quality control

It’s been 40 years since the principles of Lean and Six Sigma started to be applied and since that time organizations have been aligning themselves and their processes with a Lean methodology to various degrees of success.

As Process Improvement has gained attention in healthcare as a need and new way to define gaps in performance, hospitals and health systems have provided their fair share of great success stories alongside an equal number of implementations that fell flat.

One of the weaknesses we identify regularly within Lab Operations is the concept of being “finished” with Process Improvement.  A “been there, done that” attitude brings a quick close to questions around necessary change. The key to navigating such terrain as a leader is in adopting a process improvement mindset and modeling it for your team.

Speaking with Winfield Clark, a Lean Six-Sigma Black Belt and Process Improvement expert, he laid out four critical factors and the language to model to bring a positive Process Improvement mindset to your lab.

Bring awareness and attention to what is working and what’s not.
One of the most critical factors when leading a lab in a time of change is recognizing what does not need to change (what’s working very well) and being clear on what does need improvement (what’s not working).When we hear leaders using language like “help me understand how you found this opportunity and what it will take to reach this goal….” we know we’re working with adaptable and committed leaders. Bringing awareness to what has brought successful outcomes to bare is critical in repeating that success in new areas of process improvement.

Hold accountability.
Of all the mindset shifts this is the most difficult and the most critical. Holding the tension of accountability as a leader is integral. We see this most in moments of resistance to the necessary change. We hear the best leaders say things like “I understand your resistance to this change, but we have to own it. I’d like to understand why and identify how we can work together.”

This creates an opportunity for dialog while still holding steady on the need for the change. The invitation to see the problem from a position of a solver and not opposition is necessary for success. Leaders with a process improvement mindset bring that invitation to the people on their team.

Withstand natural attrition.
Attrition rates in hospitals are reported to range from 6%-27%, far higher than other industries that range from 5%-12%. In a cycle of change it’s easy to see attrition as an indicator of unsuccessful process improvement initiatives when in reality it may simply be natural attrition.

Leading exit interviews is helpful to discover what role the Process Improvement played in their decision to leave the organization. Anecdotally, we find that upon learning of changes there’s a propensity for staff to look for a new job.

Solving problems with great respect to the needs of the people.
There’s a learned response to change; resist. In a Process Improvement mindset, we’re looking to shift from resist to improve. The most impactful way to address the instinct to resist is to prepare.

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

When leaders come together and say things like “What type of reaction should we expect?” and then take the next step in that line of thinking to “How do we respond most effectively?” The best leaders prepare by communicating the change, listening to their people, showing them respect and giving them ownership. This is critical to successful change implementation.

In preparing for different reactions and outcomes and having a planned and measured response for both, we’re showcasing the benefit of the change by shifting the focus from the change to the improvement.  This shift is where the entire team joins the leader in their Process Improvement mindset and success becomes the new normal.For more on Winfield and the Process Improvement practices deployed by his current organization, in partnership with hospitals and systems across the U.S. click here.

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