he explains.
One of the anticipated benefits of cleaning was that hospital infection rates went down. However, there were also some unexpected benefits. People started taking more pride in the organization. The side rails on beds stayed up as they were meant to. Needle disposal protocols were more rigorously followed as well as several other safety issues improved. Pride in the organization swelled. Hartley was able to gain buy-in and affect change with other initiatives because of the success of this simple cleaning and safety improvement program. “We developed a collective confidence that we had the capacity to succeed in other improvement endeavours,” he explains
What this experience highlighted for Hartley was that a spark of inspiration for organizational change could come from unexpected sources. “It’s a great illustration of how as a leader, listening carefully to other people’s ideas is crucial,” he says.
The impact of leadership mindset on culture
Leadership mindset has an undeniable impact on an organization’s culture. Luzita Kennedy, affirms that Hartley’s experience illustrates the benefit of working for a higher purpose.
“I’ve observed time and again that when executives or leaders are focused on self and what they want to do, rather than considering the greater good, the organization suffers as a result. Conversely, when leaders exhibit more inclusive mindsets, traits and behaviours, they feel a sense of purpose and personal satisfaction, which positively influences organizational culture,” she explains.
Hartley adds that being intentional about his journey as a leader and being mindful of the impact leadership can have on organizational culture led to a tremendously satisfying career. “In healthcare, when you give your all as a leader, your team benefits and most importantly, patients benefit,” he beams.
Hartley observes that any improvements you generate in the system as a healthcare leader, or a leader in any industry, always involve behavioural change. “The business of a leader is creating the vision of what it is you’re trying to do, and then moving people from where they currently are, to where they need to go to achieve that vision,” he says.
Hartley explains that he joined GPA, because he believes it is the leading business in the country at working alongside executives and providing them with the insight and support they need to affect cultural and organizational change.
“A time-motion study conducted by McGill found that the Jewish General Hospital CEO made a decision every eight minutes. I think it’s pretty typical for leaders in healthcare and other big corporations. That kind of stress is just what you have to deal with. As a consultant with GPA, I have the time to reflect and use 35 years of experience as a leader in healthcare to support executives who are making decisions every eight minutes. It’s a remarkable opportunity for me, and I wish I’d done it sooner,” says Hartley.
Experience, candour and clarity
GPA’s team has a proven track record of working with leaders to ensure that people in their organizations move where they need to grow for the ultimate benefit of the business.
“By tapping into the experience of our team, we’re able to craft solutions that are tailor-made to fit the client’s particular circumstances. Working alongside our clients, and telling it as we see it, brings clarity that illuminates the way forward for the benefit of the business,” says Luzita.
She adds that Hartley’s wealth of insight and steady, calm, consistent, insightful, and thoughtful style is a natural synergy with the GPA client base. “We always work at the top of the house, with discerning senior executives and company owners. They value lived experience, candour and clarity. They are astute. If they ask you a question, and you don’t know the answer, but try and bluff your way through, your engagement will be over in a flash. Working with patriarchs or executives in a very calm, steady, thoughtful and insightful manner is key. Hartley’s nature and extensive experience are a real asset to the GPA team and provide our clients with a rich intellectual resource they can tap into,” she concludes.