The language we use and the hierarchy that this supports is at the core of creating, leading, and sustaining a safe culture.
The words we use
Listening to the faculty and the future (students) at the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety (#AELPS11) over the past three days, I have heard several comments and engaged in more than one conversation regarding hierarchy, ego, and language as barriers to safe care.
During some of these discussions I heard myself and others say things like, “Communicate down to the housekeeper” and “escalate this up to the board”. While I think these comments are made with no malicious intent, and often find myself thinking and saying these things, I firmly believe that we need to be more mindful of what this “directional” language promotes.
When I listen to this language, I hear us unintentionally reinforce professional elitism. The language implies that the housekeeper is at “the bottom” of our organization and that the board member is at “the top”. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but having served in both roles, and having been on the receiving end of these conversations for many years, I believe that this language promotes the belief that the housekeeper is at the bottom of the hierarchy and not an equal voice or participant on the care team. The more we think and speak like this, I believe, we are at risk of discounting the input of those at the lower end of the equation, as well as elevating opinions and ideas of those “at the top”, often at the expense of safe care to patients.
Listening to the team
One story we heard here was the tragic story of Lewis Blackman – a poignant reminder of the aforementioned point was the nutritionist recognizing that Lewis had not touched his food, and yet nutrition orders never changed. Did the nutritionist notice, and wonder why? Was he or she empowered to voice concern, and what might have happened had that been the case?
The care team in healthcare is made up of everyone that interacts, communicates and cares for the patient and their family. The professionals serving in the housekeeping department may spend more time in a patient’s room than many of the clinically trained team on any given day. Ensuring that these team members are engaged, respected, and listened to as valuable team members is a critical component of safe care.
Perhaps it is time that we re-think the structure and hierarchy of traditional healthcare environments
The need for a structure and redesign
I acknowledge that we need some organizing structure to run our teams and organize [lead] our organizations. That said, what we presently have in many healthcare organizations seems to be getting in the way of supporting an innovative, just, safe, learning culture.
In the words of Malcolm Gladwell from his book, What the Dog Saw, “If everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing”. I am also reminded about the words of Don Berwick regarding system design, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the outcomes it is achieving”
It is fair to say that our current healthcare system, if designed to get the outcomes we’re getting (estimated 400,000 lives lost a year from preventable error) needs to be redesigned.
A different approach
I recently read about an alternate approach to organizing an organization, the idea is called Holacracy and was coined by Brian Robertson. This is an alternate way of running an organization, modeled on some concepts that are being adopted more and more by innovative, forward thinking leaders. For example, peer-to-peer business models have changed how we get from A to B (Uber) and have revolutionized finding a place to stay while on vacation (Airbnb). These “disruptive” companies have started re-thinking their internal structures and have abandoned traditional top-down hierarchies, controls and processes. This approach to running an organization removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging supervisor.
What’s interesting is that instead of the anarchy and chaos that one might expect, the work is actually more structured than in a conventional company, it just looks much different. With Holacracy, there is still a clear set of rules and processes for how a team breaks up its work and defines its roles with clear responsibilities and expectations.
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, summarizes adoption of this approach like this: “Holacracy is not a panacea: it won’t resolve all an organizations tensions and dilemmas. But, in my experience, it does provide the most stable ground from which to recognize, frame and address them.”
Perhaps we’re ready for a different way to organize and deliver healthcare. Perhaps we’re ready to rethink our hierarchies, controls and processes.
Perhaps healthcare is ready for a little Holacracy.
Reflecting on our first day of the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety and I am feeling blessed for the insights, the lessons and for the reminders.
Yesterday morning we watched the Lewis Blackman Story – we were fortunate to have Helen Haskell with us, Lewis’ mother, who graciously and bravely answered our questions, provided more insights and shared the reminder that this November marks the fifteen-year anniversary of the death of Lewis.
I’ve seen this video more than a few times and to be honest was thinking to myself that there was not much more to “learn”. How wrong was I?
Re-watching this emotional story I was abruptly reminded that the stories of communication failure, mis-diagnosis and poor communication are as real and relevant today as they were fifteen years ago, and that being reminded of the work ahead is critical to this effort of making patient care safer, more just, and more transparent.
I watched the video again, took new notes, re-read those notes, and listened to the story and the discussion. I heard things I hadn’t heard before, heard perspectives that I hadn’t paid attention to in the past, learned new lessons, and was left with a re-galvanized commitment to this difficult, rewarding, and necessary work.
