The secrets of front-line management at Scripps Health

Written by Hugo Chatel, on 31 October 2018

Chris Van Gorder, a former police officer, has kept two principles from his years of service in mind: "take care of your own" and "leave no one behind." In his 16 years at the helm of the Scripps Health hospital system, he applied these principles rigorously through two bold programs...

Chris Van Gorder advocates for "front-line" management. This translates into proximity to the teams on the front lines to understand their needs and operations. This is the secret behind Scripps Health's success!

Front-line leadership aims to break down barriers between employees, middle management, and company executives. As Mr. Van Gorder explains in his book, "The Front-line Leader (Building a High-Performance Organization from the Ground Up)," this involves attitudes and behaviors. It requires a significant amount of time and commitment from leaders and managers. Taking the time to get to know employees, gaining their trust, putting oneself in their shoes, and going to the field. Staying in touch with employees is the guiding principle.

Paying attention to employees is not just useful; it's essential. Emotionally, intellectually, and financially getting closer to front-line employees generates incredible loyalty - Chris Van Gorder, CEO Scripps Health

While attitude is crucial for bridging the gap between different hierarchical levels, it is not enough. Scripps Health has implemented two programs to achieve this goal: the Leadership Academy and the Employee 100 program.

The first is aimed at managers. Each year, between 25 and 30 managers are selected for this program and will spend one day per month with the CEO. It is an opportunity for them to discover the transparent functioning of their leadership and engage in discussions with him. As for the CEO, it allows him to get closer to his middle management and better understand the daily challenges they face. This program is particularly appreciated by managers and the CEO because it facilitates the rapid circulation of information and also brings his teams closer. Thus, managers can act as spokespeople for their teams and directly convey their opinions to top management, a great bottom-up approach.

For the Employee 100, the principle is the same, one day per month with the CEO, but it is reserved for non-management employees. This is an opportunity for the selected 100 employees to gain a more detailed understanding of the company's operations. And for the CEO, to confront the questions and challenges raised by employees. If participants in these programs become ambassadors for their team to the leadership and other participants, they can also be perfect information relays back to their team. Internal communication, whether vertical or transversal, is thus significantly strengthened.

Faced with a crisis, the Scripps Health company, on the brink of bankruptcy before Van Gorder arrived, had to reinvent itself. Today, the company is prosperous and generates a revenue of over 3 billion dollars.