This blog post is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of “Who’s Your Gladys?” which is focused on continuous improvement.
Sky Lakes Medical Center serves nearly 120,000 people in a 10,000-square-mile area in southern Oregon and northern California. Located in Klamath Falls, Oregon, this 176-bed nationally accredited hospital has earned an exemplary reputation for medical excellence, superior skills, and advanced technology. Sky Lakes has made great strides in customer service improvement, creating a strong culture of shared values and best practices with their employees. This relatively new way of doing business puts the care of their customers – patients and their families – at the forefront of everything they do. To assist them in the effort, Sky Lakes hired Custom Learning Systems (CLS), a company that provided them with the transformational tools necessary to create a sustainable change in their corporate culture. What really stood out during our interviews with Sky Lakes Public Information Officer Tom Hottman and Brian Lee, CEO of CLS, was their team spirit, across-the-board accountability, and constant pursuit of patient satisfaction.
As they made their way through the process of positive change, the managers of Sky Lakes determined which “best practices” they most needed. Expectations were set so that every employee, from leaders to front-liners, owned the patient satisfaction scores that they influenced. Nursing owned nursing scores. Admitting owned admitting scores. Dietary owned dietary scores. This built-in accountability was crucial. “When everybody owns all the results, nobody owns anything,” Brian explained.
Leaders were given the responsibility of staff engagement, insuring that employees of Sky Lakes were interested and taking part in the quality improvement effort. “To become a provider of choice,” Brian said, “you must first become an employer of choice. It’s not an option. It’s not either/or. It’s both.”
Almost every Sky Lakes leader served on a highly structured “Operationally Advanced Service Improvement System” (OASIS) team every year for three years. Each year, this team focused on the implementation of a different strategic best practice designed to improve the patient experience.
Sky Lakes management team members were held accountable through the first of the three cornerstornes of the culture change process taught by CLS. Referred to as “Total Management Engagement and Accountability,” this program required leaders to report the progress of their OASIS team to their peers. This accountability step helped support the best practices that were implemented.
“Hospitals are the most complex delivery of a service in any field of endeavor. It’s because of pain and because a traditional patient in a three-and-a-half day stay is handed off about sixty different times,” Brian shared. “It’s complex. Sky Lakes has done a great job of initiating and working on their best practices and getting them in place.”
Continuous training and strategy implementation led to a complete shift in thinking among Sky Lakes staff members. “The old paradigm is, ‘I have my job. I will do my job, and every once in a while, I’ll leave my job to improve things. Then, I’ll go back to my job,’” he noted. “The new paradigm is the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement, the relentless pursuit of excellence, the relentless pursuit of doing things better. Your job is to continuously improve what you do.”
To make ongoing improvements, Sky Lakes empowered their front-line employees, seeking their perspective and input when problems arise. “State the problem. Solve the problem,” Tom Hottman declared, suggesting a delightful way of summing up key practices to a headline. “The people who do the job, know the job,” he said. “If they are doing a job and they see a problem, involve them in stating the problem and finding the solutions so it won’t be a problem anymore.”
What do you think? How could you implement continuous improvement practices at your workplace?