The healthcare system in the United States is broken. It really pains me to say that. I’ve worked in healthcare for years. I know firsthand that everyone, from the C-suite to the frontline, is absolutely dedicated to always providing great care, great service, and a great workplace.
Unfortunately, in many cases, most patients (except the critically ill) are safer staying at home because of imperfect systems within hospitals. Similarly, in those same care delivery environments, care team members are more likely to be injured in the course of their work in a hospital than if they worked in a manufacturing environment.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Leaders are in a unique position - have the unique responsibility — to help everyone in the organization form habits that enable excellent results in everything that they do. This means transforming the organization’s culture; because leaders own the culture, this change begins with them.
Here are five vital leadership actions that enable an organization to unlock its full potential of habitual excellence.
1) Accept personal responsibility for everything that occurs in your organization
The first thing leaders need to do is take responsibility for everything that occurs in their organization.
Specifically, this means how safely that care is provided to patients and how safe caregivers and all employees are in their work.
Cultural, systemic transformation is not a delegable activity. Leaders must be all in and personally, visibly, and audibly responsible not just for the things that go right, but also for the things that go wrong.
It is important to note that this responsibility is not passive. Once accepting responsibility for something that went wrong, a leader needs to take action:
- To continually learn to see incidents and issues in the daily work
- To design systems that allow everyone in the organization to respond when things go wrong, and
- To share learnings broadly to accelerate the transformation
Actively taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong in their organization helps a leader see the need for the other four actions.
2) Create cultural norms deeply rooted in respect
Respect is a human right (not something to be “earned”) and is the precondition for everyone in the organization to work together effectively.
It is the work of the leader to create a condition respecting every individual in the organization. As a litmus test, reflect for a moment, do you think everyone in your organization can answer yes to the following three questions, every day?
- Am I treated with dignity and respect by everyone I encounter, every day?
- Am I given the things I need: education, training, tools, encouragement, and protection from risk so that I can make a contribution to the work of the institution, that (this is the key) gives meaning to my life?
- Am I recognized for what I do by someone whose opinion matters to me?
When a leader sets the conditions and models the behaviors in which every team member can answer affirmatively to these three questions, then the organization has the respect, psychological safety, and environment in which excellence is possible.
By taking action to create this condition, it provides the platform for the organization to learn, accelerate and improve.
3) Set an unarguable goal around which everyone can align
Next, a leader needs to establish a goal that is unarguable and provide the conditions in which the whole organization can learn to be excellent.
At Value Capture, we guide leaders to combine the idea of the unarguable goal and respect for every individual to focus first on safety.
When setting an unarguable goal, we’ll also challenge you to aim for what we know as the theoretical limit. Setting an unarguable goal for harm at zero injuries for patients and staff is respectful and unites the organization in a common goal.
The theoretical limit approach is the antithesis of benchmarking, and by setting an unarguable goal at the theoretical limit, the leader unleashes the energy and creativity of each person in the organization.
4) Lead the design and implementation of an organization-wide learning and continuous improvement system
Now imagine for a moment if your organization set an unarguable goal at the theoretical limit and had a system to respond anytime the goal was not achieved. To learn not from some incidents, or a trend of incidents, but rather every single one. In this way, every incident is a learning and improvement opportunity.
When combining an unarguable goal with the improvement system, learning accelerates, and performance quickly changes. Incidents lead to learning, which leads to improving, which leads to accelerating learning and improvement, and ultimately, incident reduction toward the theoretical limit.
The need to create an organization-wide system for continuous learning and improvement that engages every employee is the next step. It is impossible to achieve excellence by focusing only on select areas of an organization supported by experts informing the changes implemented. Transformation is a team sport that requires harnessing the mind, heart, and hand of every team member in an intentional way.
Therefore, the need to design, implement and iterate a continuous learning and improvement system that enables everyone in the organization to continuously improve their work to meet their customers’ needs emerges.
Such a system of learning and improvement is essential to achieving and sustaining the goals and mission of healthcare organizations.
5) Remove barriers and excuses
As the continuous learning and improvement system is designed and implemented to respond to incidents that prevent the organization from achieving the unarguable goal, it will undoubtedly illuminate many other systemic challenges. Some of these challenges may be objections based on time, resources, budget, and various human traits such as reluctance to change.
Therefore, a leader must remove all the barriers, perceived obstacles, and excuses that get in the way of excellence.
In every organization, there are always competing priorities, resources never seem to be enough, and the culture is never quite fully ready to embark on the pursuit of excellence. And yet, the team members, patients, and their families all rely on the leaders to remove the barriers and excuses so transformation can occur. A leader needs to seek out the barriers and excuses, anticipate and confront them, and then systematically remove them. As leaders remove the obstacles, improvement occurs, accelerates, and sustains.
At Value Capture, we believe that a leader who implements these five actions creates the conditions that free and align others to fully join in and achieve a successful transformation. In order to achieve habitual excellence, a leader needs to:
- Accept personal responsibility for everything gone wrong
- Create respectful cultural norms
- Set an unarguable goal
- Lead the design and implementation of an organization-wide learning and continuous improvement system, and
- Remove barriers and excuses
To learn more about how to get started on building a culture of continuous improvement to achieve habitual excellence, check out our guided self-assessment:
Written by Bill Boyd
Bill Boyd is a seasoned healthcare professional with over a decade of practice integrating process improvement methodologies into how he leads. He is passionate about collaborating with healthcare teams to create better care experiences and outcomes for patients and families. Previously, Bill served operational roles for the last 13 years at ThedaCare. Full Bio