LeanHealthcare_HelpThere are many ways to describe a mature lean culture. The many elements that go into such a culture defy a simple description or a short list of attributes. Nonetheless, I do find that when I discuss this topic with other lean practitioners we always return to the image of a mature lean organization as one that is open, honest, and transparent in addressing problems. The ideal state includes a vision of every employee as proactive and rapid in identifying problems. This includes issues with systems and processes as well an employee’s own knowledge deficits and development needs. It includes the ability for everyone to say, “We have a problem. I have a problem. I need help!”

The conventional advice regarding how to become open, honest, and transparent in this way tends to emphasize encouraging others to speak up. These others may include anyone not in a position of power and they who fall lower on the traditional organization chart. We ask ourselves:

• How do we convince them that it’s safe and ok to express their ideas?
• How do we reassure them that it is safe to speak up and identify problems?
• How do we get them to ask for help when they need it?

I recently had an epiphany regarding this issue of growing a culture of true dialog and openness within an organization – dialog that surfaces and faces problems, issues, and performance gaps head on. This light bulb moment came while I was re-reading a couple of works by my hero of organizational theory, Edgar Schein. A sentence I had never noticed before stopped me cold.

Accepting help is a leadership function.

It hit me that this wasn’t a nugget of wisdom. This was the whole gold mine.

We all accept and say often that actions speak louder than words. What if we, as leaders and change agents, stopped focusing on changing the behavior of the others mentioned above focused on our own behaviors instead? What if we went first? What if we stopped trying to appear supremely wise and self-sufficient? What if we showed it is truly okay to admit deficiencies by admitting our own? What if we confessed that we don’t have all the answers? What if we became humble learners who could say the following with true conviction?

“I cannot do this without you. I do not know it all. I need your help.”

Blair Nickle, Senior Manager for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPPToday’s blog was written by Blair Nickle, senior director at HPP.

For more than 25 years, Blair has dedicated her career to the improvement of processes, quality, safety, patient satisfaction, employee engagement, physician satisfaction, and financial vitality in healthcare organizations.  Her content areas of expertise include instructional design, performance measurement and improvement methodologies, information systems implementation, strategic planning and deployment, project management, and human resource development.

Blair holds Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Library and Information Science degrees from the University of Tennessee.  Her undergraduate work was performed at Emory & Henry College.

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