Recognizing Team Accomplishments, Sharing a Vision

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I came across a posting of monthly clinic stats for the PCP Pediatrics Clinic developed by Practice Manager Ashley Dusek. The creative style she used to help inform her team of the most recent numbers for completed patient appointments really stood out to me. She did much more than simply reveal the data—she helped her team understand why the work they did during the month of February mattered to the 1,421 patients they served.

The post began, “Total Number of Completed Appointments 1,421. Why do I care you ask?” The communication continued:

“Because of you…1,421 patients were reassured their vitals were stable and that their lab work, which you drew, would be processed in a timely manner.

Because of you…1,421 patients were able to receive specialty care, immunizations, or just a simple reassurance by having their medical questions answered.

Because of you…1,421 patients were examined and given the right medications to make it all better!

Because of you…8,943 patient phone calls were answered. They were able to make appointments, ask questions, get test results, get prescription refills and know that we were there to answer and help with whatever they needed.

If you got to the end of this and you still believe you are too small to make a difference, Try sleeping with a mosquito!”

Ashley acknowledged the work her team had accomplished and also recognized that their efforts had positively impacted the patients’ experiences.

When I speak with individuals across the institution, whether their role is in direct patient care or they work behind the scenes, it is clear to me that as an organization, we believe we are ultimately here to serve our patients and their families. We find the greatest satisfaction in our roles when we know that we have provided good service to them and that we have truly made a difference.

Several months ago, when Sharon Johnson, a senior radiation therapist at UTMB, was asked how she felt she impacted the patient experience, her response wasn’t made in reference to the tasks she performs daily to deliver patient therapy alone. Instead, she answered, “I just try to be who they need me to be at that moment. Sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on, sometimes they need a sister or a mother figure, sometimes it’s just a friend to hold their hand. I give a little piece of myself to the patients and I gain so much in return.”

While we all do what we do at UTMB because we receive the intrinsic reward of helping our patients and families, it also feels good to receive direct feedback that affirms we have made a difference. When our patients are satisfied, we feel satisfied with our performance. However, it can sometimes seem that we more frequently receive feedback about the areas in which we have yet to improve, and perhaps less frequently that our names are called out in a moving patient testimonial that so eloquently describes the true impact that we have made.

That is why, as team leaders, we must be supportive of the work our teams do. It is not always just about celebrating the major milestones; it is also about celebrating the small successes we have made along the way. When we feel good about what we do, we also develop a desire to continue that success—we have a sense of pride and ownership. Therefore, even when we do identify areas needing improvement, we must take care that we are constructive in our approach to both delivering and receiving the message. We want to emphasize fixing our processes, not assigning blame—that is a Culture of Trust.

Much of the work we do in health care today takes place under an umbrella of a changing health care environment. While this change is sometimes difficult, many of the best components of these changes are embedded in improving the quality and efficiency of care as well as the experience of the patient. It will take teamwork to be successful, and this means we are all involved, at all levels of the organization. This is a positive process! It’s important that we share information, celebrate accomplishments and provide timely, consistent and authentic feedback. Our focus of discussion is on how we can build on strengths and past positive experiences. We must do more than identify what is already working well; we need to identify what else can be done to enhance this work.

Tom Morris, author of If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business, explains that while the pace of change may be at an all-time high, the challenge of change has always been with us. Change is the condition for positive, creative growth. At UTMB, we must stand firm in our values of compassion, integrity, respect, diversity and lifelong learning. We share in the vision of the road ahead, and we will work together to achieve it. We are here to work together to work wonders for our patients and their families!

If you would like to recognize an accomplishment or creative solution, please share with it us! Email us at health.system@utmb.edu

Any road will take you there if you don’t know where you’re going.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne winter as a college student in the Midwest, I embarked on a 30-minute trek along a limited access interstate during a snow storm. I was on my way to the airport to catch a plane home for the holidays. I was only about ten miles into my journey when the snow began to fall heavier and heavier. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a full-blown blizzard. Driving about 10 miles per hour at most, I could barely see the edges of the road and I could no longer gauge my progress by simply looking at the road ahead of me.

