Leading Authentically with Transparency: An interview/podcast with Paul Levy

by cv harquail on April 27, 2009

Here’s a neat podcast interview with Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, whose leadership approach to the need for dramatic cost-cutting we considered in the post Finding a leadership opportunity in alternatives to layoffs. 200904261309.jpg

This podcast interview offers a few additional insights, in part because the interviewer Catherine Bell asks some smart questions. It’s worth a listen, just to get a sense of the ‘man behind the leadership legend’.

Here are a few top notes from the interview:

"It’s striking to me that this (process) is considered unusual, because to me it’s so commonsensical."

  • Using his transparent and highly participative process, Levy and the BIDMC employees were able to reduce a predicted 600 layoffs down to under 150 layoffs. Pretty good especially for the 450+ who still have jobs at the Medical Center.
  • Levy is a little surprised that he hasn’t been contacted by many other leaders who might want to try this model — just one or two so far.
  • Levy also hasn’t seen many other organizations use a transparent approach for reducing the actual number of layoffs. He thinks this is odd- "You want to engage people in the kids of changes…. people on the front lines … often have suggestions about how to run things more efficiently & effectively– why wouldn’t you want to listen to them?

Asked if he’s experienced any downside to this transparency, Levy says (I paraphrase) that to splay out the problem for the world to see, copy, pass along, etc. could feel difficult. … Who wants to broadcast the extent of their financial troubles and what they’re doing to fix them? However, it’s also not competitively interesting information that others could use to steal business from BIDMC. In fact, hospitals probably have a lot to learn from one another.

The data has to be public to help employees acknowledge the problem as well as to help generate solutions. A leader needs to use transparency with data to establish creative tension between an audacious goal and where you are now. The creative tension established by that gap helps the organization focus on the problem and also track progress.

Transparency is central to all leadership situations at BIDMC Levy is currently using a similarly transparent approach for the Medical Center’s process for eliminating preventable harm to patients, and Levy started with this transparency collective problem solving when he faced a turnaround situation when he first arrived at BIDMC. Levy argues that transparency is not just for big problems, but is also important for day-to-day operations.

An under-celebrated insight?

Transparency has been successful because:

"Everything we’ve done, has been framed along the underlying values of the people in the organization and the major mission of the organization. … For the most part, people say thank you for being so open."

The key with transparency, according to Levy:

  • Give good news plus bad news
  • Be sincere open and honest.

Transparency in 11 Words! It’s as simple as that. (The interview, originally on the Harvard site but impossible to find there, can be accessed here on BNet. )

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