LeanHealthcare_EnergyWhat is the current vibe in your organization?  Is everyone buzzing with positive energy and inspirations of improvement?  Or does the atmosphere and culture seem more mundane and flat?

Quantum theory has gained a lot of attention in recent years with the perception that all of life is constantly moving energy and that each person, object, and process is vibrating with unlimited potential to change and evolve.  In Lean Healthcare, we use tools to identify waste and systematically remove it, but when you really look at what we are doing, there is another level to our work.  By just getting started we often can expose the potential in change agents throughout the organization to make positive things happen.

Bruce D. Schneider, in his book Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core, defines that there are two main types of energy – catabolic and anabolic.  Catabolic energy is draining, destructive energy that releases catabolic chemicals which actually eat away at our cells –quite literally sucking the life out of a system.  Catabolic energy is evident in victim thinking and conflict.  In this time of rapid change in healthcare, we see this energy affecting the core thoughts, emotions and actions of organizations and individuals.  Anabolic energy is constructive, positive, healing energy that releases anabolic hormones into our bodies and gets us to move positively ahead.  Anabolic energy is evident in accountability, concern, agreement, synthesis and non-judgement.  Everyone has both kinds of energy at different times, neither should be judged as good or bad, just part of reality that we need to deal with as humans.  However, when trying to change a culture, anabolic energy is a key accelerant.

Lean thinking uses a systematic process that has the potential to move the energy from catabolic to anabolic.  Disengagement and a sense of powerlessness by employees are common problems in organizations prior to starting a lean transformation.  As the current state is identified, process issues can bring up emotions of powerlessness, frustration, anger, resentment and annoyance.  Root cause analysis helps identify barriers to change and facilitates the transition towards the ideal state from negative thinking (energy) to positive, allowing the future state plan to break down the barriers and move to an anabolic state.  To sustain Lean improvements, implement Lean management systems and coach to continue the positive improvement.

One objective of Lean coaching is to continue to move the energy to a positive state.  Coaching often requires breaking down barriers related to knowledge gaps but sometimes it requires breaking down energy blocks that show up as judgements, assumptions, interpretations or inner doubts about what can be accomplished.  Reflecting on the energy level and identifying the barriers can be a powerful way to coach both during and after a Lean event.  It can reframe the way you think about those key questions:

  • What is the Target condition?
  • What is the Actual Condition?
  • What is going well?
  • What obstacles are preventing you from reaching your target condition?
  • What is your next step?
  • How can I help?

The next time you do a Gemba Walk, try to identify the energy level of those working in the process.  Are you listening carefully, validating successes and making the right work easier to do?  The energy level can be improved by using open ended questions, being present, avoiding judgement, and by being a positive role model for change.  You can help ignite the positive energy!


Patricia Kramer, Senior Manager for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPPToday’s blog was written by Patricia Kramer, RN, CPHQ, senior manager at HPP.

Patricia has more than 20 years of experience in Lean healthcare, clinical nursing, training and development, leadership, organizational development and quality management.  She has developed and presented workshops for the Lean Enterprise Institute, the American Society for Quality and other professional groups on the topics of improving access to primary care, using visual management tools, and A3 problem solving.

Patricia received her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Michigan and a Master’s degree in Management with a concentration in Organizational Development from Aquinas College.  Patricia is a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality.

Image by Freepik

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