Board Communication, Teamwork, Spell Success at Yoakum Community Hospital
Leveraging Resources for Change
When I joined the Yoakum Community Hospital team in 2006, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was improving board-management relationships. I realized that addressing this challenge would be essential to paving the way for a better, more secure financial and operational future for the hospital and community. Elorine Sitka, Yoakum Board Trustee and Chair, shared this vision, and together, we turned ideas into reality.
As a 25-bed critical access hospital in rural Yoakum, Texas, it became apparent that trustees had not been receiving all the information they needed — in a timely way — to make well-informed decisions. We realized that trustees were challenged in performing their basic fiduciary and financial duties, and change was necessary to inspire and create a high-performing board dedicated to the hospital’s success.
As partners, our goal was to improve the hospital for the good of the community. We developed recommendations on ways to improve board relations and engagement – laying a solid benchmark for success for many rural hospitals.
Five Steps to Success
Certain basics are “must-haves” for continuous improvement in board-management relationships, including:
1. Clarify expectations regarding roles and responsibilities
Governance and management are distinct functions. At Yoakum today, board members view their role as strategists and overseers. They leave management and operations to hospital leaders and managers, although that wasn’t the case previously. Board members provide direction. Managers create and implement tactics to support board strategies. One significant consideration is to provide board members with updates to keep them in the loop.
Identifying specific responsibilities in written form can also help prevent confusion related to roles. Discussions about mutual expectations are important, too. What do trustees expect of the CEO? What types of things can a CEO do without prior board approval?
2. Foster open, consistent communications
Regular, informal phone calls and a weekly newsletter are great tools to keep board members informed. An online portal provides members with meeting materials to review at least a week in advance. Trustees are encouraged to reach out to leaders if they have a question or concern, as well as participate in meeting discussions and respectful debates.
3. Make meetings purposeful
Make board meetings organized and action-oriented. Take informational items off the agenda for trustees to read on their own. Focus face-to-face time on several major issues that require voting at board meeting time.
I strongly suggest that everyone “stick to the agenda.” The entire team is busy, so keep meetings short and on point. And set aside time to socialize. Sharing a meal together before getting down to business inspires fellowship and teamwork.
4. Create resourceful onboarding and continuing education
New trustee orientation is vital and should include meetings with key stakeholders, including the CEO and CFO, as well as important partner organizations. A tour of the hospital and distribution of educational materials including an organizational chart and a glossary of healthcare industry terms and acronyms are part of the process.
5. Identify potential trustees
A specific recruitment process for new trustees is key. At Yoakum, we maintain a running list of potential board members, keeping in mind leaders and colleagues with diverse backgrounds. Another consideration is to identify potential board members without any sort of personal agenda. The focus should be on improving the hospital for community health.
We also encourage board members to listen to presentations offered by hospital staff, and take advantage of state and other sponsored trustee education programs. At Yoakum, we also invest in an annual board retreat and involve trustees in monthly birthday celebrations and other hospital events.
Building on Success
Looking back, the difference at our board meetings today is obvious. Today we have a strong board and dependable, trustworthy leadership committed to a common purpose.
To learn how Yoakum Community Hospital developed a high-performing board, read this CHC case study.
Guest blogger: Karen Barber, CEO of Yoakum Community Hospital