By Imamu “Mu” Tomlinson, MD, MBA
What do you call a culture that values team accomplishment over individual success? Where leaders build for a future that may not come to fruition until long after they leave? Where everyone is valued, and gratitude becomes the common language? Where the “we” always supersedes the “me”?
Some may call it idealistic. Others call it unrealistic. I call it brilliant.
Why Brilliance Matters
Workplace culture is a vehicle to engage people, spark innovation, delight customers, and foster brand loyalty. But there’s a deeper intention behind truly great workplace cultures that both expect and empower teams to put aside their egos to accomplish something amazing.
A top-down approach to leadership rarely results in a team that feels it can truly change the world. Making a difference requires a model in which everyone has a sense of ownership and autonomy.
In health care, the time has come to redesign our delivery systems around our patients. And the most sustainable way to accomplish this change is to empower our frontline teams that know how to best serve communities in greatest need.
After more than two years of being on the clinical front lines of a global pandemic, today’s care teams are exhausted. And in some ways, the idea of redesigning our business now seems to some to be the last thing we need.
However, there has never been a more significant time or imperative for clinical teams to feel connected to their workplaces, their patients, and one another. The only way to make this connection a reality is to rethink how, when, and where teams deliver care.
I’m a long-standing advocate of the patient experience and frontline innovation, and I credit our organization’s success to our culture of team empowerment. It’s the fuel that creates connection and meaning, fosters relationships, and supports long and fulfilling careers. We refer to it as a “culture of brilliance.”
Creating a Culture of Brilliance
Fifty years ago, most physician practices were hierarchical, with financial and decision-making power vested in a small minority of “super owners.” But in 1975, a small group of emergency-room doctors who believed that a wholly physician-owned practice would deliver the best care became the partner of choice for hospitals, and attracted top talent to found Vituity as a democratic partnership that offers every doctor a path to ownership: a culture of brilliance.
An organization creates a culture of brilliance by nurturing an environment where passion thrives and success comes through unified purpose. It designs a sustainable culture by aligning its partners around a shared mission and vision, and by helping its teams trust one another’s skills and expertise to make it come to life.
Building a culture of brilliance as a set of founding principles has helped Vituity grow from a small emergency-medicine group into a national multispecialty partnership, evolving to meet the needs of our patients and clients in the face of policy shifts, regulatory upheaval, and even a global pandemic.
The Power of “We”
You might ask: Aren’t humans hardwired for self-interest? Could a culture of brilliance, placing such radical emphasis on the success of others rather than individuals, backfire?
My answer: We never lose by giving or serving too much to help each other succeed. Most constructs reward individual effort—but what if you were only rewarded when you helped someone else reach their goal? Now that’s different. That is brilliance.
To make a culture of brilliance a reality within your own organization, in any industry, I offer five principles that have proved foundational to me throughout my career, and that I continue to build on and foster:
- Remember that “we” is always greater than “me.” The team score is the only score that matters. Individual goals are only relevant as they pertain to the team goals. Shared goals, incentives, and metrics allow each individual to focus on the team instead of the self.
- Help others rise to the top. In sports, it’s called the assist: a play that aids another player or helps them score. In a true culture of brilliance, recognizing who scores isn’t as important as recognizing who had the assist. Being great isn’t as important as making others great.
- Have compassionate, courageous conversations. When it pertains to the success of the team, everyone should feel empowered to influence the outcome. The team can and should fiercely debate issues and decisions without affecting relationships. Making others and the team better is the principal reason to speak up.
- Recognize people for the value of their work. Showing authentic appreciation and gratitude may be the most important leadership attribute. We must show our appreciation when we get that assist. An organization can motivate people by paying them the right price for their work—but recognizing their value is priceless.
- Cultivate a passion for what you and the team do. Passion and effort always outperform skill and competence. Like an artist spending 20 hours painting without realizing that any time has gone by, you and your team should be passionately preoccupied with the work at hand. Do that work that makes you so elated to change the world that it makes you want to cry. Stop what you’re doing. Cry for a while, and then keep going.
Learn more about Vituity and our commitment to frontline innovation and patient-centric care: https://www.vituity.com/about-us/
Imamu Tomlinson, MD, MBA, is CEO of Vituity, president of the Vituity Cares charitable foundation, and a practicing emergency physician who was recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of 2021’s Most Influential People in Healthcare.