Process Improvement: Taking The First Step

Justin Clark, MBA

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

If you start to think about the idea of process improvement and you accept that it needs to be addressed as a service issue, you will likely be confronted with one of two realities very quickly. You will either see so many opportunities that you will have to wrestle with becoming overwhelmed at the thought of taking that first step. The alternative is that you may have an already high-achieving team and might believe that finding that first step will be hard because the gaps just aren’t that obvious. Either way, I would like to challenge you that failure in this case is best achieved by doing nothing.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

No matter the sector or market that you’re working in, you are competing for customers. In healthcare, people have more choices today than they did yesterday and they will likely have more choices tomorrow than they do today. In order to continue to strive for success, you must ask yourself the hard questions about your areas of responsibility. As I said last week, these are value based questions regarding the cost, quality, and convenience of the service your team provides for the customer. One way to help jumpstart your discussion is to do what is called a SWOT analysis.

How can you do it? 

  1. What is a SWOT analysis? No – it doesn’t mean you kick the door down on your department and see what’s inside (That’s a SWAT team). This SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
  2. How do you do it? Gather key members of your team. Choose people from all levels of the team to make sure that you have a fair and accurate representation of perspectives. From there, you all can discuss the four categories and how they apply to your team. If you want to learn more, check out this website.
  3. Take the first step. As a team, you can best decide which weaknesses need addressed first based on what opportunities and threats there are. It is that easy. Be decisive. Make a plan. Take action.

What are some additional strategies you have used to get the ball rolling on process improvement?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Process Improvement: It’s Really A Service Issue

Justin Clark, MBA

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Most people associate the phrase “process improvement” with the regular charge to reduce costs without sacrificing too much quality. It seems to be synonymous with things like budget review and fiscal year. I am here to challenge you to think about process improvement in an entirely different light. I want you to consider that process improvement might first be a customer service related endeavor. This may be unconventional and you might even disagree, but I hope that at the very least I will be successful in persuading you to see how the customer is intricately woven into any process improvement opportunity.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

All customers have three basic criteria by which the judge almost any service. You do. I do. We all do. In some circumstances we may value these three equally and in others we may choose to weight them according to our perceptions of our needs. The three questions we ask every time we have a customer service experience are as follows:

Was it good?
Was it fast?
Was it cheap?

In other words, we consider quality, convenience, and cost. What if we evaluated our areas of responsibility and asked if we could enhance our customer’s experiences by improving one of these factors? Wouldn’t we better position ourselves to capture their business?  Of course, we are bound by various resources constraints like cost and time. Regardless, broadening your understanding of process improvement to include this line of thinking will help you find opportunities that should help grow your business and bottom line.

How can you do it? 

  1. Think like a customer. Take your employee glasses off and see what your customers see. Some people can do this by intentionally evaluating their areas of responsibility. Others use resources such as feedback surveys, focus groups, and mystery shoppers.
  2. Know what your competition is doing. What choices does your customer have? Why should they choose you? Where do you have work to do to catch up? If you can’t answer these questions then you need to do some research. While it is important to know your processes inside and out, you have to be aware of what your competition is doing.
  3. Do something. Once you understand your customers experience and what options they have, craft a strategy that will help retain your current customers as well as attract new ones. Often this means taking calculated chances to improve your processes. The temptation is to assume that because it appears to be working that your process cant be improved. In the pursuit of perfection, there is almost always room for improvement.

What are some additional strategies you have used to shift the focus of performance improvement away from a budgetary conversation and into a service discussion?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Process Improvement: Recognizing Its Importance

Justin Clark, MBA

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

When you hear the words process improvement you might be tempted to think this is just “management speak” for do more with less or tighten the belt when it comes to spending. Everyone has experienced the discomfort of the annual belt tightening that never trims process fat, it just ultimately cuts to the point of causing significant operational pain.

It is also possible that you’re doing all you can to keep from drowning and the idea of building a better ship at the same time is closer to a dream than a reality. Or what if you have a process that is humming along? You or your team may be some of the highest performers.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Whether you relate to any of the three examples above or not, you must recognize that ongoing process improvement is a key to success in your business. Look at healthcare! It is a complex and dynamic market place. When aren’t things changing? Any organization that hopes to achieve and sustain success in this type of environment has to have process improvement as a part of their culture. The competitive marketplace rewards those who are constantly finding ways to deliver a better service, a faster service, and a cheaper service.

