Do something different

Source: NHE May/Jun 17

Jill DeBene, chief executive of Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM), considers what workforce optimisation really means and the importance of doing things differently.

We know that effective, values-driven management, with a strong culture of learning, is what delivers high-quality care. But do we fully understand optimisation? A typical definition is ‘make the best or most effective use of a situation or resource’. If everything is optimised, then there is no need for change. However, if there is room for ‘optimisation’ then something needs to change. Either the system, the teams or the individuals involved, but the common thread is that the workforce (whatever the definition) needs to do something different.    

As Einstein reasoned, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results. 

So, what are we trying to optimise? 

Efficiency? Workforce wellbeing? Patient wellbeing? Patient experience? It is more than likely a combination of all these, but we need to be clear what combinations are optimal, i.e. what changes will achieve a win:win; for instance, when we improve workforce wellbeing by X, we see patient satisfaction increase by Y and costs due to absenteeism/staff turnover reduce by Z.  

Change is difficult 

We are all habit machines. The brain is wired to save energy and operate on autopilot; to repeat actions whether they are good or bad for us. Over the years, we have spent huge amounts on awareness raising, on training and on disseminating information. We’ve done this because we have assumed that a change of thinking transfers to a change of doing. It rarely does. Habits mostly prevent a change of thinking becoming a change of doing. So how do we become less habitual? 

Flextraverts optimise 

Flextraverts have a large range of behaviours in their toolkit (known as high levels of behavioural flexibility). In any given situation, they can choose to behave assertively or unassertively, to take risks or play it safe, to trust a person or to be wary of them and so on. They have the ability to optimise results for them and the people around them. Among many things, their wellbeing is higher and they are less stressed. If a person doesn’t have options they can’t optimise. So, how do you help people develop options and expand their behavioural flexibility? 

Helping people create options 

The way to help people become more conscious of, and ultimately change, their habits is to help them take small steps that are momentarily out of their comfort zone (their comfort zone expands as they step). People need help to start with, and employers need to understand that this is a process that focuses on helping people do anything different. When people do something different once, they’re significantly more likely to do something different again. The more people do something differently the less habitual they become, the better off they are personally and the more they help change systems and influence teams. 

At IHM we are working closely with Professor Karen Pine and ‘Do Something Different’ to ensure that our members are aware of their default behaviours and help them understand how to take steps to flip the script and do something different. We believe managers are more powerful when they know when to talk and when to listen. They are more tolerant of difference when they follow a ‘flextrovert’ approach. Our members have the opportunity of following six programmes that help them achieve this. 

Paraphrasing what Robin Williams said in the film Dead Poets Society, we all have the opportunity to stand on our desks to remind ourselves to see things differently.



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