The Hard Costs of Soft Skills
Q: Do you really have time to take on soft skills?
We healthcare leaders and providers have no time to spare. On an average clinic day, we barely have time to deal with our basic personal needs. I get it… having spent many days caring for patient after patient only to forget to eat or check-in at home. So why should we set aside time to work on non-clinical skills that don’t come with a guaranteed ROI?
Bill Santamour, Managing Editor of H&HN, cleverly shared his readers concerns in a recent review of my new book. He shared, “I can see you rolling your eyes at the termchange the culture.”
A few years ago, management/branding guru Peter Drucker, provided a then new, but now accepted maxim that refocused the world of Organizational Development, “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast.” So why can’t we in healthcare take their lead and stop letting the “C” word stymie us? So many of us have developed a content over context mind-set that only focuses on operational efforts that minimize risk and are easy to measure. But where does that leave us when it comes to the practical skills we need every day?
I understand the mindset and the reticence toward change. But every Doc I know began practicing medicine to help patients - yet the current mindset is taking us further away from what matters most to patients.
A: The folks at Apple might say, "There's An App For That.”
Leaders like Joel Peterson, CEO of JetBlue, define trust as the key ingredient for organizational performance. Pauline Chen MD, of the New York Times knows that in cases of medical hierarchy, disrespect among physician hurts patients. Dr. Leonard Feldman, director of an urban health residency program at Johns Hopkins, has concluded our body language has significant consequences on patient satisfaction. In fact, his recent study also shared that when he followed two groups of medical interns for a month, he found they sat down at the bedside only 9 percent of the time.
So what do these leader-anecdotes have in common? Each of these leaders is setting a new context by digging deeper and asking the right questions. Questions that shift our current context and help us recognize the need for relational answers to operational problems. In other words, "There's A Soft Skill For That”.
I recently asked a group of physicians what was so special about the doctor-patient relationship? Their responses focused on: empathy, listening, connection, compassion, confidence, trust. Not only is this what matters most to patients, it matters most to us. I then asked, what would the benefits be if these skills we’re present in every interaction with our peers, staff and patients? They cited widespread impacts on collaboration, efficiency, quality, safety, satisfaction and fulfillment.
Aligning these so called “soft skills” around your organizational and/or departmental goals isn’t hard to do. It does, however, require attention, intention and focus. As you discover and discuss the root cause of a problem, develop a solution that takes relational factors into account. When you put a relational lens on your operational problem solving, you’ll find that solutions become less time consuming and more durable. To become more patient-centered in our problem solving, we’ll need to work under the context that “soft skills” can provide hard results. Culture not only eats strategy for breakfast… it may even give some of you the time to grab a bite to eat once in a while.