Large entities need to communicate, internally and externally. Some do it dismally. A few others scrape by. Most do it adequately. And a very few do it beautifully.
Earlier this week I had an opportunity to see “beautiful”-- the magic of corporate symphony, and I got to see it in a very personal way-- not as speaker or instructor, but as a patient. Here’s how it happened.
There’s nothing unusual about guys my age getting up in the middle of the night. The unusual was that my large black dog had decided to sleep in the middle of the bedroom floor. It was not a good decision for either of us. You know where this story is going.
Forty years ago I might have performed the perfect ukemi. Even then I’d never practiced ukemi in the pitch black, trying not to crash on my elderly friend. The landing was graceless, the ankle was shattered, and I got to spend the next day at the Ottawa General Hospital.
Emergency intake, triage, curtained cubicles-- the stuff of pain, fear and interminable waits. The place should be grim. But at the Ottawa Hospital it wasn’t grim. The message I got from first to last was “We’ve got you-- don’t you worry!”
To be candid, I’ve been part of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation for years, and I know all about the Hospital’s Core Values: (1) Compassion; (2) A Commitment to Quality; (3) Working Together; (4) Respect for the Individual. But you and I know that everybody has Core Values and Mission Statements which sound just like that. Mostly they’re hollow words. The trick is to make them actually work.
I’m not privy to how the hospital has accomplished this marvel of communication, but let me tell you what I saw, and how I think it happened.
In layman’s terms, this is what I experienced:
1. They were ready for me. Nobody was trying to figure stuff out on the fly. It was obvious that considerable thought had gone into intake forms, questions, procedure, decision making, and ensuring that front-line people exuded confidence, compassion and competence.
2. They were ready for a lot more than a guy with a fractured ankle. Everywhere I looked I could see kits and machines and computers and purposeful staffers, and I saw them dealing calmly with blood and fear and barf and crises. And yet it wasn’t complacent competence, they were demonstrably compassionate.
3. Not only were they a team who knew how to work together, but they were clearly a team who enjoyed working together. They kidded each other, spelled each other off, and showed in many little ways that they cared for one another. They showed that they were just "good people".
4. They learned from one another. Not only the senior doctors and the residents, but on more than one occasion I observed one staffer show another a short-cut or better way to perform even such a menial task as cleaning up plaster.
5. They respected one another. Surgeons treated orderlies as important team members. Language alternated between English and French as a sign of courtesy, yet without risking miscomprehension.
6. Every staff member was empowered. It was a cleaner who noticed that I was shivering and got me a warm blanket. She will remain my hero.
I could go on, but what I want to share is that a large organization can be a symphony of internal and external communication on many levels. And what I also want to share is that stuff like this doesn’t just happen or fall out of the sky.
Communication symphonies happen because somebody has, with clear vision, patience and determination focused on the big picture as well as all the little things. Somebody has cared and insisted that things be done right, and if not, corrected and done again. Somebody has stayed with it until all the doctors and orderlies and nurses and technicians and accountants and IT professionals and plumbers and painters who make up the Ottawa Hospital take pleasure in being the absolute best they can be. And Somebody has cultivated an environment where everyone, regardless of rank, communicates with internal and external participants in a clear, understandable, useful, encouraging, courteous and engaging fashion.
Frankly, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.
And when you’re hurting and scared and sitting in a cubicle, you’re really glad somebody made it all work. Thank-you, “Somebody”!
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.