Recently I learned about a seminar delivered by the customer service experts of the Ritz Carlton Hotel group.
These seminars are open to anyone, and the Ritz leaders, interestingly enough, had the impetus to develop customer service excellence training programs offered to the general population through healthcare channels. Taking time to step back and think about the legendary culture of the Ritz Carlton approach to service, employee engagement and a customer-centric model made me think intently about my company’s DNA and culture, and how I could apply these principles to our clinical research team.
In a recent column, I wrote about the importance of a culture of respect and interpersonal dynamics that often can impact our day-to-day interactions with multiple stakeholders such as CRAs, auditors and project managers whom, in many cases, are virtually connected to our research site teams. My comments, however, were more superficial in regard to creating a culture of excellence, and my takeaway from readings books such as Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Great by Choice have emphasized the importance of addressing the building blocks of organizational culture more fully.
In addition to information gleaned from the seminar, I also was influenced greatly by the importance of culture and how culture can directly influence profitability. In an environment where profitability and sustainability are so directly tied to viability, I found some of the concepts presented hard to ignore.
What makes up the DNA of service leadership? Words such as purpose, pride, passion, hope and even fun come to mind. An astounding metric presented during the Ritz seminar: 88% of workers do NOT have passion for their work, and disengaged employees decrease revenue while engagement is directly tied to profitability. For example, within the CRO industry a reported 12.5% of staff on average voluntarily separate from their employment, compared to only 1.5% of the overall national voluntary turnover rate (HR+ Survey Solutions, 2013).
The entire world of work is changing, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of clinical research. New technology, global competition, job insecurities, transiency of the work force and low employee commitment each play a role in securing a culture of excellence, not to mention the culture of leadership itself. The leader of the past knew more about how to “tell” than to “ask.” We now are surrounded by knowledge workers who know more about what they are doing, and how to do it, than we do. The new leader asks for others’ ideas and then listens and learns from their perspective (The Why of Work, Ulrich, 2010).
So where does this leave us in the research culture, where turnover is great and multiple layers of engagement with others is required? What impact will new methods of monitoring, which may take us even further away from our core, have on us? How will we be affected as research itself becomes more virtual and patients may have options to participate in clinical trials remotely? Certainly, some of the answers lie in the creation of a good culture and in developing a credo to drive our business strategy. This, in some cases, will require a cultural transformation by which the team is moving in the same direction and everyone must be able to articulate that culture. We must ask ourselves: As leaders, is it in some sense our moral obligation to make sure people look forward to coming to work?
The steps to such a transformation include creating a culture, or addressing and enlivening a culture already in place, improving your employee onboarding process and allowing employee empowerment and problem resolution. We must create an environment in which the team understands the mission of the organization and how to achieve it and develop employees who buy into that culture and who become passionate advocates for your “brand.” Philosophically, as clinical researchers, it is well worth reminding ourselves that decency; belief in good, ethical behavior; rigid morality; and uncompromising standards are the underpinnings of our work. We are serving others and, thus, we desire to employ and cultivate those who ultimately desire to serve. At the same time, we have businesses to grow and develop.
The critical element at the end of the day: Your culture will shape your level of profitability and viability.
Jeffrey Adelglass, M.D., F.A.C.S. is founder, owner and president of Research Across America (RAA), a U.S.-based, privately owned, multi-site, multi-discipline clinical research organization. RAA owns multiple research sites across the U.S. and has performed over 1,800 clinical trials in multiple disease areas. Email comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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