Dr. Michael Kirchhoff,
Join us for an engaging and unscripted conversation with Cooper University Health Care as we delve into the inner workings of their organization’s internal communications and a unique partnership that’s been created.
– I have long shared that the best part of my days or any time I spend time with communicators, and seeing a lot of familiar faces here in the crowd, I’ve shared some of those moments with a lot of you. And sometimes those moments are planned and sometimes those moments are magical and sporadic. So when we talk about those powerful moments, you never know what moment is going to be powerful until you realize the result of it. And so one of those moments I wanna share with you is something I shared with Cooper University Healthcare and their team there. So to kick things off and give a round of applause, we’re gonna welcome the Director of Internal Communications at Cooper University Healthcare, Suzanne Lane.
– Thank you so much.
– Thank you, Suzanne. Thanks for joining us here in our little living room.
– Happy to here, this is beautiful.
– [Host] So we talked about these powerful moments. And we shared one back in April, you attended our Attune Unplugged event in Philadelphia. Talk about that experience and what that meant for you.
– Sure, so again, thank you to everyone that has us here from Philadelphia. It’s such a pleasure for us to be with communicators. I confided in Chuck that I am not necessarily the greatest conference attendee, workshops included. I’ve been behind the scenes or helping plan or attend communication conferences of all kinds for 20 years. So I said, “You really gotta wow me.” We were talking tactics and he had mentioned the Philadelphia Attune session. So I said, “All right, I’m in Philly anyway.” Don’t get out much, I have three young children. And so I gave it a shot and I had to confess to him. The next day I said, I had a blast. We had a really good time. But in addition to having a really good time, I learned a lot because it wasn’t just everyone looking for that secret perfect nugget. It was, let’s roll up our sleeves and learn how to make a video in three minutes. Let’s learn how to be objective to each other from different disciplines in different areas in the moment. And so there was an exercise where we had to make, something that has been bothering you, something that you’ve been dealing with for so long. But that you just haven’t been able to fix and write it on a piece of paper. And then turn it into a paper airplane, shoot it across the room. And have somebody who was in a different industry, maybe a different level of experience, have them respond how they would handle it. And we did that several times. And I learned two things. One was, I don’t know how to make a paper airplane. And that was really just, that’s abominable. I have three sons. I don’t know how, I did not know how. So that I have to go back to. But the second thing was the importance of not going to the people that you think should have the answers, know the answer, but to someone that is kind of out your normal day and see things a different way. I know you guys already know that. But I wanted to share a short story because that airplane experience reminded me of, about 20 years ago I landed this Hail Mary job at a hospital in West Philly. And the job was to do communications for an Epic implementation, which was a really big responsibility. And so about three months into it, I was asked to deliver a presentation about how I planned to do this, what my communication plan was. And I knew nothing about healthcare. I had no experience. And so I Googled, I researched. I don’t even know if Google was available then but I did what I could to put something together. And I met with the administration. And while I was getting into the elevator, a leader said to me, “You don’t know anything about this industry and you’re gonna get eaten alive today.” And I thought, “Whoa, that’s a pep talk if I ever heard one.” So I went to the presentation, I did it, it was full of fluff. I truly didn’t know what I was talking about. They asked me questions I didn’t know the answers to. It was uncomfortable. And I left the meeting thinking I made a mistake. I don’t know anything about this industry, what am I doing? And I was walking down the street in Philly and the chief safety officer ran after me. And she said, “I’m sorry, that was a terrible experience. They were pretty rough on you.” And she said, “You don’t know anything about healthcare. You don’t know anything about this business. So I wanna invite you to give us,” that objectivity is so precious. Let’s figure out how to use that objectivity so that you can learn this industry. So fast forward 15 years later, we have an internal communications department. We’re doing a really great job. I get invited to go to a different health system thinking I know a thing or two about building an internal communication structure. Now that I’ve had some decent time under my belt, I go into this environment thinking, I know what to do here. They need an internet. They’re gonna launch this app, this employee app. What is that all about? And they need engagement and experience, and I’m someone that knows how to do that. So three weeks in, four weeks in COVID happened and the administration says, “What are you gonna do? Can you give us a communication plan about how you’re going to address this 8,000 person workforce, which has no idea what they’re doing?” And I thought about that lady in the elevator who said, “You’re gonna get eaten alive.” And I decided I’m not gonna get eaten alive. So I did the first thing I thought, I went to a leadership meeting and I found the chief safety officer. And he was eating a bagel. And I very, very politely in my very polite way said, “I need your help.” And so that’s what we did. I went from person to person to learn the business, to learn the environment, to learn the landscape. Because I was okay being vulnerable at that point and saying, I don’t know. But I will never go in front of that group again with a bunch of fluff. Because they’re counting on us to give them things that they really need to do the work that they needed to do. So we embarked on this three year journey with subject matter experts being vulnerable. And me being vulnerable and just saying, what is working? We’re all in a situation now where we need to try it a little differently. And we had a blast and we had a lot of success. And that’s why we’re here today.