How can you do it? 

  1. Understand what Process Improvement is. Process Improvement is the proactive task of identifying, analyzing and improving upon existing business processes within an organization for optimization and to meet new quotas or standards of quality.
  2. Understand what Process Improvement is not. Process Improvement is not an annual budget strategy to reduce expenses, a process that has to be overly complicated (Six Sigma sounds scary, right?), or the responsibility of a singular department within an organization.
  3. Look around. Spend 15 minutes this week looking around at work. Look for opportunities to improve. What things can you do better, faster, cheaper? I’d be shocked if you don’t have a long list in even a short amount of time.
  4. Keep Going.  If you’re reading this, you’re already interested in leading a process improvement effort. You’re reading about leadership and that is almost certainly in an effort to improve your skills. You might not have thought of it this way, but your leadership technique is the process you’re currently focused on improving. There are a tremendous amount of resources available to continue to learn. I will explore some key elements of Process Improvement over the next three months. My examples will focus on Healthcare since that’s our field, but they will be fairly applicable across numerous disciplines. If you want to do research on your own, a quick Google search will result in hundreds upon hundreds of resources (refining the search for resources itself is a process in need of improving).

What are some additional strategies you have used to deliver direct and constructive feedback?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management & Trust

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Some leaders expect that by virtue of having a title, their colleagues and team members will naturally trust and follow them.  You know the saying about “assuming” anything.  This belief could potentially enable the leader to behave in ways that others might perceive as arrogant, uncaring, closed or dismissive.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Relationships are two-way, and if the leader does not make an effort to extend trust to others and behave in a way that builds a trust bank account with their team, the leader cannot expect others to blindly grant trust nor follow.  Relationships between two or more people will never be perfect, but the core of an effective relationship is trust.  Trust is defined as the belief in another’s reliability, truth, ability and strength.  When team members trust their leader, they know they can rely on, depend on, count on, and bank on them to tell them the truth and to allow them to do the same in return.  Trust takes a while to build, a trial and error of behavior observations so to speak.  So, there is really no short cut to this core competency of effective relationship management.

How can you do it? 

  1. Make your feedback direct and constructive.  Think of the BEST feedback you have ever received.  You probably didn’t want to hear it, but it was shared with you in a way that really helped you change your behavior.  Certainly, being direct and clear is very important so there’s little chance of a misunderstanding.  However, use your social awareness of the receiver to think of how they would best receive the feedback so you can adjust your delivery for the best chance of enhancing the relationship.  I am not suggesting to sugar coat the feedback, as that does not build trust because it is not honest.  Do, however, consider the best delivery method for “where” the other person is and how best you can get your feedback across.
  2. Take feedback graciously.  On the flip side, we need to receive feedback graciously.  When trying to build a relationship, we must make ourselves open to others’ perspectives.  While we may not always agree with suggestions we receive from feedback, when we make an effort to acknowledge and apply what we learned from feedback, our behavior communicates that we trust and respect our team’s opinions.
  3. Invest in building trust.  Most of the behaviors we discussed in this blog series, when consistently repeated over time, play a part in building trust.  Be open when you communicate, telling the truth (good, bad and ugly).  Be consistent with your words and behaviors.  When we say one thing and do another, our colleagues will believe our actions over words, and trust in us is lost.  And lastly, follow through with what we say we are going to do.  Remember, trust means that others can rely and depend on us.  Follow-through is therefore one of the key building blocks of trust.

What are some additional strategies you have used to deliver direct and constructive feedback?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management & Tough Conversations (Part II)

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

One main reason we are hesitant to have tough conversations is that we may not trust our OWN emotions.  Once the conversation has been set up, it is difficult to not get defensive ourselves when the other person is sharing their perspective.  As we discussed last week, don’t get trapped by this.  It is easy to get stuck in the moment, focusing on the words, tone and emotion of the other person.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The end goal is the reason to push yourself through this tough spot in a difficult conversation.  When we approach a tough conversation with the intent to resolve the situation AND improve the relationship, we have in our mind that there is hope.  Hope that if we set the conversation up properly and stick with the “high ground”, there is hope that at the end we can have a resolution that will put the situation and relationship back on track.  In fact, a tough conversation can sometimes be the defining moment that makes a relationship stronger.

