Rick Merrill says staying engaged and connected with staff members is “one of the most important things a leader can do.” So much so that he made it his primary focus when he assumed the role of president and CEO of Cook Children’s Health Care System 14 years ago.
“For me, it was so important to get out into the organization and get engaged that I rarely was in my office for the first six months of my job here,” says Merrill, president and CEO. “I went to every unit I could, every clinic I could find, every shift, holidays and weekends; I spoke with frontline staff, back-office staff, physicians on the frontline and physicians in their offices.”
Questions lead to big project
Central to those discussions were two key questions.
“The first was, ‘What are we doing really well, so I can make sure we keep doing it?’” Merrill says. “The second one was, ‘If I could fix one thing for you, what would it be?’”
Merrill took copious notes from the responses to those questions and came away with a prevailing theme—staff members said the hospital needed to expand its campus to properly serve its patients and the community. Armed with this intelligence, Merrill proposed to the hospital’s board a $275 million expansion project.
“To the board's credit, they asked some great questions,” Merrill says. “But they understood that I'd done my homework and gave us the green light to move forward.”
Active listening sends strong message to team members
A large project might not have been possible without the feedback from the employees of Cook Children’s, but Merrill’s focused engagement also instilled a sense of empowerment in his staff.
“The organization understood that this leadership team wanted to hear, wanted to listen and would act upon what they were hearing in the organization,” Merrill says. “That kind of tone and message is so important to our success in running the complex children's hospitals we run.”Read more from Merrill—and other children’s hospital leaders—about the evolution of children’s hospital leadership teams and roles in the summer 2021 issue of Children's Hospitals Today.