In the work that I do with healthcare leaders to change culture, I hear and see a lot of conversations, interactions and exchanges. Having the ability to reflect on what I have heard or seen, either from reading my own notes, re-remembering my experiences, or having the story interpreted by someone with a different perspective, provides me renewed energy, fresh insights and ideas about alternate solutions.
Day 1 reminded me that re-visiting the stories, notes, videos, conversations and perspectives are some of the most powerful reminders of the work still ahead to change the world of patient safety.
Thank you Helen for the reminder.
Last speaker of the day
Several years ago I found myself in the audience of a quality and safety conference at Harvard University. The last speaker of the day took the podium with little fanfare and no slides. What a welcome change…
With his very generous permission I’d like to share my memories and notes from that day, the lessons and leadership “keys” he shared then, ring true now, and continue to resonate with me.
And now for something completely different…
Mike Dowling is the President and CEO of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (NSLIJHS). Prior to becoming president and CEO on January 1, 2002, Dowling was the health system’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Mike served in New York State government for 12 years, including seven years as state director of Health, Education and Human Services and deputy secretary to former governor Mario Cuomo. He was also commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services. Before his public service career, Dowling was a professor of social policy and assistant dean at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services and director of the Fordham campus in Westchester County.
Mike presented at the Eleventh Quality and Safety Colloquium (Cambridge MA – August 14-16, 2012) – my notes summarize his comments. Without any slides, Mike shared “7 Keys” to creating a “Premiere Healthcare Organization” by stating, “NSLIJ is not there yet, but we are on a journey toward this, and I’d like to share it with you…
Have a coherent idea of where you want to end up – a clear VISION
- Not just the “what” but the “why”
- You must be able to engage EVERYONE’S head and heart in the VISION – in the “why…”
Have a positive attitude
- Be optimistic and believe that it is possible – a “can do” attitude
- Be responsible for outcomes and model personal accountability – “if it is to be it is up to me”
Have a complete commitment to transformation
- Be ready to think differently – we CANNOT be risk averse
- Be open minded – healthcare is NOT unique – exceptional, high-quality organizations are NOT industry specific
Engage and develop EVERYONE
- Lead a continuous culture of learning
- Be mindful of who you hire, who you promote, who you let go
- Remember: People + Values + Behaviors = SUCCESS
- Use simulation
- Make a core part of your curriculum mandatory
- Break down silos and train people across disciplines
- Manage your board and medical staff
- Change how we do medical school training
Become deeply consumer focused
- Everyone you serve is more educated and informed than ever
- Expectations are constantly changing
- Constant communication of the “why” from #1
- Top down, bottom up, side to side
- Face to face, electronic, multi-media, print, etc. etc.
- You CANNOT over-communicate
Most of all – remember that:
- we do great work every day in healthcare!
- we have much to be proud of!
- we do make a difference!
Mike closed his remarks with the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm…”
Thank you Mike, you continue to inspire and encourage!
Culture and Love – a story from 2014
As 2014 drew to a close last week many a news outlet spent time reflecting back on the highs and the lows of the past year. Whether framed as a “top 10 list” or presented more as the best and the worst, here in northeastern Massachusetts one particular story caught my ear.
This was the Market Basket Story, a tale of unparalleled employee unity and pride, and living proof that a small group of committed people can in fact make a difference.
If you’re unfamiliar with this particular tale, there was a real cast of characters; long-time feuding, wealthy family members, unfairly (some would argue) fired senior executives, passionate, committed employees, and deeply loyal customers.
Bottom line: local grocery-store chain CEO fired by cousin (hate each other) board member, employees (loyal is an understatement) outraged and walk off the job, stand-off ensues, employees rally for the fired CEO to be reinstated, customers stay away at the request of employees (and there are no supplies on the shelves) and eventually the fired CEO buys enough shares to take control of the company and is reinstated – celebrations all around and bonus checks for employees!
The news story that I heard a few days ago was celebrating the fact that the entire body of employees has been recognized as the Boston Globe’s “2014 Business Person of the Year”, and reflecting on the leadership of Arthur T. Demoulas, the reinstated CEO, making the statement “… he was reinstated along with his culture of generosity, kindness and caring.”
I love this statement! His Culture!
Think about the words, his culture. This is not an abstract, difficult to grasp concept – this is his, the way he leads, the way he works.
In our work to improve safety in healthcare the word ‘culture’ gets tossed around all too easily. It’s easy to blame the culture, almost as if doing so excuses the behavior. It rolls off the tongue as part of our standard vernacular, and is often the response to much of what ails us:
Q: “Why are some of your operating rooms using surgical checklists and others not?”
