January 15, 2013

What do football teams and hospitals have in common? More than you think.

Think about your physician leaders as your hospital’s quarterback.

Like most American men, I’m a huge football fan. Specifically, my allegiance is to the Philadelphia Eagles (you can now officially feel sorry for me). This year has been rough, as we’ve seen draft picks underperform, free agents take large contracts and contribute very little and, after all was said and done, our coach get fired and shown the door. This got me thinking: Hospitals and health systems are not that different than a professional football team. Let me explain how.

Coaches = Health care executives

At the beginning of the season the Philadelphia Eagles had the longest-tenured coach in the league. Andy Reid was considered a strong leader of a team that was expected to be in contention for the league championship.

Less than six months later, he’s the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. What happened?

A coach draws up a game plan, gets the team members on board and pushes them to work together to achieve the same goal. Is this really any different than a hospital chief executive officer’s role? A CEO needs to understand how to use the available tools to achieve success. If the organization succeeds, the leader is a hero. If it fails, the leader is a zero.

Free agents/Recruits = Care providers

Over the past several years, the Eagles made a big splash in free agency. Everyone in the media applauded how the team was aggressive and went after the premier talent that was available. It was every football fan’s dream scenario. But it may have been the biggest contributor to the Eagles’ losing season.

Though the players were talented, nobody took the time to evaluate whether the talent fit well within the team. Nobody checked to see if the players would buy in to the coach’s vision. Turned out they were only in it for themselves.

As a hospital or health system, you can make this mistake, too. Yes, it’s vital to your community, and your bottom line, to recruit top talent. But will these recruits lead to your downfall? You need to tell potential providers what makes you unique; you need to understand what types of providers can succeed while contributing to the larger good. Otherwise, providers will seek you out for the wrong reasons—top compensation, more time off, national spotlight—rather than to help you reach your most important goal: providing great care.

Quarterbacks = Physician leaders

Quarterbacks are often referred to as the “field general.” Even with great coaching, it’s the quarterback who makes the decisions on the field—whether or not to throw the risky pass or to read a defense and then audible a change in play that may work better. For my Eagles— don’t make me say it!

In health care, physician leaders make the tough decisions that truly affect the success of a hospital or health system.

Rookies = Young care providers

Drafting is the best way to build a successful professional football team, because it allows players to learn the culture from within, to be mentored and to understand exactly what is expected of them on the playing field. Hospitals and health systems can’t draft young providers (although it’s an intriguing concept), but they can recruit top talent by communicating their unique employment value proposition. They can provide training, mentoring and learning experiences that will take a rookie with raw ability and turn him or her into an all-star care provider who is a strong team member and, hopefully, a champion.

The championship game is nearly upon us. Who doesn’t love the commercials, the gathering of friends and the good times? But this year, while you’re watching the big game, ask yourself how close your team is to winning the championship. Maybe it’s time to invest in stronger leadership, players who fit within your culture, great leaders who are willing to make strong decisions and young providers who will help your organization thrive for years to come.

This article originally appeared in Ragan’s Health Care Communication News

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