Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tip 14: "Pardon me Doc, but can you tell me what we're all doing here?"

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"Pardon me Doc, but can you tell me what we're all doing here?"

I know what you're thinking, "I certainly know what I'm doing here... I'm here to make the most impact possible in helping my patients to get healthy while feeling safe along the way."

Sounds good to me, but that may not be good enough for them. If you're a leader in your organization, what business do you think you're in? Case-in-point, when you ask executives at McDonalds what business they're in, they won't tell you the fast food business. No, McDonalds is in the convenience business and they do it better than anyone else... according to customers. So when I ask, as a leader, what business are you in? We need to take a page out of the McDonalds' playbook. Leadership is in the business of setting context. Why is setting context such an important leadership imperative?

In our full-contact, high stakes sport of healthcare, it's not uncommon for our highest performers to become overwhelmed, inefficient and fragmented. One physician executive I recently began working with, told me that in the 26 years he's practiced medicine, he's had more docs this year alone, approach him with a host of problems all related to dissatisfaction of their careers. A few of his younger physicians even suggesting that they might have been better off choosing a different career altogether. I think we all know that this isn't an isolated case of an unhappy physician or two. In fact, it's become quite the pattern in many of the organizations we get called in to evaluate. And it's not just physicians questioning their purpose, place and priorities, it's also commonplace among many nurses and frontline staff. What happens when purpose, place and priorities aren't clear? This lack of clarity can cause symptoms that can cost of small fortune to correct:
  • reduced productivity
  • decreased engagement
  • lack of accountability
  • preventable turnover
  • Increased costs with recruitment and retention
  • disruptive behavior
  • early retirement
  • ineffective team/patient communications
  • increased job dissatisfaction with physicians and staff
It's clear that these human capital challenges chip away at organizational performance and have significant impact on both bottom line and care. What needs to be defined is why these symptoms occur in the first place, the root cause behind the pattern and what exactly leaders can do to alleviate and prevent them. 
Fortunately for you and I, these are not challenges that can be addressed with more initiatives and committees, or by working harder and managing people better. Didn't we all agree several issues ago that we can't add anything to our overflowing management buffet? Thanks to the help of the 100 healthcare CEO's I interviewed, we managed to expose an opportunity that can offer a more focused and efficient leadership practice by serving up context. Even with the limited time we have, our leadership has a greater impact when we work with our teams to provide context for the mission. If you are a leader in healthcare, you must realize that your customers are quite desperate for this context. Providing context is every leaders' answer to building clarity for your team's purpose, place and priorities. We've discovered that setting context is a critical part of your leadership practice that will set your organization on a course to building a Patient Accountable Culture. Do this correctly and your followers will grow in number as well as in their engagement.

Tip 14: "I'll have the context 3 ways please"

Step One to generating context; establish a "Shared Purpose" with your team/organization. This first layer of context informs everyone on how best to contribute based on what matters most. What happens when we aren't clear about our shared purpose and don't have an infrastructure that reinforces it? Organizationally speaking, look no further than to the list of symptoms above.

What does this mean for you as a leader? You'll be working harder than necessary to move and improve your people/organization. We all know what it feels like to be pushing our teams up hill in an "every man for himself" culture; if you're lucky, it will result in what I like to call "episodic excellence".  In my upcoming book "Heroes Need Not Apply," we show you first-hand how a leader systematically designs an organization through context and gives rise to consistent excellence not by doing more, but by establishing a "Shared Purpose".

Still a little fuzzy on what it means to create a "Shared Purpose"? You don't have to look far to find a situation and a team that is in need for greater context. Here is one we get called in to answer on a fairly regular basis... the concept of improved physician leadership. I say concept because while every organization seems to need it most, they aren't comfortable with the results. The process of creating context allows leaders to challenge assumptions and ask the right questions. In the physician leadership case, to help organizations realize the full potential of their physicians we must correct the assumptions we have made about physicians and about leadership. The questions we should be asking is, "How can physicians best contribute to the organization in a way that reflects what matters most to patients?" And, "What do patients want/need our physicians to become?" One thing we physicians agree on is what matters most to patients. We all can accept that patients require us to work as teams. They'll also tell you that becoming a "leader" in a traditional sense is not something most aspire to. Therein lies the problem for the context we must create. It's clear that we are talking less about the subject of leadership and more about how we can help successfully build a team....quite the difference if you're a physician that doesn't speak the language of leadership. What's the "Shared Purpose" in this case?

To give patients what matters most, physician's know that:
  • Patients expect us to work in teams.
  • Patient centered teams require coaches.
  • Advancing coaching abilities is the primary role of physicians.
  • A Physician Leader is a physician with coaching abilities.
As you can see, this "Share Purpose" provides essential perspective, informs every physician on how best to contribute, defines the outcome we all want to achieve, and is most relevant to our patients' needs. In the next issue, we'll continue to examine how leaders create context for purpose, place and priorities and create value for their organization. What do you believe is your team's "Shared Purpose"?

Email me or share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Brian WongDr. Brian Wong's highly anticipated book,'HEROES NEED NOT APPLY' releases this spring.

Join us for an insightful "first look" conversation on The Leadership Focus Radio Show on February 20, 2013.Click here for info >>

Brian WongCheck out the new video interview with Brian Wong, M.D.
to access Dr. Wong's Q&A as he discusses "Heroes Need Not Apply," Click here>>

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