Innovation – People: The Seasons of Life

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By Rodney D. Reider

As we know, healthcare leaders have challenging careers.  We are constantly navigating the changing healthcare landscape amidst staffing pressures, quality and safety excellence expectations, financial demands, (pandemics), updates on the latest technology all the while continually attempting to avoid the ever-present political pitfalls. We are not just setting goals for the organization; we are in an evolving and advanced environment of constant re-prioritizing.  Our daily, weekly and monthly world consistently brings to bear our honed skillset and acumen as a leader.  It is why we accepted this mantle of leadership and responsibility in the first place. So, let’s once again bring innovation in as the umbrella under which all healthcare and human activity can function.  

For years we have all participated in discussions regarding people being our most important asset.  And they are.  Amongst the constant barrage of re-prioritizing, what if we determined to re-invigorate our relationship with our employees, our colleagues, and our team members in innovative ways?  What if we viewed our leadership role as an enterprise in human innovation?  It is, of course, of the greatest necessity to focus on the process to improve care, enhance the supply chain, eliminate waste through the LEAN Methodology, etc.; nevertheless, we must actually place the same emphasis on enhancing our employee and colleague relationships as we imagine we do. 

We have the necessary discipline to respond with the discovery process utilizing “Root Cause Analysis” (RCA) when a medical issue needs focused attention.  Medical expertise and resources are rapidly concentrated in sessions for the process and medical review evaluations.  Recommendations to avoid future mishap occurrences quickly follow.  We immediately move and put the appropriate processes in place and the education occurs.  We act to avoid any future repeat mistakes or breakdowns.  We do this through a very disciplined process for problem-solving.  We apply the RCA process every time a medical error occurs; however, isn’t an employee failing or requiring “A Written Warning” also an indication of a failure or error in our leadership?  Isn’t this a loss to the organization? We spent time and money recruiting, orienting and educating this employee, yet they failed to thrive.   What is our RCA equivalent for employee turnover?   Do we not have the ideal interview process in place?  Were we lacking in the orientation and mentoring process?  Did we even spend enough time educating on process and consequences for a new entry to survive?  Here is where we can truly expand the idea of innovation in healthcare.

We must allow each employee to thrive by bringing their own gifts and skills to the organization in a forum and atmosphere of support, joy for the responsibility and mutually shared expertise.  We must do a better job of accepting people from other advanced industries and integrating them with their strengths and gifts to improve our care, marketing approach and our many other priorities.  Innovate in protecting them from existing unnecessary bureaucratic burdens. Employees can thrive with their own ideas and energy to enhance or even transform our existing culture so long they are not crushed under the weight of the existing bureaucratic process of unrealistic expectations.

Picture the amount of time we spend on our financials and even the budgeting process as we gear up each year for a new round of gnashing of teeth by our managers.  Plan to allocate an equivalent amount of time innovating for our employees and colleagues.  The focus and discipline for our team members in this area should be no different.  Let’s make time on innovation in this area key.

Often, we review our vacancy and retention rates and the costs associated.  We discuss the Traveler positions and Over Time burden.  We explore the recommendations for our Employee Engagement numbers and discuss initiatives and “Best Demonstrated Practices” in addition to the teams we have instituted to address the “slow to change” score deficits.  It is one of multiple agenda items on the administrative meeting docket.  Then, following the presentation, we too often pass it off to HR until the next unfortunate display of poor scores.  The continuity for existing functions and processes for next steps drones on.  Let’s innovate.

Jointly plan and lead a half- or all-day retreat with the senior leadership team and HR held accountable for on-going organizational improvement.  Perform a specialty-specific (i.e. RN) Kaizen to focus on the flow of the entire hiring process, start date and continual support for each year of career life.  Review at each juncture, what is the ideal support for our colleagues that meets the needs at each season of life.  

The culture of each organization is different; however, healthcare can look past the traditional to innovate with ideas taken from other industries and run pilots within departments.  Many moms with young children shift their career plans depending on the needs of the family and age of the children.  What if we look at those components more closely and design opportunity, education and more specific mentoring regarding these seasons of life to further support our colleagues and teams.  Why not structure a program where RNs can be paid and work like teachers having summers off to spend with children and family while given the option under their yearly contract to spread their pay over 12 months.  In addition to ladders, what if we broadened the innovative experience to expand the rotation and insight to a broader perspective of training in coordinating stints for needy and supportive departments.  It will facilitate learning and the cross-fertilization of ideas as well as a broader organizational understanding and overall team cohesiveness.  

The seasons of life often include those who, after having served many years in very demanding inpatient positions, deservedly wish to move to the outpatient setting where call and weekends are non-existent.  Why don’t we set up a structure which offers the ability based on age and years of service to broaden mentoring roles, reduce call or provides selective rotations so as not to lose all the experience and expertise within the inpatient setting?  It has been discussed but never fully implemented, why don’t we institute, in addition to our normal safety and quality requirements, performance pay utilizing volume and efficiency for appropriate departments.  Let’s make it so our team members are not punished financially for finishing all the outpatient surgical cases in a timely manner by being sent home early and losing their hours of pay.  We need to innovate around a pay structure where departments providing high-quality, efficient, patient friendly care are appropriately incentivized as is done in many other industries.

This is not intended to be comprehensive but only make us think differently in our industry for creative solutions to innovative regarding our age-old problems.

About Rodney D. Reider

For more than 25 years, Rodney has been involved in the healthcare industry and has positioned organizations to adapt to the continuously and rapidly changing healthcare environment. An International Scholar twice-over, he has a thirst for knowledge and a drive to explore, create and support innovative solutions within the healthcare space that make a lasting impact. He writes about healthcare innovation and leadership at rodneyreider.com.

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