Monday, May 7, 2012

CEO needs a briefing note for everything


Terri Snidely needs another briefing note. The new CEO of the Tri-State Metro Hospital is demanding a briefing note on everything from meeting individual donors and speaking to nurses to having lunch and going to the bathroom.

“I make half-a-million dollars running this hospital. I can’t be expected to know everything, like whether the person I’m speaking to next should be fired, praised or asked for a donation. I have to prioritize my time. That’s why I need more briefing notes,” she complained after being asked to speak to a gathering of retirees.

Since taking over the CEO’s position from “Smiling” Jack Peterson last year, Snidely has been kept busy getting rid of and replacing the entire senior management, reducing services and cutting expenses. The charity hospital, which used to lose money, broken even for the first time in a decade last year. However, more than 250 people have left the organization in the past year voluntarily or involuntarily.

“I spend all day trying to cut waste and trim the budget. So, it’s natural that when I unexpectedly have to meet with senior managers, donors or patients that I get mixed up and want to fire them or slash their salaries. It’s just instinct. That’s why I need briefing notes,” said Snidely.

Every day, staff submit a raft of briefing notes to Snidely’s office, where her executive assistant Dibble Brewer collects them and then briefs Snidely on who she is, where she is and why she is the CEO.

“We need a lot of briefing notes,” says Brewer. “Like, this morning, Ms. Snidely had to meet with senior managers, then have a bathroom break, then greet top donors who were on tour and finally go back to the office to write out the termination orders on two older managers who make too much money. I wouldn’t want her to get all those mixed up. That would be terrible.”

Snidely’s predecessor, Peterson, ran the hospital for nearly a decade. Handsome, smooth and warm, he was noted for his ability to speak with anyone, anywhere at any time.

“It’s no wonder that the hospital was in the red. The CEO shouldn’t be wasting money on things like getting to know people, sharing personal stories and jokes and making staff feel good about the work they do. We can’t afford that,” said Snidely.

Snidely notes that the handful of times that she hasn’t received timely briefing notes have been disasters. One time, at a gala fundraising dinner she mistook top donors seated at her table for hardnosed nursing union leaders and threatened to “sue them into the Stone Age” if they didn’t give up more money.

“That was an innocent mistake. The idiot head of the fundraising should have given me a briefing note explaining who these people were. I asked, but he just didn’t believe me when I said I really, really needed that note,” recalled Snidely. “Thank goodness threatening those donors actually led to huge donations that made the gala really successful.”

Another time, Snidely accidently switched briefing notes and got the board of governors mixed up with hospital food service workers she was replacing with a outsourced workers who make twice as less. In a short speech, she told them to gather all their personal things and leave the building immediately and never come back. Luckily, the mistake led to a major shift in thinking at the board level and allowed Snidely to bring in hand-picked community members who only care about her budget chopping.

Snidely’s briefing memos are complex and precise. Hospital staff must follow a ten page format that lists possible risks, people she may meet, how to handle tough questions and available escape routes in case things go wrong.

“I’m most particular about the emotions they want me to display. If I’m supposed to show remorse like when talking about some terrible mishap where we removed a patient’s arm instead of her leg, then I should know that. If I should be inspiring and optimistic, I need time to prepare the empty phrases and false praise that goes along with that,” she said.

Snidely says she really needs her briefing notes. Her work at the hospital depends on it.

“One time, I didn’t get my briefing note about going home at the end of the day,” Snidely said. “I was here all night.”