Would Cleveland Clinic have gone from good to great without Kara's political incorrectness?

CEO of the mighty Cleveland Clinic, Dr Toby Cosgrove is a pioneering surgeon who had operated on over 22,000 patients. He just finished delivering a speech to Harvard students.

The students admired the speech, but Kara Barnett stood up and said, "Dr Cosgrove, my father needed surgery, but we decided NOT to go to your hospital in spite of your great results because we heard you had no empathy."

Kara was politically incorrect. She not only said something offensive about someone and his institution that the world considered the best, but embarrassed Harvard that brought an outstanding speaker.

Dr Cosgrove responded, "Not really" and moved on. However, Kara's statement kept his mind busy. He imagined redefining medicine as patients experienced it rather than as what hospitals provided. He questioned the very foundations of doctors' specialist silos. What he eventually did changed the lives of many. His change initiative was hugely risky, challenging, and inspiring.

He reorganized the hospital around multidisciplinary centers based on body parts and ailments. He got a surgeon to act as Chief Experience Officer and deliver training on empathy. He sent surgeons and physicians to Disneyland for lessons in customer service. He got the hospital building re-architected with simpler, cleaner design. He had a dress designer remodel the patient's gown. And the hospital now has concierge-style porters, who greet patients and provide a calming influence.

In 2013, a survey of patient satisfaction showed that Cleveland Clinic was the top-ranked hospital in America. It was a startling turnaround. Thanks to Kara's political incorrectness.

Unfortunately, a lot of people today hide behind political correctness. They don't say what they really feel or think. Disguising issues (and thus risking not addressing them) is not very responsible behavior. Political correctness could turn the brave into a coward. A culture that only tolerates political correctness stifles free speech. Politically correct people may appear untrustworthy. In fact, extreme political correctness could turn out to be the exact opposite of its purported aim: impoliteness. Think about it.

Source: Dr Cosgrove's change initiative is brilliantly researched and described by Gillian Tett in her new book The Silo Effect.

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