How can you do it? 

  1. Share your perspective.  You have openly listened to the other’s perspective, now it is time to share yours.  Describe your discomfort, and your reasons and thought process of why and how you have gotten here.  Be clear and direct in your communication…no “code” or joking to mask your discomfort.  If an apology is needed, offer it genuinely.
  2. Keep moving the conversation forward.  Once both persons have shared their perspectives, there still may be disagreement.  Someone is going to have to keep the conversation moving forward, and guess what leader…that person is you!  At this point in the conversation, try to get back to establishing common ground.  Some phrases to consider are “Thank you for coming to me directly about this.  I think I understand your view and I believe you understand mine. I am committed to working through this situation in a way that we can both achieve what we hope for.”  Explain your ideas and ask for the other person’s.
  3. Follow-up after and often.  Rarely is a situation and relationship perfectly resolved and repaired after a tough conversation.  One thing you can do to try to make sure each person understands the common agreements made during the tough conversation is to send a note that captures the discussion from your perspective and ask to make sure the other person agrees to the content of the conversation and the next steps.  Then, most importantly, follow-through with what you committed to do and check in with the person often on the resolution.  This is not an appropriate time for a “no news is good news” philosophy.  You are half of what it takes to keep a relationship working, so be proactive and reach out.

What strategies have been most successful for you when following up after a tough conversation?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management & Tough Conversations (Part I)

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Growing and sustaining positive relationships, in all aspects of our lives, is really tough.  Unfortunately, until recently, management training pigeon-holed this leadership competency as “soft skills” and not as important to focus on as budgets, productivity, and ROI.   Some leaders shy away from the “icky” people stuff because it is gray, unpredictable and just plain hard, and therefore they don’t have the relationship capital or the skills to have effective accountability conversations when necessary.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The real bottom line is that people, interfacing with other people (customers, co-workers, supervisors, vendors/suppliers, etc.) are who actually produce the results in organizations (unless fully automated).  In my opinion, the more effective the relationships are between these groups of people, the higher the chance an organization has at producing better sustained results.  One of the most important relationship management skills to deliver great results is to have tough conversations when needed – productivity is falling, conflict is interfering with co-worker relationships, not meeting expectations, etc.  When leaders fail to have tough conversations, in the right way, they are allowing a work environment to continue that is counterproductive to producing the best results.

How can you do it? 

  1. Start by establishing common ground.  Start your discussion with common ground.  Make sure that you explain the reason for your conversation and why you are speaking with them now.  Sometimes leaders avoid tough conversations because of the guilt they feel for not having talked with the person sooner.  It’s never too late.  But certainly, you should own that to the other person by leading with an apology for not speaking with them sooner (if that is the case).
  2. Understand the other person’s perspective.  A relationship is two-sided.  People want to be heard so make sure to manage your own feelings and start by taking the sting out of the other person’s defensiveness.  Genuinely share that it is important to you to understand the other’s perspective and that you would like to hear their point of view.  Remember your goal should be to strengthen the relationship with this conversation, not weaken it, if you ultimately want to produce better results.  You also can’t make a good decision if you do not have all of the facts.
  3. Resist the urge for a “dig”.  The person may say things that are false.  They may exaggerate the facts.  But in the middle of this tough leadership conversation is not the time for you to lash out with a come-back or a rebuttal.  Take the heat.  Know that the other’s digs are coming from their defensiveness or hurt feelings and put it in perspective.  You can always come back to this person and talk through the comments, but now’s not the time.  You also can’t possibly be actively listening if you are trying to come up with a come-back.