A: “That’s just the way we do things here, it’s our culture…”
Q: “What stopped you from speaking up when you saw your senior colleague acting in that rude, disrespectful manner?”
A: “That’s the culture on this team, keep your mouth shut and your head down…”
It strikes me that we cite or state culture as the root-cause of the problem because it creates the impression that fixing or changing it is nigh on impossible. That to tackle, change or create a new culture is a myth so complicated that we best not even try…
The Market Basket story annihilates this myth.
Health and care leaders listen up
Culture is the way we act as leaders. It is the tone we set, the expectations we communicate, and the behavior, language and performance that we tolerate.
Culture is the way we (you and I) do things. Do you want a communicative, fair, safe culture? Then communicate openly about the good, the bad and the ugly. Be fair with the people that choose to work in your organization, and with the way you make decisions (don’t interpret as treating everyone the same…), and model an environment where speaking up about your mistakes and owning them is celebrated not frowned upon.
Remember, if it is to be it is up to me.
“His culture of generosity, caring and kindness.” The reporter goes on to interview Arthur T. (reinstated CEO) and he describes some additional tenets by which he runs his company, with fairness, justice, and connection to the human soul.
They’re running supermarkets people, and he’s talking about connecting to the human soul…
He nails it when he shares that the secret to this incredible story is to remember that they are, “… in the people business first, and the food business second.”
Health and care safety in 2015
People business first, medicine business second.
People is where our focus needs to be. Caring and healing our patients and their families, absolutely, it’s the calling that many of us responded to that finds us doing the work we do. But it needs to be more than this…
I propose that in 2015 we need our focus to be more on the people that provide this care – as leaders we need to make these people ‘the business that we are in.’ They will take care of their patients.
Commit to being in the people business first. The care givers; the nurses, the technicians, the physicians, the patient care attendants, the unit secretaries, the managers, the supervisors, the housekeepers, the pharmacists, the social workers and each other.
Provide the generosity, kindness, love, fairness and justice that connects them to their purpose, reminds them of their calling, and creates a safe environment for them to deliver the best care possible.
The reporter for the piece on Market Basket closed out the segment by suggesting that the Market Basket employee’s actions have presented other companies throughout the Commonwealth and around the world with a challenge of sorts – loyalty is one thing, these folks though clearly love where they work, and who they work for…
From loyalty to love!
Perhaps for 2016…
A conversation with Chuck Lauer
Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to Chuck Lauer, the former publisher of Modern Healthcare, by my good friend and colleague Kristi Peterson. Chuck and I spent considerable time talking and emailing about a subject of mutual interest and something we are both passionate about, accountability, specifically about the idea and concept of ‘personal accountability’.
This concept of personal accountability, and the choice to change the words I use when I think about accountability, are in part lessons from the leadership, writings, and friendship of Linda Galindo.
Chuck went on to pen a piece that appeared in Beckers Hospital Review on August 17th 2013. I just re-read it, and thought I’d share it here again. Enjoy…
We hear a lot about “accountability” in healthcare — from the boardroom, to the workplace, to new payment methodologies like “accountable care organizations” — but most people don’t have a clue about what the word really means.
Everyone knows the basic definition: Accountability is a kind of answerability. The word derives from having to give an account — to clearly explain what you are doing. But the actual definition goes much deeper than that.
Richard Corder, assistant vice president of CRICO, a Harvard-affiliated malpractice and patient safety organization, has thought a lot about what accountability is — including what it is not. It is not, he told me recently in an email, about saying “yes” whenever your approval is sought. “In healthcare, we have fallen for the belief that good service means saying yes to everything,” he said to me. “Saying no — and being clear about why, and when you may be able to meet, chat, review, discuss — is a liberating, time-saving, accountable action.”
One of the things often missing in today’s workplace, he said, is a lack of clarity about what accountability really means. “Treating everyone the same is disrespectful to our high performers and excuses (rewards) our middle and low performers,” he said. Fairness is not about treating everyone the same. As leaders, we understand that we have to treat, manage, coach and lead people differently — based upon performance and needs.
“In healthcare, we are currently spending a lot of time (and money) talking about and pondering the ‘accountable entity,'” he told me. “We wax and wane poetically about the who, what, why, when and where, when all the time it’s staring back from the mirror. We are the accountable entities.”
That gets us to the heart of the matter: Accountability has to start with you! If you are ever going to be successful and fulfilled in your life, you have to be accountable to yourself. Sure, you can kid yourself about how good you are, and you can even fool other people by what you say and how you behave. But do not forget that the hardest person to satisfy is you! You have to judge yourself and live with it every day!
