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.

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“I’m a prisoner here.”

I just heard one of our patients say that.  He had been sitting in a chair outside my office for about an hour.  Quietly fuming inside.

About an hour earlier, he had pushed the elevator button when a therapist intervened.  It went something like this …

Where are you going?

Outside.

No, you can’t do that.

Why not?

You have to stay on your floor.

Oh, and why’s that?

Well, because we have to know where you are.  We’re responsible for your safety.

Ok.  I’ll tell you where I’m going.  Outside by the entrance.  I want to go outside.

No, you can’t leave this floor.  If something happens to you, we’ll get in a lot of trouble.

An hour later, his nurse and CNA both tried to get him to go to the dining room.  This time he was resolute.  He wouldn’t budge.  He called himself a prisoner b/c the staff wouldn’t let him leave.  I would’ve been the same way.  After a few back-and-forths about whether he would or would not go to dinner or even ever leave that chair, I stepped out of my office and said,

You want to go outside?

They won’t let me.

Who won’t let you?

The people here.

There must be some misunderstanding.  They probably meant that you needed to go with someone.

No.  They said, “You can’t leave this floor.”

Well … let me see what I can do.  [I went to the gym and asked the therapists about him.  They were thrilled with the idea of me escorting him outside.  They just didn’t want him to go alone as he still has a ways to go to get his strength back and is at risk for falling.  I came back with the good news.  He couldn’t believe it.]

We went down together and I pulled the bench into the sun.  Gorgeous day.  We talked for about 45 minutes.  WWII veteran.  married to a ‘saint’ for 60+ years.  A few kids.  He’s the last surviving child of 8 kids in his family.  He told me about his ‘crooked’ father in law who died with $500,000 in the bank.  We laughed.  I teased him.  He teased me back.  We talked about religion and faith and cashing in his chips after 92 years on the earth.  After a while, he said, “Well, is it time for dinner?”

Yeah, are you ready to go back in?

You bet.

He literally had a large smile on his face when he sat down to eat dinner (after everyone else had already eaten by this time).  It struck me as I sat back down in my office how differently that could’ve gone (and sadly too often does) … the nursing/therapy staff get frustrated by the patient’s “behavior” and start to treat him as an object more than as a person.  He becomes a problem.  Stubborn.  “Non-compliant.”  A pharmaceutical intervention is ordered and the man, the WWII veteran, loses a little bit of his identity and dignity and control.

As a facility leader, it’s my role to establish a culture within the facility where that latter scenario is avoided — when it’s avoidable.  We have to create a mission, a purpose for our staff that is larger than a paycheck or a task to constantly motivate them to SEE their brother, sister, mother, or father in the eyes of the patient sitting in that chair.  I saw the difference tonight in being task-driven/objectifying and human-driven/personalizing.

Our great challenge is to systematically enable our great staff to personalize their residents’ and patients’ experience …

Nursing Home Institution vs. Resident Centered Approach

The Next 10 years …

This all started about 2 months ago when my wife and I were on a walk, talking about my short career in long-term care.  I marveled that I had been with the same company (The Ensign Group) for 9 years.  AIT-Administrator of 3 facilities-AIT Program/Leader Development/Support guy …

That walk/talk stimulated a lot of reflection in what I want out of my next 10 years.  A strong desire (maybe need?) has risen to the surface to take my (and our company’s) experience and do something transformative with it for the benefit of today’s and tomorrow’s long-term care residents.  That could sound a little quixotic (side note: Don Quixote: One of my all time favorite stories/inspirations and a great motivating tool for staff) but I think it’s actually a pretty common experience for people in long-term care.  As I looked in the 9 year mirror I see myself on this curve:

Empathy Curve in Healthcare
Empathy Curve in Healthcare

 

As an AIT I started out like most — fired up, wanting to treat each resident like family, eager to learn and improve this embattled industry.  The empathy I felt was very high.  Feeling sorry for a lot of the long-term residents who had no family support.  Feeling a bit shocked at the scene of a resident being wheeled down on a PVC pipe roller chair to the shower room covered only with a sheet — leaving a trail of diarrhea.  Feeling nauseated by the smells during certain procedures.  How do I, having never worked in a nursing home before, get used to that?!  Feeling pretty impotent to change things for the better until I learn why they’re done this way in the first place.  What have I gotten myself into?

