Core Exchange: Leading with your employer brand

February 11, 2019
Ward Alles President and Brand Consultant

The leader’s role in employer branding

Healthcare leaders can help positively shape corporate culture and impact patient outcomes. Listen and learn how.

Ward Alles, Core Creative, and Dr. Dan Schroeder, Organization Development Consultants, discuss leadership’s role in shaping the employer brand for their health system.

Episode 7: Healthcare System Culture

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on iTunes.


Episode Transcript:

Ward Alles:  Welcome to The Core Exchange, a health care marketing podcast. I’m Ward Alles, president here at Core Creative. This week, we welcome Dr. Daniel Schroeder, president and CEO of Organization Development Consultants. We’re going to discuss culture and the importance of living the brand.

You’re actually a psychologist.

Dr. Daniel S.:  I am. By background, I’m an industrial organizational psychologist, an I/O psychologist, which is the branch of psychology that deals with the world of work, issues of individual, team, and organizational effectiveness. We were founded in 1994. I was a founding partner at that time, Ward, and we’ve worked with over 1,000 organizations in the intervening years, including health care. We’ve done many, many consultations with health care organizations.

Ward Alles:  Wonderful. Now, if I really wanted to help one of my clients understand the power of employer branding, and I tap into somebody like you, how would I do that? Why would I do that? Where would you come into play?

Dr. Daniel S.:  The engagement would be heavily people-focused. The work that we do attempts to bring out the best in individuals, teams, or organizations. Typically, we’re working under executive sponsorship of leaders at the upper ranks of the organization, and we target very, very specific consultations, emerging issues that the organization wants to improve upon, consistent with a good to great kind of perspective.

Ward Alles: Yeah, we’re always trying to get better, every one of us.

Dr. Daniel S.:  Absolutely.

Ward Alles:  Now, we try to do it through the brand again, and a lot of time that C word of culture comes up.

Dr. Daniel S.: Oh, it does.

Ward Alles: Right? You’re talking to the C suite, and they own the topic of culture. What might you do to help formulate some of those strategies internally?

Dr. Daniel S.:  Well, I think one of the interesting connections right away in terms of the issue of brand, brand is understood by constituents in the marketplace, customers, potential customers. But from our perspective, the best way to promulgate an effective brand is from the inside out. Behave into brand. The focus on employees. Employees who are well served will serve well. Working with the leaders at an organization. What is their understanding of culture at their organization? Often, culture is ethereal. It’s abstract. People feel it might be hard to get your arms around it, so to speak.

On the other hand, very many organizational variables are tough to get your arms around. Defining culture has to do with simplistically coming in with definitions of how we do things around here that are unique and specific to that organization. Leaders are very effective architects of organization when they understand the link between culture, organizational effectiveness, and performance in the marketplace.

Ward Alles: Excellent. Now, do you use any kind of special tools to help a client of yours get at the idea of culture, what kind of company or organization they are?

Dr. Daniel S.:  We believe that what gets measured gets done. We do a lot of discovering needs analysis work up front and along the way in order to indicate how we’re doing. What are those key performance indicators? Whether it be at the individual level, the team level, or the organizational level, we have tools, measurement tools that we use. At the organizational level, we often make use of a tool that we call the Organizational Culture Assessment Inventory, the OCAI.

We can supplement that, if desired, with interviews and other data gathering devices, but we rather like to use the OCAI because it’s a powerful analytic framework that types or categorizes an organization into one of four basic organizational cultures. No organization is purely one of the four types of organization, but like a human being. Most human beings are not purely ambidextrous. We’re right-handed or left-handed. So, too, an organization might have characteristics that are more typical of one of the given culture types.

Ward Alles:  Once you identify that type, you can help train the employee base on it-

Dr. Daniel S.:  Yes, yes.

Ward Alles: … and help them all point towards a mission?

Dr. Daniel S.:  Absolutely.

Ward Alles: A lot of that is, again, brand focused, right?

Dr. Daniel S.: It absolutely is. I think one of the interesting aspects of this is by starting to give tangible words or descriptors to culture, what we’re doing is we’re very powerfully shaping the narrative of the organization. How do we describe how we do things around here? What words do we use? The idea of artifacts, what are the representations of culture?

Leadership storytelling is a very, very important variable. How do leaders use their understanding of culture to send powerful messages about how we do things around here? I think that’s the real benefit. One of the benefits of becoming more serious, more intentional, about describing culture, is it unleashes a vast array of leadership storytelling possibilities.

Ward Alles: Isn’t that great? We really emphasize at core the whole idea behind the say it and live it, brand alignment. What you’re saying on the outside from a marketing standpoint, living inside as an organization.

Dr. Daniel S.: Absolutely.

Ward Alles:  I can see why an expert like you would be plugged in to help flesh some of that out.

Dr. Daniel S.: Well, it’s critical. It’s critical. Ward, the research is very clear at this point that leaders are best defined in terms of the quality of their followers, employees. Take a look at the employees and you’ll have a sense of how effective the leadership is. When it comes to employees resonating and being catalyzed by leaders, leaders who are deemed to be trustworthy, honest, sincere, they have credibility. They have authenticity.

What’s interesting about talking in terms of culture is that values have a lot to do with the culture that is shaped. Values at an individual level define a person’s character. Values at an organization level, those that are sustained, those are practiced, those that are emphasized, say a lot about the kind of culture that the organization has built and wishes to perpetuate.