Each of us is an accountable entity. That’s why, when leaders lead with clarity and conviction, honesty and transparency, they bring with them inspiration and determination. They have become accountable to themselves! It’s a contagious enthusiasm that permeates their organizations. Talented people are attracted to institutions where leaders are dedicated to innovation, creativity and risk-taking. They fully accept that answering to oneself is the key to success.
I have had the honor of meeting a lot of great people — people who have made a difference and achieved unparalleled success in sports, business and other pursuits. None of them really caught fire until they took stock of themselves and became accountable. Some did this when they were young. Others didn’t face up to themselves until they were older. But in all cases they look back and say that being accountable to themselves is what changed their lives.
Richard Corder said personal accountability means always trying to be clear. When confronted with a problem, you can say, “I tried, but they wouldn’t let me,” he said, or you can say, “Can you help me figure this out? I need to get some clarity.”
It’s important to put some effort into establishing clarity, he said, offering me a quote from the inspirational speaker, Mark Victor Hansen: “By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be.”
Listening to yourself can help you put your plan into action. I don’t know about you, but I have conversations with myself all the time, and from what I can gather from colleagues and friends, they do the same thing. This enables us to begin to develop a sense of our own accountability.
With accountability comes additional responsibility. For instance, in your job, do you speak up when you feel something could be improved? Or are you so concerned about the risk of falling out of favor that you don’t say anything?
In healthcare, we too often delude ourselves into accepting the status quo and are unwilling to try new things that just may be more efficient and guarantee a better experience for the patient. Accountability has to start with people who are willing to hold themselves to a higher standard and be answerable to themselves at all times. The goal is to never deviate from your dedication to excellence.
The road ahead is paved with uncertainty, and you will probably have to drive over many potholes along the way. The whole industry needs leaders who have the courage to look into the future with clear eyes and to inspire their people to do the same. We need to be willing to bring about the changes that healthcare so critically needs. It isn’t going to be easy. Those who hold themselves personally accountable to mission and vision and to themselves will be the stars that inspire all of us with their courage.
Richard Corder gave me a kind of motto for personal accountability. It’s all simple, two-letter words that go like this: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
I have already put them up on my office wall.
Thanks again Chuck for the friendship, mentorship, interest, and support.
Leadership lessons from the New England Patriots
On the way home tonight I listened to a recording of last week’s post-game press conference with Tom Brady, Quarterback for the New England Patriots football team. In the spirit of full disclosure; I am a Patriots fan, and Brady and colleagues had just come off a victory that many a pundit predicted they had no hope of pulling off, a win against the favored Denver Bronco’s…
I am a happy fan of the winning team, feeling additionally buoyed by the fact that my team had just beat the team that denied us a berth in last year’s Super Bowl, a good result by anyone’s measure. All this aside, what I heard in the press conference from the captain leader of this team, made me realize that what made this football team successful last Sunday afternoon are the same tenets that make any team successful, regardless of the game being played…
A clear vision
During the comments made about the winning game, it became obvious that the vision for this team was broader and longer term than the afternoon’s victory. The vision of the organization (New England Patriots), is to ultimately win the Super Bowl each year. They are competing every week to win enough games to get to the post season, and ultimately get to the final game of the season, and win. Clarity and single-minded committment to a vision is critical.
Clear, executable goals
Tom Brady reiterated that winning football games is the reason the team goes out on the field every week. There are clear goals related to the execution of everyone’s job, there is clarity about each and everyone’s role, the expectations of each player, and their purpose when they’re out on the field. Role and goal clarity is often glossed over as a nice to have, not for this team, not for the Patriots.
Relationships built on trust
When asked about several remarkable plays, from a one-handed catch, to a stunning interception resulting in a touch-down; Brady spoke to the fact that he and his team mates take time to get to know each other, developing deeply rooted bonds of friendship and building trust with each and every one. Over time they learn how to build on and support each other’s strengths, accommodate each others shortcomings, and provide honest (for anyone who has been naked in a locker room with another team mate you know what this feels like), timely, and candid feedback.
A dose of reality
In the locker room, following the win, the Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick congratulated the team for a well-played game, allowing those that had worked hard for the victory a moment of celebration and appreciation. He then reminded the team that seven wins does not make for a winning season and does not guarantee entry into the post season and will certainly not win a Super Bowl. I was struck by this gracious dose of reality; a little time to enjoy the moment, to savor the win, and then remember why you are here. To achieve the goals and reach the vision. Do not stop working toward your goal.
