By Imamu “Mu” Tomlinson, MD, MBA
What do you call a culture that values team achievement rather than individual success? Where leaders build a future that may not materialize until long after they are gone? Where everyone is valued and where gratitude becomes the common language? Where “we” always replaces “me”?
Some may call it idealistic. Others call it unrealistic. I call it brilliant.
Why shine is important
Workplace culture is a way to engage people, drive innovation, delight customers, and foster brand loyalty. But there’s a deeper intention behind truly great work cultures that expect and allow teams to put aside their egos to accomplish something amazing.
A top-down approach to leadership rarely results in a team that feels it can truly change the world. Making a difference requires a model in which everyone has a sense of belonging and empowerment.
In healthcare, now is the time to rethink our delivery systems around our patients. And the most sustainable way to accomplish this change is to empower our frontline teams who know how to best serve the communities that need it most.
After more than two years on the clinical frontline of a global pandemic, today’s healthcare teams are exhausted. And in some ways, the idea of redesigning our business now seems to some to be the last thing we need.
However, there has never been a greater time or imperative for clinical teams to feel connected to their workplace, their patients, and each other. The only way to realize this connection is to rethink how, when and where teams deliver care.
I’m a longtime advocate for patient experience and frontline innovation, and I attribute our organization’s success to our culture of team empowerment. It’s the fuel that creates connection and meaning, fosters relationships and sustains long and fulfilling careers. We call it a “brilliance culture”.
Create a culture of brilliance
Fifty years ago, most medical practices were hierarchical, with financial and decision-making power vested in a small minority of “super owners”. But in 1975, a small group of emergency physicians who believed that an entirely physician-owned practice would provide the best care became the hospital partner of choice and attracted top talent to found Vituity as a democratic partnership that offers every physician a path to ownership: a culture of excellence.
An organization creates a culture of excellence by fostering an environment where passion thrives and success comes through a unified purpose. It designs a sustainable culture by aligning its partners around a shared mission and vision, and by helping its teams to trust each other’s skills and expertise to bring it to life.
Creating a culture of excellence as a set of founding principles has helped Vituity grow from a small emergency medicine group to a multi-specialty national partnership, evolving to meet the needs of our patients and customers facing to policy changes, regulatory upheavals and even a global pandemic.
The power of “we”
You might ask: Aren’t humans wired for self-interest? Could a genius culture, with such a drastic emphasis on the success of others rather than individuals, backfire?
My answer: We never lose by giving or serving too much to help each other succeed. Most builds reward individual effort, but what if you were only rewarded when you helped someone else achieve their goal? Now it’s different. It’s the shine.
To make a culture of brilliance a reality within your own organization, in any industry, I offer five principles that have proven fundamental to me throughout my career, and which I continue to develop and to promote:
- Remember that “we” is always greater than “me”. The team score is the only score that counts. Individual goals are only relevant insofar as they relate to team goals. Shared goals, incentives, and metrics allow each individual to focus on the team rather than themselves.
- Help others reach the top. In sports, this is called assisting: a play that assists another player or helps them score. In a true culture of shine, recognizing who scores isn’t as important as recognizing who got the assist. Being great is not as important as making others great.
- Have Compassionate and Courageous Conversations. When it comes to team success, everyone should feel empowered to influence the outcome. The team can and should fiercely debate issues and decisions without affecting relationships. Improving others and the team is the main reason to talk.
- Recognize people for the value of their work. Showing genuine appreciation and gratitude can be the most important attribute of leadership. We need to show our appreciation when we get this help. An organization can motivate people by paying them a fair price for their work, but recognizing their worth is priceless.
- Cultivate a passion for what you and the team do. Passion and effort always trump skill and competence. Like an artist who spends 20 hours painting without realizing time has passed, you and your team must be passionately concerned about the work at hand. Do that job that makes you so excited about changing the world that it makes you want to cry. Stop what you are doing. Cry for a moment, then continue.
Learn more about Vituity and our commitment to frontline innovation and patient-centered care: https://www.vituity.com/about-us/
Imamu Tomlinson, MD, MBA, is CEO of Vituity, chairman of the charitable foundation Vituity Cares, and practicing emergency physician who has been recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the most influential people in healthcare in 2021.