A Tribute to My Mentor, Tom Atchison

Tom AtchisonThe reason that I have chosen to write a tribute to my mentor, Tom Atchison is that he has helped me in so many ways to serve the needs of hospitals and healthcare systems to improve care for their communities.

Tom has an innate ability to simplify complex processes.  He sums up hospital-physician relations as “blocking and tackling,” meaning that paying attention to fundamentals matters.  In his ACHE Congress seminar on Hospital-Physician Relations: Dos and Taboos, he said, “Engagement is the process.  Commitment (Pride, Loyalty, and Ownership) is the outcome.

In a slide on respect, he mentioned that giving must precede receiving and that respect increases with meaningful rewards and recognition.  Active listening builds trust and failing to deliver on promises decreases it.

In The Answer is Meaning, he wrote:

Common questions that healthcare leaders are asking these days are: How can I get more productivity? How do we get more innovation from our employees? Can we do something to increase accountability in our staff? What can be done to get more commitment to change management?

Meaning is the answer to each of these questions, and any other question about why people behave the way they do.  Organizational performance today is typically expressed in financial terms—for example, “We had a good year, we made 3.2% on operations.” To a very large degree, finance is the dominant dynamic in healthcare. This has resulted in an unintended consequence of money trumping meaning in work.

We humans seek, in fact need, meaning in our lives. Individuals who gravitate to healthcare as a career have a very high need for opportunities to help others.

In  Leading Healthcare Cultures, (Atchison TA, Carlson G. 2009. Leading Healthcare Cultures: How Human Capital Drives Financial Performance. Chicago. Health Administration Press), the authors  defined human capital as the collection of contributions that add value to a workplace.  They encouraged organizations to track:

  • the percentage of payroll invested in lifelong learning
  • turnover rate segmented by age, discipline, and work unit
  • internal employee transfers, facilitated by referrals by existing employees
  • external hires, facilitated by referrals by existing employees
  • quality indicators, such as compliance with core measures
  • attendance and absenteeism

The authors felt that pride is a more important measure than satisfaction because pride is based on accomplishment in the face of challenge, unlike satisfaction, which is a short-term emotion based on pleasant events.  Their suggestions for building commitment include:

  • Develop an inspiring shared vision
  • Create a listening environment
  • Recognize and reward teamwork
  • Promote and encourage change, innovation, and risk-taking
  • Celebrate all successes

As always, I welcome your input to improve healthcare collaboration where you work. Please send me your comments and suggestions for improvement.

Kenneth H. Cohn

© 2013, all rights reserved


I have not received any compensation for writing this content. I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.

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2 Responses to A Tribute to My Mentor, Tom Atchison

  1. Bonnie Schrock June 24, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Thank you for the wonderful salute to Tom Atchison. His writing and leadership workshops have shaped much of my approach to leadership and specifically when working with physicians. He has great insight and is a tremendous communicator. There are many “Tom-isms” that I have passed along when teaching leadership workshops in my own organization — always with proper attribution!

  2. Lorre Wisham November 25, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    I had the privilege of moderating a webinar presented by Ed Marx titled, The Lost Art of Mentoring. I was inspired and motivated by it.

    Anyone who has any interest in the topic can find it here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/228269503

    It was HIStalk sponsored so it was informational and educational without promoting anything other than the art itself.

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