Hire and retain the right people
It was clear listening to Brady during the press conference that this team was made up of people that really love the game of football. They enjoy working hard to get better through practice every single day of the season. He also spoke to the fact that if this wasn’t how a player was “wired”, then they wouldn’t last very long in the program.
Clear vision, communicated expectations and goals, the trust of those you work with, against a back-drop of reality, and a culture of “player fit”, are tenets of any high performing organization and successful team.
How does your organization or team perform? What would your “post-game press conference” sound like?
Leadership lessons from training to run a marathon with my teenager.
I just finished read Richard Branson’s recent blog – Leadership Lessons Begin at Home. #thevirginway
Richard talks about watching and learning from the tenacious spirit, and limitless energy, of his mother Eve. I have a leadership lesson that I am currently learning at home, not from my mum, but from (and with) my seventeen-year-old son.
After running what I thought was my first and last marathon in 2004, my then seven-year old asked if we could run a marathon before he heads off for college. At the time I quickly agreed, and secretly hoped that he’d forget…
In the pre-dawn hours of a New England winter, the thought of running 26.2 miles was daunting, distant and in my opinion; impossible. So we crafted a plan and the lessons began…
Establish the goal
Run a marathon in seven months’ time… this was a stretch to say the least. After some discussion and research we got clear about our goal, and then both committed to it. Get to the start line injury free on October 12, 2014. We figured that if we could do that with all the necessary preparation and training, the running of the race, would be the icing on the cake. Clarity of expectations, getting on the same page, and clearly articulating the goal (with a date) was critical.
Change is personal
I hadn’t run for several years and I was carrying what my doctor referred to as “too much weight for my height”. Early efforts were small, and required changes to diet and a commitment to exercising at least four days a week. The lesson was that the changes necessary to achieve this goal were a personal choice, and not an easy one. If I was serious about achieving the goal I needed to stick to the plan and learn some new habits. We chose a different mind-set from the past to achieve the desired outcome in the future.
Break the plan down
Thinking about running for over four hours to finish a marathon, was incomprehensible at some level. The lesson here is that the biggest, most intimidating goal required a plan, an approach, and a way to eat the proverbial ‘elephant’. We used a spreadsheet to set out the miles that we would run for every single day until October 12, 2014. It became easy to understand, realistic to imagine, and allowed us to take every day one at a time.
We had a plan, we also had lives, and reality happens. The plan had us committed to specific miles that we needed to run every day, “long runs” on the weekends, cross-training days, and rest days.
My son is a senior in high school and I travel quite frequently for work. So we’ve had to get really good about communicating changes to the schedule, adjustments to the miles, and really good about sharing how each of us was feeling in any given week. We also found that communicating during the run was incredibly valuable. Asking for help, sharing what hurts and when, and being clear about our own needs made it easy to learn from each other and adjust the plan in real-time.
Achieving a different outcome (losing weight, running a marathon) has required different habits and choices. Early morning runs have had an impact on family, work, and school, and have required choices that have meant giving some things up. Fewer carbohydrates and fewer late nights are relatively easy sacrifices. The burden that training places on family has been a lesson in open communication, clarity of expectations and forgiveness…
Having a passion or a sense of purpose
Early in our commitment and decision, we decided to do the race in honor of my late mother, the grandmother that my son never met. We joined the team for the American Cancer Society. Knowing that our effort directly related to something that was bigger than us, that we have a passion for, and that we had a belief in, has buoyed us along the way.
Through five months of training we have learned that rest, relaxation and cross training (exercise that is not running) have been as important as the running. While the “work” has required discipline and a plan, so to have the activities that have kept us “whole” as people. This focus on our resiliency has ensured that we have enjoyed this experience, and has set us up to be the best that we can be. Taking care of ourselves and those we work with as whole human beings is something that I am now, more than ever, astutely aware of.
There are other lessons that I continue to learn from my running partner and my all too soon “off to college” son. The lessons of tenacity, perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, good humor at all times, listening, laughing, tradition, and family, to name a few.
Rudyard Kipling’s final sentence of “If” captures some of this sentiment for me:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance, run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and — which is more — you’ll be a man, my son”
Every time we lace up, stretch out, and get ready to run, I realize that we are also creating special memories that will stay with us both for many years to come. Thanks for the lessons my son, I’ve loved every mile of them. I love you!
24 days; 20 hours and 31 minutes to the start line! We’ve got this!