– And speaking on the vulnerability, I’m curious, a show of hands for people, who joined organizations either shortly before or during COVID? Quite a bit of hands go up. Quickly from your side, what’s your advice to someone who might be struggling? How did you get ramped up so quickly? How did you immerse yourself into the Cooper culture?
– I think it was really just that, it was that woman in the elevator. I just decided I’m okay with saying I don’t know but it’s not okay to say you won’t find out. And so instead of always, as internal communicators, we’re asked a lot to do these very big blanket communications. And our approach was instead of trying to blanket everybody with one thing that would make them feel okay, we looked at pockets of the organization and said, what do the nurses need? What are the, administrative assistants need? What do the environmental services people need? And so while it was volume and pace mattered, we also had a chance to go a little deeper with a smaller group as opposed to very shallow with a giant group. And I think that made a big difference for us.
– And you mentioned this bagel conversation that you had. We do have an empty chair here. So let’s now welcome to the stage the Chief Innovation Officer from Cooper University Healthcare, Dr. Michael Kirchhoff.
– Thank you.
– Yeah, absolutely. Now I gotta tell a quick story about Dr. Kirchhoff, Mike here. When we first got on the Zoom call, he was like, “Oh, I wear many hats in the organization.” I was like, “Oh, I do too at Firstup. I do a lot of different things at Firstup.” And then he started talking about his hats, and they were very different than my hats. So Mike, why don’t you share more about your role and the many hats you wear?
– Sure, sure, so I joined Cooper over a quarter decade ago. I started there as a med student, then became a resident in emergency medicine. Worked in the emergency department for a while and still do, see patients every week. It’s really helped center me and helps tie me to our mission as an organization. But as I matured within the organization, I took on other hats. I ran the business of emergency medicine. I ran our helicopter program, Sim Lab for a while. Lots of fun, really tech things. Helped to do an our Epic implementation. I was a medical informaticist. But ultimately found my way once I got into the data into patient safety, our patient safety officer had moved on. And there I had been running reports about patients and patient safety, et cetera. So they’re like, “Well, you know the data, come be the patient safety officer.” And I learned the ropes. But then soon after that, I got another hat, which was Chief Innovation Officer. So it sounds odd, patient safety officer, chief innovation officer. But what we learned as an organization is that when we have an opportunity, when we see a failure or we prevent a failure, that’s our number one opportunity to improve the process. Improve the experience of not only our team members but our patients, our families, our communities. And tying those hats together and having many hats really helps us as an organization be tuned in to what’s going on so that we can create a better process for everyone.
– Like I said, different hats than a lot of us wear out there. So what was it about Suzanne in this comms platform and what she’s wanting to accomplish that drew you in? Why is communication so important at your level throughout?
– Well, first I gotta say it was a bagel. But I will tell you, to me, it wasn’t as polite as she thinks it was. At first, it was a full assault on me essentially. But what I came to realize is the reason she was so persistent is she was looking for that domain expert. The person that could give her the content that she needed to communicate, that expertise was important to her. And what I also quickly realized once I started talking with her is that she was helping me shake off my quarter century of Cooper experience too. She came from another organization and having that expertise in helping me understand what she needed. And what our communication imperatives were was very important. But also opening my eyes to different ways of doing things. And then I forgave her for being so persistent and then actually thanked her for it. Because in the end, it was a partnership that absolutely bore quite a bit of fruit for us as an organization.
– So beyond persistence, this is for both of you. Beyond that, I’m sure that others are in the room thinking, where do I find my Dr. Kirchhoff, where do I find that leader in the organization who’s gonna partner with me? We’ll start with you, Suzanne. Other than your persistence and hunting people for bagels, what is your advice? Why was that so important and critical?
