We need a new generation of Lean leaders in healthcare. Too many of the current “old guard” don’t understand Lean, or won’t commit to transformational leadership.
I don’t mean that we necessarily need younger people in the C-suites of hospitals and health systems. What we need are people who have the energy and willingness to try something new. We need leaders who not only understand that Lean is first and foremost about “Respect for People”, but who also have the courage to lead change in their organizations.
Why don’t leaders understand Lean? In part, we’ve done a poor job of educating them. After all, these are smart people. They didn’t get into their “Chief” positions without being able to identify and solve problems. Most have good people skills.
On the downside, they often are under intense pressure to fix problems quickly in high stakes situations. They need to rapidly turn things around. Such situations don’t lend themselves to introducing Lean. Not that it can’t work well if done right. In fact, it’s the best option in most cases. But it requires a leap of faith for most leaders to commit to something unfamiliar in the midst of a crisis.
Success with Lean leaders, particularly when change needs to happen fast, requires:
- Full commitment by the top leadership, communicating frequently, in multiple ways, that this is the way we will be doing business.
- Education for everyone in the organization about how Lean works, its basis in Respect for People, and its goal to maximize value for all, not simply to cut waste.
- Redesign of the organization’s management system and culture, empowering those caring for patients, ensuring they have what they need to provide the best care in the best way.
- Relentless pursuit of transformation, doing what it takes to overcome organizational inertia.
How can we develop Lean leaders, who will become bold, to take this approach?
- Go and See: Take them to places where Lean works. Bring their teams with them so they learn together. Like all of us, we benefit when we see for ourselves, learn from our peers, and share the experience with our teammates.
- Coach and mentor: Provide specific guidance early on. Self-discovery is important, but when we need to get to a new destination quickly, providing a detailed map can help avoid a lot of wrong turns and misdirection early in the journey.
- Start with quick wins: Start with an energy boost. Starting with a revenue cycle value stream often provides rapid ROI with relative ease compared to working on inpatient length of stay. Imaging departments are also high potential areas with opportunity to improve throughput by 50% with simple workflow redesign.
- Look for pull: Identify early adopters and start there. Trying to push resistors wastes limited resources early on. People will come along when they see good things happen. Always look for those pulling for help.
- Empower problem solvers: Spread daily management focused on helping caregivers solve their problems quickly. Nothing builds engagement like empowering people to implement their good ideas to make their own lives better.
The pace of change in healthcare is not going to slow down anytime soon. A Lean leader’s ability to align everyone in an organization and empower them to solve problems is a key strategic advantage, because this ability makes an organization better able to adapt to changes in the external environment. And as Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”