McKnight’s Guest Column: Show Me The Money!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I just realized that another guest column was posted to McKnight’s.  This topic of whether or not staff should EXPECT a raise with their review came up when a friend of mine, Josh (new administrator) asked my opinion about it.  His question reminded me of when a CNA taught me a valuable lesson years ago at my first facility … You can read the entire article by clicking HERE or on the article image below.

Guest Column for McKnight's regarding annual reviews and raises
Guest Column for McKnight’s regarding annual reviews and raises
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Stooping To Greatness, Part 2

Yesterday, I ran into an “old” former colleague.  It had been years.  First thing he said: “How is that we look so old now?”  I never liked him.  Ha!  🙂

The truth is that it was great to reconnect.  Coincidentally, he’s in the midst of solving some of these same cultural puzzles for his new organization.  We talked about Part 1 over lunch.

A couple key points when beginning this new culture adventure …

  • There’s a huge difference between the sugar-rush, Diet Dr. Culture & Built-To-Last Cultures.

    Most staff have seen the Mission/Vision/Whatever that comes down from the Ivory Corporate Tower.  They are forced to attend the meetings and trainings, often delivered by corporate types or half-heartedly by facility leaders.  During those meetings, they are very quietly grabbing each others hands with a knowing nod: “This too shall pass.”  And, they’re right.  It won’t last because they (the staff) didn’t give birth to it.

No longer collecting dust on the wall.
No longer collecting dust on the wall.  You can’t make this up.  In the basement of my facility, I was looking around for some equipment.  I turned on the light and saw these artifacts from the prior facility occupants.  I don’t know what caused them to fail.  But they did.  Anecdotally, I’ve seen this play out time and again.  Where there is no vision, the people perish.  Without a vision/culture that actually inspires (or at least captures their hearts and minds), you’re programs become artifacts.
  • The GIVING BIRTH metaphor.

    I’m a guy.  I’m no expert.  I know.  But, I’m a father of 5, does that count for anything?!  Here’s the metaphor that fits so well here: Establishing your company/facility’s culture should be like giving birth.  There’s power in the creative process.  There’s a massive difference psychologically (for buy-in/commitment) if I’m able to participate in defining the culture (expectations, standards, rewards, etc.) as opposed to having Know-It-Alls present it to me.  If I go through the labor of wrestling with the words, values, mottos, standards, and behaviors that we want for our workplace, and then the delivery of agreeing to and training new hires in it, then I will be committed to the final product in a way that I simply can’t if it’s presented to me … let me illustrate:

    • Several years ago I went through this creative process for the first time at a building I ran in Orange County, CA.  Our before and after scoreboard made many in the organization take note and ask me to share our “secret sauce” as we went from worst to first in some key metrics like EBITDAR PPD.  I was more than happy to share.  It felt like I was on tour as I presented to more than 1/2 of our facilities.  I would spend an entire day with a facility’s leadership team – presenting to them the what, how, why, and when of World Class Service, which is what we labeled the culture we gave birth to.  The immediate response from those many facility teams was, by-and-large, enthusiastic.  They wanted to do the same thing at their buildings.  They wanted to do it right away.  I gave them our Mission & Standards documents.  I gave them our Orientation packet.  I gave them our Daily, Weekly, Monthly system for making the culture take root.Poster-BWC-[Converted]-Outline
    • Poster-BWC-Standards-[Converted]-OutlineAnd, then I left to the next facility.  I hit rewind and repeat.  Over and over again.  I personally felt tremendous excitement about making a difference beyond my facility.  I felt appreciation from ED/DNS partnerships who were looking for that missing thing to take them to the next level.  They found it.  They believed.  And, except for a handful of facilities, most of their efforts fizzed out within 3 to 6 months.Why?  I’ve thought a lot about that.  Ultimately, I believe two things are absolutely required in order to transform your culture into a transformative force:
      1. The Executive Director must be a “true believer(not the regional or the divisional or the owner at the home office)

      2. S/he must lead her/his facility through their own creative process.  They must reinvent the wheel instead of adopting someone else’s wheel (no matter how successful that wheel made that someone else).

If this is true, then the questions become what, why, how, and when to recreate the wheel.  The Birds And The Bees, if you will, of how cultures are made (I couldn’t resist).  Culture Birds & Bees.  That’ll be part 3 next.