– Well, you said it perfectly that I was walking in thinking I know a lot about communication but knew nothing about the landscape. You were thinking you knew a lot about communication in the landscape but now we both find ourselves in this position where no one knows what to do with anything. And me being okay with saying 20 years into this, I have to look at things in a different way. And you being 20 years into doing communication pre-pandemic being open to, I mean, maybe not initially. But we got around to it. Having him be open because it didn’t matter to me anymore that I was the voice. I didn’t wanna sit in front of the administration and be like, here’s my plan. I wanted ED docs and people that got it. I was sitting in a command center, walled up, not seeing patients, not seeing families being asked to design communication for those very people for him to deliver to. So the people that are the mouthpiece were the people I was going after. I wanted people that could deliver my strategy through their words in the best interest of the people they had to deliver it to. So EVS manager, tell your people what we’re gonna do for you. Nursing, let’s have the nurse managers talk to the nurses in the way that they wanna be talked to. And all along it’s like I felt like we were, as internal communication specialists were supposed to have all the answers. And this was an example of, I don’t have any of them. But what I can do is help you solve for something that’s gonna help in the short term. So that maybe these short-term wins, and short-term wins, and short-term wins develop into credibility and trust. And that when we need the long-term win, that that comes along with it.
– And, Mike?
– Well, that was kind of you to call me a communication expert. But for me, it was all email, email, email. What could we do if they didn’t read the email? And then be surprised the 15th time somebody didn’t read an email that they didn’t read the email. Like, it should catch on, right? But for me, it was all about expertise, being an expert and being a novice. So I would say I was an expert in safety and the flow in the hospital and the culture of Cooper. But a novice in terms of how do I craft that conversation. And you were the expert in communication crafting story, but you were looking for that domain expert about what’s the editorial content? What’s the communication imperative? What needs to be out there for us to be successful as an organization? And what I quickly learned and you helped me see, was that there has to be vulnerability. The partners in this relationship have to be vulnerable to the other’s expertise. It’s not a checkbox, it’s a conversation. And when it’s not a checkbox, it doesn’t get done in a day. And when it’s a conversation, it’s a conversation that happens over and over again. So you can learn what’s vital to what I need to communicate and I can learn what’s vital to you about how to communicate it. And when you have that communication, you’re open to conversation, you can then be very impactful in your communication. But in order to do that, you have to be vulnerable. You have to let go of your preconceived notions and lean very heavily on that other expert in the dyad. So she supports my naivete communication and I support her naivete in hospital operations.
– Everything else.
– And being this dynamic duo that the two of you are, how have you seen this impact, the employee journey, the employee experience at Cooper? What are some of the things that have resulted out of your partnership?
– Well, I’d like Mike to take this one for the most part but I had mentioned that upon starting at Cooper my boss said, “We’re gonna be putting out an app for employees and this is what we want them to do. And your job is to get people to download that app, use that app and increase engagement and experience across the hospital.” So three months in, we were having a chat and he said, “How’s that going?” I said, “You still want us to do that?” Like, we’re going through a pandemic. I don’t know how to get people to… And so again, part of the conversation that we had was, this is part of the role. People are sick of email, our internet wasn’t great. How do we give people just in time information, how do we make them see that we care about them and have them be able to get it when they need to? We’re looking at a workforce where half of them are online all day long. And some of them are with patients and families all day long spread across a giant network, all different levels of understanding with technology. And now we want them to use this app. So we started with one of the biggest campaigns that we have now that is completely fueled by Firstup. And I’ll let you talk about how happened and how we use it. But it became one of many examples that other leaders were like, “How do I get that? I wanna do what he’s doing.” It’s like, let him go. He’ll tell you how we did it starting with the background.