Ward Alles: Are there any special challenges that a big health care system has when it comes to managing their culture, communicating it?

Dr. Daniel S.: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. One of the challenges I think particularly for professional service organizations is that the people who work in such organizations are highly credentialed experts, and oftentimes along with that come ideas about right and wrong and how we do things at an individual level, at a work area level. There are often dynamics around territories, turfs, and silos in a professional services organization, and health care certainly isn’t lacking for those kinds of challenges.

Ward Alles: We talk about helping our clients understand what their employer brand is. I can see how you can help operationalize that employer brand to get it kind of into the DNA of the organization.

Dr. Daniel S.:  Absolutely. Health care, of course, when we talk in terms of the three C’s of the external business environment, of competition, change, and that customers provide some real challenges for organizations that move in the health care milieu. Highly competitive landscape, and if you’re going to differentiate in the marketplace relative to those three C’s, you have to do it from the inside out. That’s that whole idea of behaving into brand.

Ward Alles: Wonderful. Any big success stories that you’d want to talk about or point to, or maybe just major challenges that you’re often called in to handle?

Dr. Daniel S.: We worked with a health care organization extensively for a period of a half dozen years, dealing with leadership effectiveness, team effective, organizational effectiveness, and the precipitating event, Ward, was we had an inquiry come from the vice president of human resources where they had done some internal discussion around the executive table, the conference room, and they did a quick mini survey within their organization from the direct reports reporting to the C-level people.

One response got their attention. The C-level leaders were referred to collectively as a “viper pit”. That got their attention. We were brought in to peel back that issue of why did employees feel that the people upstairs were a viper pit. Highly competitive. Highly achievement oriented. Didn’t tolerate mistakes or errors or anything other than perfection. What we did was really humanize the situation, and through assessment, and consultation, and coaching, and team development really bring a greater and richer understanding of that energy that was fueling some of the competitiveness and how to channel it more effectively on behalf of the employees and then, of course, vis-a-vis the employees into the marketplace competitively.

Ward Alles:  It’s really fascinating, because we can’t be effective with our strategy of turning employees into ambassadors, brand ambassadors, if they’re not feeling good about the culture or the leadership, and that’s where an expert like you comes in.

Dr. Daniel S.: Organizational culture, Ward, is what we like to call the other bottom line of organizational effectiveness. It’s all the things that people might describe as leadership, communication, things that go in that other bottom line beyond the financial bottom line. Organizational culture drives the bottom line. Organizational culture, when it’s well tended, when it’s nurtured, when it’s focused upon, is a catalyzing force. It’s been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. From our standpoint, we’ve seen that happen.

When organizations have positive, constructive, collaborative, strengths-based kinds of organizations, trust emerges. We come to know one another at a deeper level. When we’re greater engaged as employees, that means that maybe we’re going to do even stronger work as we’re carrying out our processes and operations. We’re going to take a few more chances because we’ve got rapport, you and I, as employees within a trust-based, values-based culture. Our work is done at a higher level. When our work is done at a higher level, it is likely to be better received in the marketplace by the external folks with whom we interact, clients, the customers, the constituents.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s that relationship with customers, clients, or constituents that has a lot to do with the bottom line that the organization realizes. From our standpoint, culture isn’t something you think about every once in a while or when you get there. Culture needs to be something that you’re thinking about each and every day, and particularly the people that need to be thinking about culture are the people who are the architects of the organization, the top executives. They have to be mindful of that.

What kind of culture are they shaping? What practices are they unleashing? What are they measuring? What criteria are they using to evaluate effectiveness? By taking culture firmly into the cross hairs, it is a powerful performance framework for enabling, facilitating, encouraging gains at the individual level, the team level, the organizational level.

Ward Alles:  I’ve heard about this phrase balanced scorecard. How does that impact culture or what the leaders do in an organization? What’s that balanced scorecard?

Dr. Daniel S.: Well, the balanced scorecard, Ward, originally was a term that Harvard University Professors Kaplan and Norton coined for their book, The Balanced Scorecard. Basically, what it says is that organizations, any organization, can be measuring more than financial performance. Indeed, they probably need to. Certainly, financial performance is critical. If you’re performing poorly, that’s a significant challenge.

On the other hand, financial performance isn’t all that an organization is about. I think when you start to talk about an organization in terms of its culture, more holistically, other key performance indicators can be brought to bear. For instance, beyond financial performance, how are you doing with regard to external performance vis-a-vis your constituents, your customers, your clients, people who are the recipients or the users of your goods, products, and services? How are you doing in terms of your process and operational performance?

Of course, many organizations, manufacturing organizations, health care organizations, are very focused on process and operational performance. Finally, there are people within the organization called employees. Are we measuring relative to the employees more than how much we’re paying them and what the hike in the benefits package is going to be? If all we’re viewing our employees as is the representation of the primary cost center of the organization, we’re missing the mark mightily.

Organizations’ employees are its primary differentiating forces. You employ your employees. I employ mine. We might be moving in comparable markets doing comparable things, but my people versus your people, if I’m able to better leverage those people, if I’m better able to engage them, have them challenging processes and operations to be more effective, exciting those external constituents, there’s research to support it’s not just Dr. Dan Schroeder – I have just specified, outlined, a very, very effective performance equation.


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