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Shortly after becoming CXO, I learned a hard lesson in humility and the difference between talking about strategy and having the ability to execute on strategy. I read a hospital trade journal article about the emerging patient experience field—an article that did not mention Cleveland Clinic. I was surprised. We were the first U.S. hospital to have a CXO, with the first department focused on the patient experience. I thought we were well on our way to success. My arrogance led me to believe there must be something newsworthy we could offer the publication. After all, we were Cleveland Clinic—people should want to know what we were doing.

I called the reporter and inquired whether we could participate in another article covering some of our initiatives in progress. She provided a stiff dose of reality: “I know of Cleveland Clinic and your office. So you are the CXO? What have you done that actually improved the patient experience?” I described our strategy and how we were thinking about the patient experience, but it was all anecdotal. She pushed right back, “You have terrible scores! Why would anyone want to read about what you’re doing? Call me when things get better!” She was absolutely right, and it taught me a valuable lesson on the importance of having something that was working. Brand recognition, the correct strategy, and good ideas get you nothing if you don’t execute successfully.

Setting Patients First as true north and adding the patient experience to an already long list of strategic priorities was easy, but getting down to business and making it happen was another matter entirely. We had a burning platform, passionate people, and agreement on what was important, but I had no idea where or how to start. I had no mentor, no role model, and no coach. There were no textbooks and no real articles about tactics and execution. We had not yet teased out the concept of the three Ps: process, people, and patients.

When I speak to healthcare audiences, they strongly identify with this conundrum. They see the need for adopting a more patient- and family-centric environment but frequently express frustration about getting going. The most frequently asked questions when I speak to other hospital systems are “Where do we begin?” and “How do we start?”

A running joke in medicine is that surgeons are not trained to think but to do. So I felt like I wasn’t living up to my training. Successful execution is worshipped in any industry. This was an important lesson instilled by my colleague and friend Ananth Raman, UPS Foundation Professor of Business Logistics at Harvard Business School. I was first introduced to Ananth shortly after becoming chief experience officer. He is a passionate believer in the importance of the patient experience and was studying the Clinic’s efforts to improve. He spent his career studying factory ...

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