Sharp's boss says a successful team starts with the huddle

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But Sharp HealthCare has more than 14,000 employees, and the chief executive knows that he'll never get the chance for the one-on-one meetings he thinks would make a difference.

That hasn't stopped him from trying. Each fall for the past five years, each of the health care provider's employees spends a morning or afternoon away from the job, attending giant gatherings that are used to educate and inspire them.

Sharp HealthCare has a network of hospitals and medical clinics in San Diego County. Its goals are to become the best place to work in the medical field, the best place to practice medicine and the best place to receive medical care.

"We know we're not there," Murphy says. "And we also know we'll never get there unless our employees know what we want to be and how committed we are to this."

So in three shifts over two days recently, Sharp HealthCare's staff gathered at the San Diego Convention Center to hear about Sharp's accomplishments, vision and goals. Murphy led conversations and laid down service and behavior standards for the medical organization's staff.

"We focus on the experience you have when you come to our office or hospital," Murphy says. "We looked outside the company to determine what we wanted to be, and we knew if we wanted to change the experience for everyone involved, we needed our employees to change."

And, although Murphy doesn't get to speak individually to his staff, groups do see that he has taken the time to walk them through what the company expects from them.

"It makes you feel like part of the team," says Tammy Anderson, a patient services representative. "Your job can be isolated, but this makes it seem like you are helping."

Sharp HealthCare's administrators want to make sure the company's staff conducts itself according to corporate values. It has adopted incentives to help do that and monitors what its staff does.

"For instance, we think it's worth the time for a supervisor to handwrite a thank-you note to an employee and then send it to the employee's home where it can be shown to other family members," Murphy says. "That's one of things you do to get workers to take pride in their jobs, and it helps them get engaged in their jobs."

Communicating values and goals personally is important, yet most big companies haven't figured out how to do that, says Bob Nelson, a well-known motivational speaker and author.

"You really do need this face-to-face," says Nelson, author of 15 books including the 1.5 million-selling "1001 Ways to Reward Employees." "You'll never get the message across as well in a video or in an annual report as you will having the employees hear the passion and commitment in the CEO's voice.

"At the same time, you have to be sure that what you are communicating is actually practiced in your organization. If you are saying something that isn't part of the culture in everyday practice, you're working against yourself."

That's exactly what Myrna Morales says she got out of the session.

"I process doctors' bills," she says. "But when I hear these stories about the difference that other Sharp employees are doing to help patients, it makes me feel like I had a small part in that."

Morales says she also feels pride in her own achievements, even though they are not highlighted before thousands of co-workers.

Nelson says that whenever workers relate their work experiences to the accomplishments of others, it's a sign of a healthy workplace.

"In some companies, you'll hear employees degrade those who get awards," Nelson says. "But when you hear employees praising others for their achievements and feeling better about what they have done, that means you are effectively reaching these people."

Murphy likes to say that striving to improve Sharp HealthCare is a marathon and not a sprint.

He understands that the emergency room crew might pass off a patient and never know what becomes of that patient. It's like that for most of the staff.

"But when they can see what our successes have been, those successes become everyone's," he says. "Then we are on our way to our goals."

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