As noted by the Institute of Medicine (2004), a lack of critical upward feedback in the hospital setting has adverse effects on direct patient care and health outcomes. Employees are oftentimes reluctant to share information, as those above them might interpret the information to be negative or threatening. Leaders then may make important decisions based on assumptions or inaccurate feedback. The situation is especially significant in the healthcare setting, where hierarchical structures (Nembhard and Edmondson 2006), divisions between administrators and clinicians, and lack of collaboration across teams reinforce employee silence and undermine organizational learning (Ramanujam and Rousseau 2006).
Chief executive officers play a key role in developing a culture that fosters employee voice and upward communication (Ashford, Sutcliffe, and Christianson 2009). Hospitals winning performance excellence awards, such as those utilizing the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria for Performance Excellence, present a model of high performance with demonstrated results. The purpose of this study was to understand specific CEO behaviors and actions promoting employee voice and upward communication in performance excellence award-winning healthcare organizations.
Results suggested the award-winning CEOs facilitated employee voice by being approachable, mainly achieved through their regular presence throughout the organization. By being consistently visible and available to employees these CEOs fostered relationships, built trust, and promoted open communication. Leaders in the study created a cultural focus on continuous improvement largely built around transparency of information, particularly looking for the bad news from their employees. Voice invitation and positive voice response from leaders reinforced that critical upward feedback is not only welcome, but expected.