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Profits Swell

“When things go wrong in your command, start searching for the reason in increasingly larger circles around your own two feet.” General Bruce Clarke

Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago had been losing money for several years, when Quint Studer was recruited to fill their vacant COO position. He came in ready to turn things around with cost saving strategy fixes like: cutting expenses, restructuring staff or re-inventing something. Instead the CEO said Studer’s first priority was to improve their low patient satisfaction numbers.

He had no experience in fixing patient satisfaction. So he started just walking around telling the nurses to smile more. Of course that strategy sunk like a river rock. After a few more management misfires, Studer decided to get some advice from a company known for customer satisfaction, Southwest Airlines. He told them his story. Their eyes rolled at his “smile more” strategy. Then Southwest folks suggested that he try something different. When you speak to your nurses, replace your smile directive with this, “We want to make this a better place for you to work. What do I need to do?”

He took their advice and things started to improve dramatically. The approach worked not only in nursing, but in all other departments as well. As he articulated an authentic attitude of service to his employees they in-turn began to serve their team and the patients with more care and concern. Within 6 months the patient satisfaction score surpassed the hospital’s 12 month goal. By year end Holy Cross scored in the top quartile of the nation’s best hospitals. Plus turnover decreased and financials improved. The hospital made over one million dollars that year, which was not bad considering the hospital lost over $9 million two years before.

Of course Studer did more than ask one question to achieve this turnaround, but the question was the tipping point. Study after study shows that employees will treat customers or patients the same way they are treated. Given enough time, the interactions with a customer will mirror the words and attitude the leader displays with her/his direct reports. Every year millions of dollars are inadvertently wasted on customer service training, when the investment would have paid back ten fold had the leader first served well the persons sitting around their table.

Working Journal Entry: Is this a good time for you to try this approach at work? You might consider practicing it with some other stakeholders in your leadership and life. For example: “We want to make this: an exceptional community organization, a healthier home for our family, a marriage that lasts forever, a life that works for you. What do I need to do?”

* Quint Studer is author of Hardwiring Excellence and president of the Studer Group, a hospital management consulting firm.

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