A Conversation With Cathy Fraser
Chief Human Resources Officer of the Mayo Clinic
Society has changed but many people's workplace habits have not, as the #MeToo movement demonstrates. Companies can't tolerate archaic and destructive behaviors, simple as that, and company culture must change with the times.
But is it so simple? The CHRO of the Mayo Clinic, Cathy Fraser, says the culture change happens in the gray areas, and gray areas aren't simple to define ... or even discuss.
Fraser has a unique perspective on this, which she calls "new age professionalism" -- a "clear and congruent set of professional expectations in an increasingly volatile and rapidly changing environment."
But those expectations aren't anything new, as Fraser explains in this CHRO conversation. At Mayo, new age professionalism is based on the enduring values that have served Mayo for 150 years -- but reframed to help Mayo's 65,000 workers navigate those gray areas.
Emond: You've got an interesting perspective on the workplace, you call it "new age professionalism." Tell us what that means.
Fraser: Well, this is our response to the collision of Mayo Clinic, with its 150-year history as a values-driven, nonprofit organization, and the rapidly evolving, often downward-spiraling external landscape. The professional behaviors that were very appropriate and congruent with our values only a few years ago have to be expressed with social media, data security, environmental stewardship and other external trends in mind. Because our staff is very tenured -- we aspire for people to have lifelong careers at Mayo -- we find that it's important for us to be very explicit about behaviors relevant to the issues of today. That's why I call it "new age professionalism."
To be clear, there isn't anything wrong, and we're not trying to fix any problem. It's just that the world has changed and we need to be relevant to it. For example, five years ago, there was little risk having a lively conversation about a controversial topic like healthcare reform in a public coffee shop. We could share our thoughts, and there would be no harm, no foul, just good conversation. Well, now anyone can record your conversation and send out snippets very, very quickly in a way that's not representative of what you meant.
Those kinds of new risks could absolutely cause harm -- to the individuals, to Mayo Clinic and its patients and communities. Because of Mayo Clinic's thought leadership position in healthcare, that could have huge ramifications for healthcare globally. We have an obligation and an opportunity to help our professionals, the 65,000 people here at Mayo Clinic, to clarify the current norms of expected behavior. It's not that people have changed, rather the norms of society have changed, and our habits are not necessarily those that will serve us in the same way in the future.
If we don't establish a clear and congruent set of professional expectations in an increasingly volatile and rapidly changing environment, we risk unforeseen trouble. That's why we launched our shared commitment approach. Not policies, rather commitments to a set of behaviors that allow people and Mayo to be successful.
Those commitments range from protecting our brand and reputation, to having open dialogue and discussion, to teamwork. We're really trying to get those commitments crystalized so that people will challenge their own behaviors. We recognize that these commitments play out differently for different roles -- the work of a physician versus a night nurse versus an administrator are different. But, in the end, you choose to be a part of this community ---the Mayo family -- so it's appropriate to establish the ground rules on what the community is doing collectively.
Emond: CHROs have had a lot of conversations about the #MeToo movement because, obviously, we need to work harder than we ever have to make sure our organizations are harassment-free environments. But there are other types of harassment or bad behavior. What are your thoughts on that?
Fraser: A person's work behaviors cannot be easily separated from their general beliefs and habits. With this philosophy in mind, we created a response to the #MeToo movement that I think is very, very good. For Mayo, it's not just refreshing our policy and conducting required training. Most sexual harassment policies and training suggest situations are pretty black and white. But we find that the challenge is when it's not so black and white. That's where our incredibly strong, values-driven culture helps.
We are deploying a multipronged learning approach on sexual and other harassment; starting with a campaign to bring awareness and commence dialogue on an uncomfortable topic. We have articles and videos on our intranet sites, we're sending various emails targeted to different employee groups, and we're doing training assignments. But we've also mailed "reference cards" to every employee with instructions on how to respond in harassment situations.
We've posted our approach on our own social media site, permitting easy access even outside of our company's firewall. And, because we know these situations are often gray, we've commenced facilitated dialogues with groups of employees.
These facilitated dialogues enable rich discussions that other venues simply cannot replicate. We discuss situations like a coworker not noticing that their comments made someone uncomfortable -- what do you say? Realizing you said or did something six months ago that may have been perceived as inappropriate by your colleague -- what should you say now? Two colleagues just broke off a personal relationship -- what do you do?
Our sexual harassment dialogues focus on four roles -- if you're a bystander, what do you do to help your colleagues? If you're a victim, how do you self-help or who do you report? If you're accused, can you reflect on how you might be impacting other people? And, if you are a supervisor, what is your obligation, not just a choice? Through these types of discussions, we are building our "muscles" on contemporary issues.
Emond: There's some discussion among executives about men avoiding one-on-one meetings with women, and many are concerned women will miss mentoring opportunities as a result. Is that a topic of discussion in your world?
Fraser: While this is a concern for some, we are openly talking about the expectation of helping each other, regardless of gender or any other type of difference. One of our core values is teamwork. That's how we work; we work in teams, we work through relationships and in no way would discourage teamwork. It's an expectation of your job that you'll mentor people one-on-one, but we do make sure that there's awareness about how both parties feel. We have tools and mechanisms to be able to create an easy way to have those conversations.
Emond: Cultures are better built on heroes than villains, right?
Fraser: Exactly. Our "heroes" are our role models -- ideally, everyone in the organization. We need to create and sustain behavior consistent with today's realities; that's not necessarily easy. Imagine that over the course of your career you've always been very successful in saying and getting what you need in a certain way. Your behavior is not something you question; it's just a habit. However, habitual actions that weren't meant maliciously could be perceived as such. To establish our expectations, we're being really clear and transparent.
Next, we are building the capabilities, so people can know what to do and have the skills to act. And, lastly, we have reinforcing mechanisms, so if things go south and people do things that are inappropriate, we've got to be able to call it out and take action.
So we ask people, could you possibly be behaving in a manner that is not aligned with professional expectations? What are the habits you have that could put you in that position? Now, consider how you might change your behaviors -- and then practice it three times.
And we're just starting to look at a technique called the "professional pivot." This helps people acknowledge and take accountability for their behavior if they have a sense they acted in a manner incongruent with expectations. It doesn't absolve you from wrong-doing, however it gives you a way to get in front of issues and not feel like you are walking on eggshells.
On the national level, there is a level of divisiveness and hostility in the United States that I've not seen during my professional career. There seems to be permission to say things that perhaps you wouldn't normally say. That's coming into workplaces. And with social media, all of the sudden, it's no longer just a single person having a conversation and a single person who is offended by it. Now one person says something and many, many people are impacted.
At Mayo Clinic, we are fortunate we have the foundation of our professional values. That's what new age professionalism means -- using Mayo's 150-year-old values to ground behavior and set expectations with the mechanisms, conversations and learning that people need to change their habits for this new age.
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Jennifer Robison contributed to this article, which was based on an interview conducted by Larry Emond.