High Stakes

SHSMD16: ‘Culture’ is the New Black

Thousands of the nation’s healthcare marketers have returned home following the annual American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) conference last week in Chicago with a lot of things on their minds. If one had to assign an overarching buzzword to the conference itself, however, which seemed to permeate every conversation and presentation we heard, that word would most certainly be “CULTURE”.

Before we dive into that subject, let’s start with the handful of practical takeaways we heard at the Naked CEO panel, back again this year by popular demand. During this breakout session a number of CEOs were able to give the crowd of healthcare marketers their own candid opinions on marketing and offer thoughts on how departments can better assert their position and prove their value. According to the CEOs;

  • Good marketing departments build trust, and the way to do that is to always proactively keep your CEO informed. You are the voice of the customer – the patient, the physician, the employee, the community – ensure that your CEO is well-informed of what is being said about your organization.
  • Don’t play victim; be a player. If you don’t believe something is strategic and effective, make your case and move forward with your decision. You are the marketing expert; own it!
  • Strong marketing teams are strategic and prove their value; weak marketing teams simply take orders and master tasks.

With these recommendations in the back of our minds, we ventured out into the rest of the conference to learn more about “culture”.

Among SHSMD’s most dynamic presenters was Chip Madera, known as the “Leadership Lion”, who expounded on the idea of culture as brand – citing examples like Disney, Southwest Airlines and Zappos – as well as the notion that strong cultures and exceptional leaders make excellence a way of being and not a goal to be achieved. Great leaders, he said,

  • Are clear about the culture they want.
  • Role model positive values and behavior.
  • Reinforce and reward positive values and behavior that support the culture.
  • Measure and evaluate values and behavior.
  • Have excellence as a way of being, not a goal to be achieved!

We’ll note, however, that although there was a great deal of talk about culture and its impact, along with a great many platitudes tossed around on the subject, there was far less detail on where the rubber actually meets the road. That is to say, that while “CULTURE”, held up as a hazy ideal off in the distance somewhere, was thoroughly discussed, practical strategies for defining, implementing and leveraging that ideal were a little harder to come by.

As healthcare marketers, dubbed ‘Keepers of the Culture’ during the conference, continue their vital conversations around the subject, it will be important that the lofty goals find their way into on-the-ground strategies and actions. A mere focus on culture is not what made Southwest, Disney and Zappos great. It was the continued emphasis on instilling and implementing that culture that did it.

But, asking the questions and having the culture conversation are great first steps and we’re thrilled they’re both happening. As you consider your own organization, a great question to ask yourself: Is your company’s culture building or breaking your organization?

Either way, taking into consideration three CEO-offered axioms above, what’s your next step?


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