Management of any kind can get so tied up in their job that they can overlook the foundation of their role: the people that report to them.  When we are driving to work we don’t count the houses with red roofs because we are not looking for them.  In the same way, we can forget to talk to our employees because we may not see them.  This is one of the great principles of Lean Healthcare, direct employee communication.

The employees doing the work — the nurses, unit secretaries, orderlies and others — want to hear from management and want to have contact with them.  Toyota and other successful Lean businesses have the mindset that every employee is important to the business. This contributes a lot to their success. When employees feel like they have a relationship with their management, they are more likely to be happy in the workplace. Happy workers make for a happy and more successful work environment.

So, let’s make them feel important!

Establishing more open lines of communication can become the greatest asset to eliminating waste and building trust within the organization for any manager. This strengthens a company’s overall performance and employee base.  This also increases employee satisfaction and reduces turnover.  I can remember spending hours observing a particular process in search of a root cause, yet oftentimes having a 10 minute dialogue about the process with the “experts” doing the work will have ideas and answers popping up like popcorn in the microwave.   

How do I start?  Get out of the office.  Pick one place to go and force yourself to go there.  Pick out one individual, introduce yourself and get their name and then ask the following questions: 1) How is it going? 2) What’s going well? 3) What’s your biggest problem? 4) What are you doing about it? 5) How can I help?  Start doing this once a week and then make it once per day and in time you will not only meet many employees but you will know exactly what is going on.  You will have direct contacts for communication.  These are people with whom you can now share your information about how the hospital is doing overall, what areas are strong, and where improvements need to be made. One of the biggest outcomes to this communication practice is that the staff then feels that you are truly partnering with them and their frustration and issues are being supported by upper management.

One of the hardest things for human beings to do is change habits.  A long time is spent creating habits.  A long time may be spent changing habits.  This is how we improve as managers, workers, and as humans.  We can become addicted to the desk, computer, meetings, and telephone.  Getting away from these habits can be tough but the results will be tremendous and rewarding for everyone, as well as the organization.

This isn’t a final answer.  This is a simple start to a great end.  A baby learns to turn over, then crawl and then to walk.  Changing management habits are the same way.  We are getting out of the comfort zone that we’ve established.

We all know communication is important.  And in a Lean Healthcare organization it is essential. Take a moment to reflect on how you like communication. Establishing direct communication with the people actually doing the work is so very important.  Try it, you might be surprised by what the reports and meetings you sit through are not telling you. 

“‘Management by walking around’ is hardly ever effective. The reason is that someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what questions to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.”
–W. Edwards Deming, “Out of the Crisis,” MIT Press, 1982

This week’s blog was written by Alex Maldonado, an associate with HPP. Alex’s professional experience includes process improvement, operational, and leadership positions in the medical delivery systems and appliance manufacturing industries with Baxter Healthcare and Whirlpool. Alex has had a successful track record in improving results-driven processes with an emphasis in personnel training, project leadership, and operating systems designed to improve customer service and sustainability. He has led the development and implementation of processes to support Lean initiatives that reduce critical path lead-time, reduce expediting costs, capital improvement projects, inventory reduction, and trained and educated staff/employees in Lean Methodology. He has a B.S. in Industrial Technology Engineering from Mississippi State University and has also completed the Six-Sigma black belt program.

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