How have you “set the stage” for a tough conversation that was successful?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management & Intent vs Impact

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

When leaders forget that the business of leading is not “all about us”, then we fail at building the relationships necessary to achieve real results that matter.  Leaders may believe that because of personal competence, they should be the one deciding and everyone should just go along.  Leaders can get so focused on personal success that they micromanage their team and overlook other’s contributions or opinions.  Leaders can also get so focused on personally “winning” that they forget to look for ways to achieve a resolution best for the team.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Leadership is a TEAM SPORT.  A leader is not effective if others are not able or willing to follow the lead.  I truly believe that most of us go to work and want, sincerely, to do the best job we can.  We start off our days with this positive intent.  But somewhere during the day, our focus on “self” gets in the way and the impact of how we make leadership decisions affects the perception of this intent from those we serve.   Effective relationship management requires leaders to spend more time focusing on the IMPACT of our behaviors, as that is what others see, hear and experience.  Certainly, INTENT is important to reconcile within our own minds as a check and balance, but the only true way others can see our intent, is through the behaviors we exhibit.

How can you do it? 

  1. Explain your decisions.  Instead of making a change or decision and expecting others to just have to deal with it, take the time to explain the “why” behind the decision, including your reasoning behind the why, the alternatives you considered, and who will be affected.  If there is time with a decision, present the problem and options and get input from your team on the best option (or options you have not even considered).  In the absence of a clear “why” case and explanation, your team may conclude that your decision was made with a much different intent than you had in mind.
  2. Align intention with impact.  To align the impact of your words/actions with your intent, use your social awareness and self-management strategies to observe the situation and the people involved, think before you speak, and say the appropriate, sensitive response.  If you perceive the response from others is not what you intended, reflect on what happened, what you said/did, what you might have been missing going into that situation and what you could do the next time you are in that situation.  Leadership is a journey…learn from all of its bumps and curves.
  3. Offer a “do over” when needed.  Please know that when we have enough credibility with those we serve to have a “relationship bank account”, we might need a “do over” on occasion when we have a withdrawal.  When you realize that what you intended did NOT have the impact you hoped for, it’s never too late to try to fix it.  To do this sincerely, let go of who is wrong or who started it, apologize and refocus positively on what it will take to resolve the issue.

Have you ever made a leadership decision that had a different impact than what you intended?  How did you handle that situation?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

The two primary reasons leaders may be hesitant to focus on relationship management are time and stress.  Task management (and putting out “fires” associated with those tasks) takes up a significant portion of a leader’s time.  If we don’t watch out, we could allow ourselves to get lost in a spreadsheet or project and not take the time to notice the people around us.  Leading can be extremely stressful, and negotiating conflict and the “people” aspect of work is very difficult.  Relationship management is challenging on a GOOD day, let alone when in an environment of high stress.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Relationship Management is where the magic is.  This happens when leaders bring together the ability to understand and manage their own emotions plus the ability to accurately pick up on the emotions of others to manage interactions successfully.  Relationship management is the connection a leader makes with their colleagues over time, even with those a leader is not fond of on a personal level, to make the most out of every interaction.  Solid relationships are the result of how you as a leader understand people, how you treat them and the common experiences you share.  Solid relationships not only enable an environment through which awesome teamwork can happen, but where individuals in the relationship feel they can contribute and are valued.

How can you do it? 

  1. Be open and interested.  I know…you are thinking “not this touchy-feely stuff”, right?  No group hugs here.  What being “open” suggests is sharing information about yourself – who you are, what makes you tick, what goals you have, etc.  Leading for relationship management means that you must allow others “in” and be maybe a bit more vulnerable than you might wish.  The more those you lead really “know” you, the more they will understand you and hopefully, allow for less misinterpretation of your words and actions.  Then…you have to be curious about getting to know “who” your team members are, their motivations and goals, for all the same reasons.
  2. Acknowledge other person’s feelings.  Lean into your own discomfort a bit here, and acknowledge other people’s feelings where “they are” not where you wish they would be.  Everyone has the right to experience feelings, even if it is not what you wish or how you feel.  You do not have to agree with your colleague, but recognize and respect that their feelings are real to them.  This type of validation will go a long way toward demonstrating that you are genuinely interested in your colleague and toward creating a stronger connection in the relationship.
  3. Show that you care.  An encouraging text.  A small handwritten note.  A Snickers Bar (when you really need it…sorry wellness folks!)  When you know your team and you are connecting with them as a person, take the time to use this knowledge and recognize their special efforts or unique situations with just the right encouragement.  This demonstrates that you care and will really make a difference in the strength of your relationship.