The Silent Treatment vs. The Iron Chef

I asked: How do you know you’re doing a good job?

: No complaints.

I wrote on the white board in front of all the staff: Silence = Approval

I asked: Is that right?  Can anyone argue an opposing explanation for silence?

: They’re frustrated.  They don’t believe you’ll do anything.  They’re tired of talking/asking.  They don’t trust you.

Man, I could take this several directions, huh?  (That happened about 7 years ago in a very different setting than a skilled nursing facility, but it applies as you’ll see in a bit)

But, the reason for tonight’s post is to illustrate the oft-untapped power of scoreboarding in our skilled nursing facilities.

I get too preachy.  So, tonight (while writing at 35,000 feet on my way home to Baltimore), I’ll try to be brief and let the case study do the preaching.

At a recent facility, we had a problem with the food.  The main problem was it didn’t taste very good according to our patients.  Yep.  That’s a problem.

Here’s how scoreboarding helped to fix that …

First, data is power.  It’s one thing to have a lot of anecdotal evidence (often by other complaining department heads, second hand).  It’s a totally different ball game when you’re able to say, “last month we conducted 70 discharge satisfaction surveys.  On a scale of 0-10, satisfaction with food scored a 6.25 while nursing and therapy and everything else scored in the 8s and 9s.”

So, do you do DC satisfaction surveys for all your Discharges?

Now that we have data, we can set objective goals to celebrate successes and judge our decisions by.

I asked our Dietary Supervisor to put up a scoreboard of the things she wants to perfect in the kitchen.  Her team needs to be able to see it.  There should be Daily, Weekly, Monthly things that get scored.  There should be accountability, celebrations, etc.  You come up with it.  I want to see it up on the wall next week.

The Kitchen's Scoreboard. Fires me up!
The Kitchen’s Scoreboard. Fires me up!  She did way better than I could’ve.  And, she owns it because she created it.

In addition to the scoreboard we changed the menu completely and added a few hours to the department each day to allow the cooks to give a little bit more attention and time to their meals.

The dietary department now knew that they were being measured (for the first time) on objective key factors for satisfaction.  They knew their supervisor was stressed about the patient satisfaction.  They knew their jobs may be affected if they don’t score well too.

But, they had no idea that I cared.

And, the rest of the facility (particularly the department heads) didn’t know that I really cared about this and that the dietary manager was taking this so seriously.

So, I decided to go all food critic on them.  I channeled my inner Chef Ramsey.  I began to ask for test trays for lunch and dinner.  I created my own version of a scoreboard that ended up meaning a lot to them.  Why?  Because they see that I actually cared.  Silence can mean a lot of things to your staff.  But, it rarely means what you really intend.  We all fill in the void/the silence with our own fears/worries.

After a meal, I would send an email to the entire department head team with my Chef Ramsey Food Critic review.  My dietary manager braces herself when she sees an email from me about the meal and shares the usually-good news with her staff right away.  I’ve noticed a massive change in the morale and level of engagement of the dietary department — for the better.

Here are some of my reviews …

Laura (and team),

I just wanted to let you know that dinner was great tonight! The ham was moist (it’s really easy to make dry ham) and the taste was really good. Rice done perfectly. Spinach … well, cooked spinach is cooked spinach. The biscuit was tasty too. Presentation was appealing, as you can see. When I went down there to ask for a test tray tonight, I also noticed their scoreboard up in their break room. I LOVE it. Getting food to be loved by so many different palates is a serious challenge. Our scores are sometimes really high. Sometimes really low. We still have a ways to go, but in talking with Laura, I’m confident that we’re headed in the right direction.

Dave

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Team,

Ok … I won’t do this anymore for the whole team (yeah right) but here’s my food critic column for tonight’s dinner at the Sloan’s Lake restaurant.

Tonight’s food presentation was really good again! The chicken … the taste was good but it was dry and chewy. I thought about our patients maybe having a hard time cutting/chewing (don’t know if there’s a way to tenderize the chicken but that would probably help a lot. The mashed potatoes and gravy were really good and masked the dryness of the chicken well. The corn was pretty good and the roll was perfection. The desert was also good. On the sugary/sweet side, but good.

Before and after photos included.

The kitchen is on a roll!

