Leadership As Performance Art

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Curtis PickelleI am sure that many of you have read the great 2004 book by Fred Lee, If Disney Ran Your Hospital¹. I have often used the material in this definitive treatise on customer service in my strategic-planning retreats, as the ideas and concepts about which Lee writes are timeless and apply to virtually any service organization. The book’s key takeaway is essentially that people judge organizations based on the total experience of their encounter with the enterprise. They compare this experience not necessarily with experiences at other, similar providers (in this particular example), but with what they know as the best customer-service experiences that they have had anywhere.

It’s not surprising that Disney always tops the list of organizations seen as the best of the best. While this might not have been much of a concern in times past, when consumer choice was not a significant part of the referral equation in health care, the emergence of consumer-directed health care (as well as increased competition in virtually every market) has made the building of brand loyalty among patient populations increasingly important to all providers to medical-imaging services.

When it comes to the marketing of outpatient imaging services, the freestanding community has had a bit of a historical advantage over the garden-variety hospital in the minds of patients and referral sources. That has been changing recently, as many hospitals have embraced the models developed over the past several years by many of the country’s top-tier imaging centers. Convenience, ambience, attentiveness, and friendliness, among other things, are elements now being expected in the hospital setting, and many hospitals are investing in creating environments that rival those of their freestanding competitors.

This brings us to the performance-art part of the discussion. In my view, the successful imaging leaders of tomorrow will be those who truly understand that the roles that they are playing within their enterprises are those related to creating platinum levels of positive experiences for all of their audiences—referral sources, patients, employees, and so on. All eyes will be on tomorrow’s leaders and they—you—will be expected to perform and act the part that corresponds with audience perceptions about what leaders do, how they act, and the confidence that they can instill.

Building loyalty among customers and employees will be the biggest challenge of tomorrow’s imaging leader. The degree to which you can rise to the challenge and make sure that your organization is among those that thrive (while all most certainly will not do so) will depend on how you choreograph and stage your performance.

Can you inspire your staff to reach for new levels of productivity and quality? Can you communicate effectively the complex changes facing your hospital, practice, or center in a way that will not depress and demotivate? Can you clearly articulate your organization’s branding proposition to the referral community in a way that will make referrers feel good about sending their patients to you?

Tomorrow’s successful health-care leaders will be those who understand that this mandate for superior communication and motivation will be an essential part of the leader’s portfolio. It will not simply be a part of the package that’s nice if you have it; rather, it will be the core of a well-rounded executive.

We are entering an age in medical imaging in which the reimbursements will continue to decline; demand for services will remain very high, as baby boomers age; competition will become increasingly fierce, as providers seek to grow through gaining market share; and payors will demand a new balance in the cost/quality/outcomes equation. Added to this is the fact that consumers (patients) will become increasingly involved in the referral decision. This all adds up to a profession that is driven more and more by the laws of business, and those laws start with assumptions based on the perceived customer experience.

Can you play the part of a next-generation health-care leader? Rehearsals start today.

Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of ImagingBiz.com and Radiology Business Journal, and is a 30-year veteran of the medical-imaging industry. He welcomes your comments at ckp@imagingbiz.com.