Lessons Learned from a Top Ranked Hospital

February 8, 2018

Employees at a “Top 100” hospital told me during my year-long Appreciative Inquiry that they were happiest when:

  • they were taking care of one another,
  • working together to provide the best possible patient care, and
  • feeling like they personally contributed to the success of the hospital.

Their passion for caring about others and for being at their best clearly made a major contribution to creating the outstanding outcomes this hospital had been able to achieve. In fact, rather than burning out over time, we found that employees who had been with the hospital for many years demonstrated the most passion for their work. This happened, they said, because their leaders were excellent at continually making people aware of how important their contributions were to their coworkers, patients and the organization.

This top-rated hospital contended with the same number of serious problems that all healthcare organizations face. But they used a different set of tools to fix their system when it broke down or needed to be renovated. During our wrap up discussions we all reflected on the key ingredients that enabled them to be a high-functioning hospital.

“Put down passion as the first and most important ingredient of our success!” I was told with absolute certainty that passion was the foremost factor contributing to this hospital’s extraordinarily high level of functioning. Every member of the executive and nursing leadership teams was adamant about how crucial it is to have a passion for your job, your staff and your patients.

“But,” I tried to argue, “your teamwork at every level is outstanding, so wouldn’t that be the first ingredient of success?” “No,” the leaders insisted, “teamwork would not be the same without a passionate commitment to the values of the organization.”

Where does your passion originate? “From a crystal-clear vision of what it looks like to live up to the organization’s values”, I was told. “At our hospital, people know why they’re here,” said Dianne, the Director of Emergency Nursing. “We tell our employees what our values are on their first day and show them what it means to live those values every day for as long as they work here. And they see the results. Our staff is intensely interested in having their neighbors say good things about our hospital.”

“Our staff constantly shares ideas about how to achieve our vision of being the best possible community hospital,” Dianne continued. “They have a deep desire to be a part of a team that is passionate and proud about providing the best possible patient care.”

To that end, Dianne cultivates her staff’s passion for being the best by teaching them that their unit is their own small family business. “Then they run the ER like a family business where everybody pitches in to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. They fuss with each other occasionally, but they love one another like family.” Encouraging employees to treat their unit as if they own and work in a successful small family businesses proved to be a monumentally effective method for generating extraordinary teamwork.

Another key ingredient we discovered was that leaders in this high-functioning hospital set goals and then get out of the way. They believed their staff is capable of figuring out the best way to achieve the objective: “We believe that our staff is able to see solutions that will work best at the bedside,” Emily, the CNO told us. “We encourage people to try innovative approaches and accept that not everything will work as planned. But that’s part of the process of learning how to improve.”

“But aren’t you afraid of failure?” I wanted to know. Debbie, Director of Acute Care Nursing, told us that the key to mitigating the risk of failure is “listening to the ideas from staff and colleagues when seeking solutions to complex problems. Bringing people who will be impacted by a change into the decision-making process enables us to find solutions that have a high probability of working well for everyone involved. Over time we’ve developed the belief that together we can figure out how to overcome whatever challenges we’re facing.”

Another factor that made this a top 100 hospital was that staff were able to find the courage to act because they believed in themselves and their colleagues. They were able to achieve remarkable results because they used their best qualities when striving for positive outcomes.

Curt, Director of Environmental Services, put it best, “Because I’d been able to help my kids do well in school, I believed I could help my staff perform well in their jobs. I listen. Learn. I persevere until I succeed. And I see how others can be successful as well.”

And the final ingredient for maintaining their ability to perform at a high level was their commitment to taking care of themselves and their coworkers. “Making sure your coworkers are able to take care of themselves is essential,” staff told us, “if you expect them to be able to take good care of the patients.”

Discover how to apply the lessons learned to your hospital in my book, PROPEL to Quality Healthcare: Six Steps to Improve Patient Care, Staff Engagement and the Bottom Line.



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