Variation can be a powerful agent for creating value within healthcare organizations. Harnessing variation can create better outcomes and service for the money we spend and greater value is needed because inefficiency and waste in our current healthcare system create a sizable drag on our economy.
But that is the big picture.
When you are starting a process improvement program, the people on your staff don’t see it in those terms, so getting their buy-in for change needs to happen on a more personal level.
In the previous article, I addressed how efforts to harness variation can create fear in organizations. Taking advantage of the opportunities variation presents means fostering an environment of collaboration, innovation, and adaptation. But how do you avoid progress-killing fear in order to move forward?
One of the greatest sources of anxiety in organizations is the unknown. Why are we embarking on this program and gathering all of this new information? Why now? Why us? What are they going to do with all of this data once they get their hands on it?
As a leader, you need to anticipate these questions and answer them before they are even asked. Your goals need to be well thought out and well communicated. At a minimum, you should be able to comfortably and concisely answer these questions:
The next major hurdle is convincing people that the purpose of your efforts is not to find the “weak links” in the process and punish people who are “responsible” for the variation. It is not sufficient to merely reassure people verbally that the focus of your efforts are not to find fault. The improvement process needs to be designed in such a way that guarantees its conduct is blame-free.
You do this by blinding the data. Remove any identifying features. Although many people like to think they are top performers, their greatest fear is that they are near the bottom. As your improvement process continues, people begin to realize that they likely float somewhere in the middle, with some high marks and some lows. This tends to put them at ease and helps them realize that there are things they learn from their peers, and also things they can teach them.
The improvement process should be designed to build shared knowledge, shared language, and mutual respect—the hallmarks of a learning organization. Taking these small steps can help you remove fear from the variation equation to get everyone past it and moving forward.
In the next article I will address the potential of people to induce substantial improvement and positive change in systems, and the attributes you should be looking for in individuals, teams and the organization in order to make transformation efforts successful.