Dave

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Laura/Team,

Lunch was very good today.  Thought you should know.  The meal: cod.  The fear: dry and overcooked or undercooked.  The result: perfectly cooked.  Moist.  Layers of fish fell away from each other easily.  Flavor?  Good.  I had to add salt to the whole plate, but would’ve been satisfied without doing so.  I add salt to just about everything.  Fish could’ve used a little more seasoning since the cod probably wasn’t caught yesterday in Alaska.  Nevertheless, very enjoyable.  I loved the cous cous and peas and carrots too.  The portion of fish could’ve been larger but I’m full after eating everything on my plate.  The dessert … some sort of cream puff cake.  Ummm, Yum.  I had to stop after two bites because I have a wife that I go home to, but it was surprisingly good.  As you can see the appearance was also very nice.  Hats off to Scott today.

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What if I didn’t do this?  The whole food critic thing?  What would the dietary staff think mattered to me as the Executive Director?

I don’t know.  But, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t think that I cared much for their food or much about their work.

PS: August’s patient satisfaction scores hit 8!  The entire staff applauded the kitchen staff at our all staff meeting for their progress this week.  I just got the chills.  You?

Mothers in long-term care

I was asked to speak in church today.  Mother’s Day.  No pressure.

As I prepared for my talk, I remembered a classic, inspiring, true story of a taxi driver who picked up somebody’s elderly mother late one night to take her to a hospice facility.  It didn’t end up fitting into my talk, but I wanted to share it here.  I’ll be sharing it with the staff at the two facilities in Denver I’ve been helping with this week.  Enjoy.  And, pass it on.

“Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. One time I arrived in the middle of the night for a pick up at a building that was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.

Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself. So I walked to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice.

I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me.

It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers.”

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

“You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.”

– http://kentnerburn.com/archives/391

Act 2, Scene 1

Take your pick of metaphors …

Shifting gears
A clean slate
Starting a new journey
Passing the baton

 All of those metaphors apply to what I’ve decided to do … help grow a new Ensign-backed venture in a new segment of the healthcare industry: URGENT CARE.

I started this blog in 2007 to share lessons learned the hard way in healthcare administration in the long-term care setting.  I had run 3 skilled nursing facilities in Arizona and California.  Then I was asked to help reshape our Administrator in Training (AIT) program where we select, train, and place around 20 AITs per year.  Having not-too-long-ago gone through my own learning curves/new facility and having a small part in the training of over 100 AITs has given me a unique viewpoint of the ‘new healthcare leader.’ I’ve really enjoyed the platform and really appreciate the many friends, acquaintances, and opportunities that have come from it.  In some cases, it has helped people make the decision to join the industry.  In others, it has convinced people that it’s not for them.

During Q4 of 2010 I was getting very antsy to get back into the thick of operations.  My wife and I flew out to Boston (from California) several times looking at homes, facilities, the industry, etc. to see if I would attempt to open up a new Ensign-affiliated market there.  After 4 months of a roller coaster of emotions, we decided to stay put … I love what I do.  I love who I do it with.  I love where I do it.  Once I put that decision behind me, I re-engaged in a big way and 2011 became for me one of my favorite years at Ensign ever … The eprize! being a key ingredient in that.

2012 started as 2011 ended … incredibly excited about the year and the work on my plate: a re-design of our AIT program (3.0?), eprize! encore?, making HR a bigger force for good, etc.  Then, one morning everything changed …

My friend and colleague, Mike, recently branched away from skilled nursing to take Ensign into Urgent Care.  He met two urgent care industry giants: John Shufeldt and Glenn Dean.  Mike was the catalyst that brought John and Glenn and Ensign together to form a joint venture.  The original plan was to open up a handful of centers in one market.  While that’s still progressing, the ‘plan’ has expanded.  The joint venture acquired Doctors Express on March 1, which is the nation’s first and only franchise system of urgent care centers.  It has currently about 50 centers in 25 states (and counting).  The corporate office is near Baltimore, MD.

John/Glenn/Mike asked/offered me to join them in the joint venture by having primary responsibility for the franchise system.  At first I laughed it off.  It didn’t really register as real or possible.  I was so locked in to what I/we’re doing and have been doing for the last 10 years, I couldn’t really imagine it.  But, after a few days I started to feel like it was the right thing to do … much to my and my wife’s surprise!  What was really shocking was to see her feel the same way.  Whereas the Boston indecision was a 4 month roller coaster, this was a 4 day natural, fast decision.