– Well, so before the pandemic and before Firstup, we were on our HRO journey, High Reliability Organization. For those of you don’t know, HRO, it’s like the value statement for ISO 9001. It’s like what you should be doing, what the culture should be, what your value should be as an organization to be safe, to have high reliability in your operations. And part of HRO is this idea that everybody, your organization is your people and people are awesome. But 100% of people will make mistakes at some point in their career. It’s inevitability. Humans are imperfect. And what HRO tells us is that you have to embrace that because if you work against it, you’ll never be successful as an organization. So part of that is to help frontline team members catch mistakes before they hit patients. So in healthcare, everybody fails, it’s okay to fail. But in healthcare you wanna catch a mistake before it actually reaches the patient. So we had a strategic imperative about how to encourage employees to report. When actual harm happens, no problem. ‘Cause they know their boss is gonna write them, they’re gonna get a bunch of emails, they’ll report that. But what we really needed, where the gold was, was getting events before they reach the patient. How do we incentivize that? And before Firstup we collected events. And every quarter find one that we liked and we gave them a little plaque. And we put them in front of the board and the board said, “Yay, great job.” But we were just incentivizing that one person. We’re like, “Good job.” And net positive feedback’s important, but it doesn’t spread culture across the organization. So when Suzanne came literally the second thing after accosting me about the bagel was how do we get team members to tell their story about what’s impactful and important about our culture? So she took the whole Good Catch program and really turned it on its head. And what Firstup allowed us to do was then take those stories and get them out to our entire workforce. So, that our workforce could interact with the information, learn how we were almost failing as an organization and internalize that, understand, “Wow, this could happen to me,” or, “I have something similar.” And we get them thinking, HRO, one of the first principles is this preoccupation with failure. We want team members always thinking about how is the work that I’m doing right now, how might it fail so that I can prevent that failure? And Good Catch is rewarding and celebrating that. So then we get the good catches and Firstup allowed us to not only put the stories out there. But then we had all rank and file employees vote on them. So now the winner is voted on by their peers, and then we incentivize and gamify the voting. So if you vote, you get random prizes. And then we’ve even got further now as part of that, and sort of like the intranet of the future. Now we not only have the stories, but we have their videos. And we hear in their own words about how they’re engaging with patients, how they’re engaging with the process, how they’re helping us become a better organization. And then we archive those so other people can go back and learn from them again, watch them again. And we just really create this virtuous cycle of getting people to think about how they’re gonna fail, prevent those failures, and then celebrate those. And Firstup in this program has been paramount. And how we incentivize that and hardwire that culture. Just telling people to do a thing, they don’t do that thing. You have to tell people to do a thing. You have to give them the resources to do that thing. But most importantly, and what most organizations forget, is you need affordances in the environment to get them to remember to do that thing. And our Good Catch program really, they’re constantly seeing it on the intranet. They’re constantly seeing it on their app, they’re seeing the program and they’re being reminded, Ooh, I’m supposed to be preoccupied with failure. I’m supposed to be looking for failure. And when I find that failure, I’ll be celebrated as an employee as opposed to shunned and ridiculed for finding failure. We wanna run at opportunity. And that’s what the program does for us.
– I remember one of the first conversations we had he said, “Could we put the number of serious safety events on the homepage, which means the last time something happened to an employee or to a patient and it was in part our fault.” And so that number would be up in the sixties, seventies. And then something would happen and it would go back down to zero. And he said, “Can we put it on the homepage for everybody to see?” And I said, “In a heartbeat, we can do that.” I said, “But you know when it goes back to zero, people are gonna go, what happened? And they’re gonna wanna hear what happened and they’re gonna have questions.” And he had this big smile on his face. He goes, “Good, let’s run at it. Let’s tell people what’s going on.” Because in large part, we were trying to get people to stop feeling punished or feeling bad about catching things. It wasn’t about like, “Ooh, good call. I’m glad that didn’t happen. Let’s push that under the rug.” It was, how do we prevent that thing from happening again, and again, and again. And what this program started was, instead of a leader talking to leaders saying, “We had a good catch and this is what it looked like, and this is what we prevented, and this is how much money we saved.” And good for us, and clap on the back. We had this person that’s never been in front of leaders, now in front of leaders as a video saying, “This is my role. This is how long I’ve been here. This is what I did. This is how I felt comfortable. And have enough courage to go to my direct supervisor,” and say, “Something’s wrong and I wanna elevate that to you.” And some people don’t feel comfortable doing that to this day. And so as many times as we can keep repeating that message, hearing people’s commitment in terms of years, in terms of role, in terms of the relationships they have with their supervisors. And stop having it be a leadership message and have it be a anybody message. And the best part is that they compete. So like three or four Good Catch winners go up on our app, and then they’re going vote for me. I want the parking space. I want the a hundred bucks, I want the thing. And so word of mouth not only helps incentivize our clicks and shares and comments. But they’re kind of self advocating because they want people to know what they did. And so the whole thing has this beautiful longevity that we didn’t know would happen, and then it did.
– Well, if you don’t have a partnership like this, this dynamic duo of Suzanne and Mike, you now have your homework assignment to go back and find…
– Go accost somebody at a leadership meeting.
– Go look for the bagels. Look for the bagels. Can I get a round of applause for Suzanne and Mike? Thank you so much.