What do airlines and healthcare systems have in common? Quite a lot it turns out, from a recent power breakfast featuring Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence St. Joseph Hoag Health system, and Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines. In addition to the Pacific Northwest roots of both organizations, both have also undertaken mergers to gain market share and increase physical territory. Both serve a large cross-section of the population, and both are in highly-regulated industries that are not necessarily known for customer service that are grappling with new always connected user experiences and expectations.
— Aaron Martin (@aaronmartinfc) July 18, 2017
The wide-ranging discussion included early inspiration for Hochman and Tilden’s early careers, how to motivate and engage a wide range of employees, and how to deal with competition and lead change. Both leaders had early influences on their career direction. Hochman knew he wanted to be a doctor at 16 when assisting on surgeries (!), and Tilden grew up beside Seatac airport watching planes while his peers were watching girls. Tilden grew his career at Alaska, while Hochman is a practicing rheumatologist, who has worked his way from small clinic to major system. Hochman joked that a rheumatology specialty is much more suited to success in administration than say surgery, equating running a hospital to the patient required in managing chronic diseases.
Airlines and health systems have similar challenges with employee experience. Both types of organizations have highly skilled staff, pilots and physicians, who demand a lot of autonomy. Mistakes in both professions can cause loss of life. The difference is that aviation has moved a lot faster in instituting standard procedures and checklists to improve safety and outcomes. Tilden frequently referenced an Alaska Air crash 17 years ago that impacted their approach to safety, and talked about the ways pilots and co-pilots double check settings. Hochman talked about his hope for quality improvements and better collaboration from the younger generation of physicians who have grown up in a world of checklists and standardization, and said that the ones who only care about being left alone to make decisions will retire.
They also have large teams of people who “get stuff done.” Hochman has banned the term ‘middle management’ since he sees those people as the ones who are making things happen, instead he calls them “core team”, a term that Tilden quipped he’d also start using.
Customer experience was also top of mind for both execs. Tilden talked about Alaska adopting Virgin’s mission of being the airline people love. While he seemed to find some of Virgin’s approach to be a bit edgy compared to Alaska, he said you couldn’t find a better mission. Both grappled with the ease of sharing bad experiences on social media, and indicated that social media monitoring has become a key tool in managing consumer expectations. Hochman, also noted that it all comes back to the individual experience when he described that his staff hate when he has his own annual physical, because his expectations as a patient are much higher than what he experiences, especially with respect to convenience and information flow.
Both are optimistic and passionate leaders who genuinely care about the consumer and employee experience, and had as good a time interviewing each other as the audience did listening to them. This event was sold out, so if an opportunity like this comes up again, sign up early.