It’s hard to articulate why the decision came so quickly.  It just felt like the right thing for me and my family.  We’re excited to move to Maryland and have some more elbow room for the family (5 kids).  I’m excited to be back at square 1.  I feel like an AIT again.  Having to learn a new industry — quickly (although 10 years of healthcare management experience helps).  I’m excited to be part of a very small new venture that has HUGE potential.  I’m worried about my ability to be/do what’s needed.  I’m, at times, overwhelmed by everything that needs to happen in a very short amount of time.  For the last couple months, life/work has been running at a frenetic pace.  I’m loving it.

I’ve replaced myself at Ensign someone who I call ‘The Upgrade.”  Talk about luck.  Once everything is squared away for his transition, he’ll be announced.

This Blog …

I’ve decided to continue this blog for the time being.  The title of “Transforming Long-Term Care” will have to change to something else.  But, I expect that the lessons I continue to learn the hard way in urgent care management will translate to any/all healthcare leadership as has been the case with the skilled nursing stuff.  I hope you’ll continue to value the thoughts, experiences, links, and mistakes I share here going forward.

On to Act 2 …

Act 2, Scene 1

EnsignPrize! – judging behind the scenes

This has been one of my favorite weeks in YEARS in skilled nursing.  I’ve had the privilege to judge, in person, some of the finalists of the eprize in California and Colorado.  Below are a few photos from my time behind the scenes.  Unfortunate realization … I didn’t have many regrets about my time as an administrator until this week.  Seeing the great work that these leaders have inspired in their staff has been humbling.

Serious Tilapia. Administrator say, “Dave you don’t have to eat it all.” I say, “I wouldn’t if I didn’t want to. This is great.”
“Cheesecake Factory” quality cream of broccoli soup.
Wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it. Alzheimer’s facility in Colorado that I was afraid of years ago when we acquired it. Now, didn’t want to leave. What a great feeling. These people have become legit experts in meeting the needs of the cognitively impaired. There, “behaviors” is a bad word. Quote: Behaviors are simply unmet needs.  To have 8 residents with extreme dementia peacefully sitting together engaged in meaningful activities compared to how it was years ago was jaw-dropping.
Organic garden w/ help from local organic gardeners. Chef uses the produce in soups, dishes all the time. Residents help cultivate/grow.

The EnsignPrize! home stretch

At Ensign’s 2011 annual meeting I spoke about some personal feelings re: hitting 10 years with the organization and in skilled nursing. It was a time of deep reflection. It was then that I developed some of the thoughts I’ve shared here about burn out, empathy, and a hunger to do more after surviving industry-common career crushing experiences. Some of those thoughts are found here.

As “luck” would have it, while I was in that very reflective mood, I was hit by some new, related ideas during a couple early morning rides. I love to listen to NPR podcasts during those runs/rides and back then I listened to a Freakonomics podcast that was like lighting a fuse in my mind. When I got to the office that morning, ideas started to crystalize, as seen on my whiteboard:

I don’t expect you can follow the train of thought there. But, with the help and input of my colleagues at Ensign, what started as some 10-year angst turned into the eprize! … our organization’s $150,000 competition to transform the industry by transforming the day-in-the-life of our residents. At that 2011 annual meeting, I shared with my friends and colleagues the story of how the idea of the eprize! was born and then challenged them to run with it. And … they did.

The executive directors and directors of nursing upped the ante to $150k and all agreed to put money into the ‘pot’ from their own facilities to fund the award. For more details about the competition and why we did it the way we did it, see this “halftime talk” I gave to the organization about it:

Well … the applications are finally in and uploaded onto the EnsignEprize.com website and the contestant facilities are lobbying their communities hard to have them ‘vote’ for their application. The eprize! award winner will be announced in early April. As I’ve read through and watch the videos of some of the applications I’ve gotten emotional to see the small and big improvements in the systems we use to care for our residents and patients with more dignity, humanity, and choice. I hope you take a minute to go to the website and see what we’ve been up to for the last year as a group. And, please, by all means … share this with your friends. Better yet, challenge your own organization to do something similar!