So what happens/happened?

You start to cope.  I suppose we all cope differently.  But as you cope, you ‘fall’ not just on the empathy curve but into a too-casual relationship with the profession.  Some signs of the coping fall …

  • You call Virginia in room 24 bed A by a different name: 24-A, ‘the hip’, Medicare Patient, etc.  This dehumanizing of ‘Virginia’ helps you cope with all of the residents you’ve let down some way.  It also speeds up communication with the others at the facility who don’t really know Virginia.
  • You are less shocked by the sights, sounds, and realities of life as a nursing home resident.
  • You rationalize away your loss of empathy as not a loss of empathy but as a better understanding of why things are always done that way.
  • You spend your time on delivering the things your company measures regardless of how in line with your values or vision those measurements are.
  • You don’t smell the smell that first-timers do.  🙂

You survive for a while and then you begin to thrive.  Your experience and success builds confidence to experiment, to find YOUR VOICE.  You begin to need more than simple survival.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates a theory of the different levels of human need that you see in yourself as an administrator.  This analogy is a bit forced but you’ll get the idea.

You first need to survive.  That ‘Physiological’ need means you have to not lose your job 🙂  You need to learn, perform to how your measured, fit in, etc.  With some time and success your needs graduate to the ‘Safety’ need.  Here you pass some surveys; you put a team together; you learn from your mistakes; you change your style to be more effective.  You start to float between Safety and ‘Belonging’ as you find some balance in your life. you perform well financially; you’re recognized in your organization as an important partner.  The trouble is … this is the bottom of the Empathy Curve.  You may stay here for the rest of your career, quite comfortable.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

But with time, you start to feel a need to do more with what you’ve received.  You feel a need to not only run an outstanding facility, but to transform long-term care in the eyes of the residents.  You wrestle with some tough questions as you confront the brutal facts …

  • What truly makes us different from our competition (in the eyes of the community)?  Wouldn’t our competitors say that they are nice and caring just like we say?  What can only we say about being a resident here that our competition cannot?
  • Is it a significantly better experience to be a resident in my facility than at an average facility elsewhere?  In other words, is sleeping, waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, going to activities, going to therapy, receiving medications, etc. a significantly better experience than your average facility?

You feel a higher need pulling you up from the coping gravity to see things (again) from the residents’ perspective.  You are extremely proud of surviving and then succeeding at one of the most difficult jobs anywhere.  You are proud of how you’ve treated your employees (for the most part).  You are proud of the company you’ve helped grow.  You are proud of the facilities that have improved qualitatively and quantitatively under your leadership.  Now what?

Now you feel a new, familiar need to change the industry.  You feel a need to fight the CALF PATHS and the gravity that limits our vision of what we can and should do.

The difference between that need/empathy today vs. when you began is that now you have the knowledge and wherewithal (what a great catch-all word) to do something about it.

There are a handful of companies and leaders in long-term care that are ‘ahead of the curve’ (get it?) when it comes to changing the industry.  BUT, it seems like the movement is way too slow.  One major initiative is the resident-centered approach as illustrated here.

Nursing Home Institution vs. Resident Centered Approach
Nursing Home Institution vs. Resident Centered Approach

I love the concept.  I think it is on target to where we need to take long-term care.  But, the cultural, financial, and regulatory obstacles are real and in many cases prohibitive for an administrator to experiment with.

For my next 10 years I want to work at clearing those obstacles away.  AND, more importantly, I want to figure out how to lessen the slope and duration of the drop and bottom of the empathy curve for others.  Skilled nursing companies have to find the right people, find the right measurements and establish a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in order to do more than simply survive.  We and our residents ‘need’ it.

Idaho Healthcare Association

I thoroughly enjoyed the Idaho Healthcare Association convention in Boise during in  July.

I was invited to speak on how to create your own unique culture within your facility or company.

Thank you to Robert & Jill for the invite and warm welcome.  I was totally impressed with the organization and our colleagues in Idaho … making a difference!

My presentation consisted of a few case studies on the topic.  We discussed what we learned from each and ended with a how-to-map for repeating the steps at your company/facility.

