Communication in the C-Suite with Cliff Robertson of Catholic Health Initiatives

“My job is less about decision making and more about communication. Communicating to our leadership and communicating to our people. Our strategic vision relies upon our ability to understand and be understood.”

From the Army to family practice to hospital system leadership within Catholic Health Initiatives, Dr. Cliff Robertson brings a unique vision on communication and its prioritization.  We spoke with Dr. Roberson and he shared the three components to his communications philosophy.

#1 – Consider the audience and align your approach accordingly. 
In leadership roles, there’s often the expectation that the leader does it “their” way and everyone else falls in line and that’s simply not true. In every situation I ask myself what the best way to approach a situation is. For some on my team they process information best in writing, so I’ll share an update in that format. For others sharing space and meeting is the best way. I’m always asking myself how I can communicate best with the person to understand their perspective and share the information I’m tasked with sharing.

#2 – Be Consistent
Many years ago, we had an employee satisfaction concern. While our nearly 11,000 employees enjoyed their work, they felt disconnected from the strategy and vision of the organizational leadership. It was in a meeting with about twenty of our front line managers that one of the managers spoke up and said, “they just don’t know you like we do.”  I was intrigued and asked if he’d tell me more and he responded pretty simply: “If they knew you, they’d feel connected.”

I’d love to tell you that a solution was immediate, but it wasn’t.  We needed to see what would resonate the best with our teams and then proceed with that.  After a few months we did get to a solution and now each week all of our employees get an unscripted video message from me sharing news, updates, key metrics and more. It is a way for me to connect with staff that is real and timely. Our staff feels more connected with leadership and what’s more, I am greeted with friendly faces pointing out how they watch the videos when I do rounds at our different hospitals.

#3 – Listen first
We’ve had several leading the way initiatives within CHI over the last five years and at each turn we’ve asked our clinicians and our employees to be the front line of leading change. A huge factor in the success we’ve achieved is that as we’ve rolled out these initiatives we’ve truly listened and responded to the concerns. Change is challenging and it’s only through listening that we can identify the best way to help.

I frequently tell our team that I am not the answer but the job is to be the conduit to finding the answer. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of leading within this organization.