This article appears in the November 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Healthcare leaders are inundated with pleas and demands from payers, the government, their boards, and even their patients to be more accountable to them in cost, quality, and patient safety. Frontline staffers are the focus of the day-to-day evaluation, but senior leaders are charged with developing strategies that will help the organization adapt to new roles. Senior leaders have no playbook from which to evaluate how well they and their most senior deputies are doing, but some innovative senior leaders are keeping it simple.
Nancy Schlichting, CEO at Henry Ford Health System, a Detroit-based organization with $4.22 billion in revenue, says much of her leadership style is rooted in seeking out common values and providing constant feedback on how well her team is meeting its self-imposed targets. She boils it all down to transparency of information, culture development, and engagement of people.
"It's critical to attract talented leaders with common values," she says, adding that senior leaders must work together as a team, which is not as simple as it sounds. "I can set a tone at the top, but if you don't have the team who is able to execute on that—managing change and taking risk in an effective way—you won't make it work."
Schlichting's style, she says, tends less toward the autocratic and more toward allowing her senior deputies to take risks under their areas of expertise.
As examples of that risk, she notes that Henry Ford, in an attempt to
diversify its revenue streams and its scope of care, has acquired ownership of a Medicaid HMO and majority ownership in a third-party administrator in recent years, as well as more targeted acquisitions, such as this summer's purchase of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, which will become a research education arm of Henry Ford's ophthalmology department, which treats about 55,000 patients annually. She's also busy developing a new physician network that will integrate group practices, employed physicians, and private practices, as well as a complex and expensive installation of Epic, an integrated suite of healthcare software, across the system—in other words, much of the same work that many CEOs across the country are navigating.
Henry Ford has a nice track record of success, with 10 straight years of revenue and net income growth in an economically challenged area, and was one of only four organizations nationwide to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for 2011.
"Leadership is a great privilege, and it's really about having thousands of eyes looking at you," she says. "We're all under the spotlight every day and everything we do is judged. It's the behavior we exhibit that creates that culture, and everything counts; there's nothing off the table."