The phrase, “I’m passionate,” is certainly over-used.  Nevertheless, I’m passionate about this topic.  It goes far beyond theory or academics for me.  I’ve seen amazing results from getting serious about owning the culture for myself and for others.  I shared cases at USA Olympic Hockey (The Miracle), The Ensign Group’s (my company) ‘anti-corporate’ office, my most recent facility, and we ran out of time to share the Johnson & Johnson case.  All these cases teach us …

  • The How-To: Pain, Engage, Define, Commit, Flywheel.
  • The culture starts and stops with ‘the’ leader.
  • Cultural transformation requires hard work and pain.  There are no shortcuts.
  • Team chemistry is better than a group of individual all-stars.
  • You have to draw lines in the sand and commit to not cross (or let anyone else cross) that line.
  • Cultural transformation is too-often treated (by the leaders and the employees) like a new program.  Programs fade in 2 to 3 months.  For the transformation to ‘take root’ it must be treated more like a conversion to a new religion.  The most outstanding organizations are those who have a fanatical commitment to their stated culture.
Download presentation PDF here

2 Questions

If you’re looking to transform your facility’s culture, 2 questions will turbo charge the change … regardless of where you’re trying to take your organization.  Training your staff (and rewarding and holding them accountable) to consistently ask these 2 questions will have an IMMEDIATE impact on your residents, patients, and outside community … guaranteed!

The impact of training your entire staff to ask these 2 questions CONSISTENTLY will yield the following results:

  • Improved resident/patient satisfaction
  • Reduced call lights
  • Reduced call light wait time
  • Prevented accidents
  • Increased Census

It’s a win-win and a no-brainer.  2 Questions to turbo charge your culture change efforts.  Good luck!

‘Speed of the leader …

… is the speed of the team.’ I heard that phrase for the first time about a year and a half ago when a young, new nursing home leader stepped into his first opportunity to run a skilled nursing facility in San Diego, CA. The opportunity was daunting … the facility was old, beaten-down, beneath a freeway overpass, across the street from a strip club, and competing with some of the best looking and operated facilities in southern california. Takers?


This guy jumped in and ‘owned’ it from day one … running fast. He modeled what he expected and later required from his staff — putting customer service/satisfaction (for residents, patients, doctors, vendors, etc.) above everything but quality care. The census and financial performance naturally followed. A year and a half later, the facility is neck-and-neck with the competition — enjoying clinical, census, and financial success like never before.

The speed of the leader is the speed of the team … is true, but only part of the story.

The speed of the leader and team are both dependent on the quality of care. What this San Diego leader and team had going for them, that many in their situation don’t, is a stellar Director of Nursing and care outcomes. That is basic and fundamental before attempting any radical transformation.

One of the secrets to their success was the personal attention the leader gives to doctor relationships. He, along with his team, work hard to convince skeptical doctors to send them a patient to ‘prove’ the hype is not hype, but true. Once that doctor’s patient arrives, her satisfaction becomes priority #1 which leads to a changed reputation for the facility … 1 MD at a a time.

Thou Shalt Not!

One of the biggest challenges in providing the highest level of service in healthcare is to undo the years of phrases and vocabulary that is so common and so destructive. We’ve all heard the following:

“She’s not my patient”
“That’s not my job”
“The other shift didn’t do it”
“There’s no supplies”
“There’s no time”
“I’m in a hurry”
Etc.

When we started our transformation, we started here … with vocabulary. We introduced Communication Guidelines in the form of “THOU SHALT NOT SAY …” All of the staff could relate to saying or hearing each one of the 10 phrases at some point. Like with all our training, we made it fun/funny as we introduced the new requirement.

Then … we laid down the law. We stated that saying any one of those prohibited words/phrases would be cause for termination. We were serious. We don’t want to lose any of you. Etc.

When we termed a CNA for saying “She’s not my patient,” the entire facility found out about it and realized we were, in deed, serious about the experience our patients/customers receive. After the employee was termed, behaviour changed … big time. There was a noticeable difference in the verbal communication with people in the facility … more polite. More aware.

Everyone’s been told not to say those things before. But, it is the full committment of the leadership of the facility (meaning willing to lose people) that is required to see the change take effect.