What are some of your barriers to relationship management that you see as impacting your effectiveness?Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Social Awareness and Presence

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

It’s always an excuse…and I have used it myself.  Leadership is just plain BUSY.  We have people to see, places to be and meetings to attend.  Sometimes it is just plain hard to take the time to “be there” for those we serve.  And if we have a “saying no” problem, and we don’t have good control of our calendar, it may not even be possible.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Leadership exists to produce results.  And in leadership you cannot produce those results all by yourself.  You produce those results through the efforts of others.  Being present for those we support is necessary to create the environment in which our team members feel comfortable asking questions, giving input and expressing opinions.  Without this environment, leaders are at risk for a workforce that is disengaged or checked out.  Workforce “presenteeism” is one of the biggest barriers for an organization’s ability to produce results.

How can you do it? 

  1. Clear away the clutter.  To be present for others, we must clear away the clutter in our mind.  This clutter could include “voices in our head” that we listen to while others are trying to communicate to us.  We first should clear our minds of those random thoughts about our grocery lists when others are speaking.  Stop trying to formulate a response in your mind while the person is talking.    Remember that our job in leadership is to listen fully to content, not trying to woo others with our witty answers.  And don’t interrupt the person.  Let them completely finish before replying.
  2. Live in the moment.  We all fall prey to ruminating on what we should have done or said in the past and thinking about what we should say the next time, that we are not mentally present for those we are engaged with.  Practice consciously trying to “be there”, right there in the now.  If you catch yourself drifting to the past or present, snap yourself out of it and focus.
  3. Make sure your data is right.  Even the most socially aware leaders can be off track when it comes to where someone really is in their emotional state.  If you get a sense that something is off or you think you misinterpreted someone’s feelings, just ask.  An example would be to ask “Did something happen to get you down?  You look sad, but I don’t want to assume if there is something else going on.”  That would be better than assuming a potentially wrong emotional reaction.

What are some strategies you use to demonstrate “presence”?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

Emotional Intelligence: Social Awareness and Personalization

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Instead of looking inward, social awareness requires a leader to look outward to learn about and appreciate others.  For some leaders, this skill does not come naturally or easily and therefore avoided.  For others, demonstrating personal appreciation is viewed as a frivolous exercise or “fluff”, when there are so many important tasks to be accomplished.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The reality of it all is that every person wants to feel special.  When leaders can open their awareness, and identify other’s unique feelings and perspectives, they will more likely be able to connect on a level that has the potential to inspire true engagement.  Leaders with a high level of social awareness “get” the members on their team.  They know when to push.  They know when to give space.  Leaders that are not socially aware of those around them often “miss the boat” with their team…and the results will show it over time.

How can you do it? 

  1. Greet people by name.  A human’s name is the special set of sounds they have been identifying with from birth.  Greeting someone by their name is the most basic and influential social awareness strategy a leader can use.  Using someone’s name breaks down barriers, levels “hierarchy” and demonstrates a genuine warmth and connection in a very personal way.  If you are not good with remembering names, please practice some memory techniques before trying this.
  2. Make timing everything.  When dealing with people and their feelings, timing really is everything.  Nothing more will demonstrate that you are not connected than to misalign your actions with the emotional state of your team (i.e. blowing a party horn in celebration when your team member is crying).  In leadership you need to remind yourself that it is not all about you…it’s about others.  Practice your timing of requests.  Pause and observe others around you, allowing your mind time to focus others instead of your “mission”.  Chances are it can wait.
  3. View from another perspective.  When we “walk in someone else’s shoes”, we get a deeper understanding of persons around us, giving us an opportunity to communicate better and identify potential problems before they get out of control.  One simple technique is to ask yourself “If I were <name>, what would I be feeling right now?”  Put away your own beliefs, emotions and feelings…and truly try to put yourself in your colleague’s frame of mind.  Respond to your colleague in the way you have determined based on this process.  You can’t read minds, so this may take a bit of trial and error, but the pay off when you get it right?  Priceless.

Can you describe another technique you use to personalize your interaction or response?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.