In the Spotlight with Julie Kennedy Oehlert, Chief Experience Officer, Vidant Health

What does the principle of Wholehearted mean to you?

Julie Kennedy Oehlert (JKO): When we think about the work we are doing at Vidant Health, Wholehearted means showing up as your best, most loving self in all situations. We are in the midst of a positive cultural transformation, and we’ve found that bringing your Whole Heart–and bringing LOVE to the table–creates a dynamic that can be rare in our frenzied environment–while we’re creating such significant change in our organization and our industry.

For us, Wholeheartedness is a tool for change because when we LEAD with our Whole Hearts and LEAD with LOVE, then the change we seek is more possible. I think about what we learned from Dr. Victoria Sweet at STIR and what she calls “slow medicine,” which is about being intentionally slow. We’re trying that here at Vidant, starting with slow, Wholehearted leadership, where we are lovingly present so people can move into change with a feeling of care and kindness. If our team members don’t feel LOVE and Wholeheartedness in their space and if they don’t feel like they are enough or what they do is enough, then fear and negative power dynamics shows up and inhibits the change we are seeking.

How do you, as a leader, and in your organization, use LOVE and Wholeheartedness as part of your Experience journey?

JKO: With our learning from The Experience Lab, our Office of Experience chose to set an Intention for the entire first year of this journey, and it was simply to be LOVING. It sounds easy and perhaps cavalier, but it’s really not. If you ask an organization, leaders, and team members to design with LOVE, it’s not that easy. We get asked, “What’s LOVE got to do with it?” And the answer is, “everything.” LOVE is everything. It’s how we can heal health care. When people unleash themselves with LOVE, it shifts things. If people say, “I LOVE my team” or “I LOVE my work”—how powerful is that? When people ask me, “How do you get so much done?” I always answer, “With LOVE.” Love has become such a powerful influencer in our culture that we continue to apply LOVE as an Intention in all we do. It has become iconic for what we stand for, and that shows me that it was something both our team members and patients longed for.

The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means heart. Can you talk about courage and Wholeheartedness in your work?

JKO: Wholeheartedness takes courage. It takes courage every day to show up with LOVE. It takes courage to set LOVE as an Intention in a health system and talk about LOVE at the executive level–in executive meetings and in the boardroom. Think about it though; who pushes back against LOVE? No one. It’s a unanimously positive and desirable state to LOVE. People LEADING change in other organizations often say to me, “I get pushback on my Experience efforts.” My reply is that at Vidant no one pushes back on LOVE—nobody.

We know that this courageous, Wholehearted work may sometimes hit speed bumps. How do you navigate those barriers?

JKO: That’s the courage part! Navigating those speed bumps takes courage. It takes being authentic and Wholehearted in your work. We have to take time to explain where we are coming from. Those who are leading our culture transformation don’t get defensive, and we don’t take the power-over approach. We take the time to explain to people why this is a better state of being for them and share all the positive consequences of having LOVE as an Intention. It takes patience. Leaders must role model! I know it may seem safer to go along with the current flavor of the month for how to get results, yet there are so many benefits of standing up and saying we should use LOVE as the way. I can’t think of any downside for this.

What advice do you have for Lab Partners?

JKO: I think defining LOVE for your organization is super important. I choose to use MLK’s definition of LOVE and find that it resonates with our team members.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. defines love as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men, an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return.” The concept of LOVE may seem foreign in an industry focused on survival in a changing landscape. But LOVE—an understanding and redeeming goodwill—may be the exact thing that health care needs to transform itself to better engage team members and serve patients. It’s about LOVING the humanity of people and LOVING humankind. By defining LOVE, it helped create and define our culture.

We also did a lot of socializing of our LOVING Intention. I put quotes on my door, in reflections, in emails; I use LOVING words and terms myself in front of the board, and meetings, and in our action plans. I pointed it out to people. Culture isn’t created by an overlay or edict; it’s created like electricity–it flows.