Well, we survived! Hurricane Matthew came racing through here last week. He didn’t race at high speed but it felt like everything was just speeding by. We have all read about the impact of hurricanes but until you live through one, there is no description that can compare. Matthew gave us a side swipe. If it was 10-15 miles closer there would have been winds at our facility of 100 MPH versus the 55-65 MPH we actually experienced. With just a side swipe bridges were underwater, downtown completely flooded, beach homes literally washed away, and tens of thousands without power and water. Our business stayed open through all of it. We had to, 170 patients in house had to be cared for. If you think that culture is a soft topic and doesn’t deserve the attention of leadership, try and go through a hurricane and keep your doors open, you will quickly find out how important managing workforce culture is to the operations of your business. You will also find that it is way too late to pay attention to culture after the crisis hits.

Chris and I have tried to define culture these past few years here on this blog. I think we got it boiled down to the fabric that weaves through the organization, but that really doesn’t capture it. We talk about components of culture. Creating core values and having leaders lead by modeling behavior relative to those core values. None of that comes through at one point and time more so than in crisis. There are a couple of culture related items that came up for me during this event. The first one is in exemplifying values, the second is being a hero, and the last is recovery.

My wife and three kids were displaced during the storm. We had to pack up whatever papers and things we thought we would need for perhaps the rest of our lives. We live 13 feet above sea level and in close proximity to the beach so we were not exactly sure what would happen. We stayed with another family from our neighborhood at a friends house further in town. As the hurricane passed there was a sense of urgency to get back to the house and check things out but bridges were closed until authorities deemed safe to return so we had to wait. You don’t really consider what you value until you might lose it all. My wife and I both wanted to display to our children what we value, which of course is them. We tried like crazy not to show a radical sense of urgency to get back home, we wanted to show them that as long as they were safe, it would all work out.

It was similar at work. I was at work until the storm came then went back after it left. There were a few members of the executive team and directors and others who stayed through the storm. We had to open our doors for staff members and their families and of course their pets. We hosted several hundred staff and family members and pets. This was a great example of living out what we value. Our mission is to have the best patient care with the best staff. Our core values were on display in great fashion. People chipped in not because someone told them to do something, they chipped in because there was need. I know that during a crisis the best in some people come out but there is a difference between the best in people coming out to help others in need and the best in people coming out so they can be a hero.

One of the core values of the organization is to be a HRO, a Highly Reliable Organization. You may or may not have heard of this but essentially it is a quality and safety initiative where we strive to do the right thing and provide the right service every single time. This take an intentional effort on behalf of everyone but above all, has to be exemplified by executive leadership. Our exec team does a great job of this, staff can tell this is serious. Being a HRO means there is a lot of training and a lot of redundancy. It means paying attention to detail consistently. There is no room for heroes in a HRO. A hero says you can’t do it without me. A hero says I am too valuable and irreplaceable. An organization that is truly a HRO can not afford to have any individuals who are single points of failure. In other words, if they are gone, a piece of business will be missing. Based upon my assessment of our organization we do not have this, we have intentionally covered every area. This does not mean that staff do not think they are heroes, this was evident during the crisis. We have more work to do with regards to a culture of HRO but have come a long way. The hero mentality, even in crisis, even if minimally displayed, has to be dealt with.

Finally we get to recovery. Culture in recovery mode comes out in a different way. We are very much in recovery mode right now. There is such a sense of family in recovery. A sense of what can I do to help you is prevalent. That, for the most part is human nature after a crisis so there is not much that leadership has to do to instill this in teams. Where culture comes in is during difficult decisions during recovery. Because we are dealing with displaced families and a influx of patients, we have to postpone some very important initiatives that people have been working on. We have to cancel some important meetings that were needed to push things along. We have to do all of these things to keep our doors open and keep a focus on quality patient care. In a culture that is mission focussed, people understand these decisions and while disappointed, they understand. In a culture that is driven by the desire to get ahead and advance personal agendas, postponed project and cancelled meetings can be looked at as sabotage. During recovery, it is important that leadership exemplifies its commitment to the mission and not anyone’s personal agenda.

There are so many others culture related items that came up during this storm, many lessons to learn as we move forward. I wanted to highlight the ones that stuck out the most to me. During crisis we exemplify what is really important to us, I am grateful that leadership in my organization exemplified our mission and core values. Our commitment to being a HRO was evident although we still have work to do there. Finally, as we walk through recovery, we are making decision with the mission in mind. These are all very soft skills but I would say that without an intentional focus on culture every day, this crisis would have ended in organizational disaster. Oh, our doors would have stayed open, but relationships, something we say we value, would have been destroyed. I am very happy and proud to be a part of an organization that exemplifies what it values, relationships and community!



  1. Gary Gruber | Reply

    Terrific! There may be no more important variable than “highly reliable” as that value and behavior will carry you through a crisis. It’s also a good every day practice for being successful and effective. Kids need to be able to rely on parents for guidance, support and direction. Likewise with friends, colleagues and even someone more remote, all of whom respond positively to this reliability characteristic.

    I would add that we are also “defined” by the choices we make including where we live and if we live in the path of hurricanes, that’s a condition we take on by living and working there. If we live on the fault of an earthquake, be prepared. We also make choices about the people we decide will be closest to us as well as some others where distance is preferred.

    1. Bill Rieger Post author | Reply
      Bill Rieger

      Thank you Gary! I agree that we do have choices about where we live and who we allow to influence us closely, but we all need to be prepared for the unexpected emotional or even weather related emergency!

  2. Mike McCann | Reply

    This whole week has been a lesson in culture for me. I’ve observed communities working together without complaint. I’ve witnessed people going above and beyond their call of duty. And I’ve seen tremendous empathy for people we’re so loosely tied to in our communities. All in all, I’ve always been proud to call NE Florida home, but this has been a special experience.

    I loved your point about not having heroes. I’ve been in organizations with people who need to be be “heroes” and it’s toxic. Nobody demanded to be a hero this week, but law enforcement, power line works, hospital employees, and a number of other public servants acted heroically. Excellent points Bill.

    1. Bill Rieger Post author | Reply
      Bill Rieger

      Thank you Mike. I am glad you pointed out the difference between acting heroically and needing to be a hero. Philisophically and psychologically two very different things!

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