As I slowly moved along the interstate, I began to notice cars and trucks had slid off the road into adjacent ditches. Meanwhile, other drivers had wisely pulled off to the side of the road under the overpasses. Yet, I continued. Soon, I came up behind an 18-wheeler that seemed to know where he was going. Rather than stopping to wait out the storm, I began driving behind him. After all, I had a plane to catch!

When I finally reached the Kansas City airport, I sighed in relief that I had safely (and now, I must admit foolishly) arrived at my destination only to discover that, of course, all flights had been canceled. I spent the next two days in the airport trying to get home.

Reflecting on this event from my past made me realize how important it is to be able clearly see where one is headed. I thought about how easy it was to drive the interstate when there were no obstacles and the weather was nice and clear. From memory, I could drive that road to get where I wanted; I didn’t need a guide. However, during the snow storm there was no definition to the road and no clarity about where I was going. It was an unnerving feeling and reminded me of a saying my dad always used: “Any road will take you there if you don’t know where you’re going.” This made me think a lot about the importance of a plan.

Knowing where you’re headed is important when you’re traveling from one destination to another. It’s also important for a large organization to understand where it’s headed as it strives to fulfill its mission. At UTMB, our road map is The Road Ahead, a document that succinctly articulates our mission and vision with clearly stated goals of what we need to do in order to be successful in all of our endeavors.

roadaheadAs we embark on a New Year, let’s revisit The Road Ahead so that we all know where we are headed as an organization. As we review the goals we have set for ourselves, let’s each think about how, through the work we do each day,  we individually contribute  to UTMB’s success in achieving its mission to improve health for the people of Texas and around the world.

Similar to the parable  of the three stonecutters included in the message, “What we really do for a living…” it is not merely the tasks that we do, but rather how our work helps to advance patient care, health sciences education and research. Let’s all set a goal to be able to quickly describe how our work helps UTMB succeed as we continue on The Road Ahead.

I once heard a funny story that said we should not be pleased to win the “Christopher Columbus Award”, because it implies we don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know when we have reached our destination, and when we get home, we don’t know where we have been. Fortunately, UTMB won’t win that award because we have The Road Ahead, our guide to a successful future!

New Year’s Resolutions

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemEach New Year presents new opportunities—opportunities to learn new things, to focus on what we hope to achieve in the future and to treat one another and ourselves better. As we bring one year to a close and embark on a new stage in our journey, it is important for each of us at UTMB Health to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make, set our sights on what we’d like to achieve in the next 12 months and resolve to follow through on those changes.

On an individual level, we can choose what we want for ourselves in the New Year; on an organizational level, we share in many of our goals, and we are guided by core values that help to define our culture. As an academic medical center, faculty members, health care providers, staff and students all share in the responsibility of caring for our patients and improving health in the communities we serve. Sharing a common vision keeps everyone moving forward. Teamwork and collaboration are the very basis for the great accomplishments that we will achieve.

If we resolve to place the patient at the center of everything we do and to abide by our core values in all of our endeavors, we will meet with success in not only achieving our goals, but ultimately by providing the best care for our patients and their families. We’ll also go a long way toward creating a safe and positive work environment for everyone at UTMB.

So let us begin 2014 by reaffirming the values which serve as the cornerstone of UTMB’s reputation as a leading academic health center and an institution deserving of the trust that our patients and their families place in us:

We demonstrate compassion for all. The letters I receive daily from our patients reflect that compassion is alive and well at UTMB. Caring for others is why we are here! In 2014, may we always maintain an awareness of others and consider what life may be like after walking a mile in their shoes. Many of you may have seen the video “What if you could read their thoughts?” in which Cleveland Clinic explores what empathy really means and explores how our interactions with others would change if we knew what they were feeling and thinking. In a hospital, empathy underpins human relationships, and I encourage you to view the video if you haven’t already.

We always act with integrity. Everyone plays a part in creating a safe and reliable care environment. Each of us holds ourselves accountable and each of us expects one another to do the same. As the saying goes, “Character is who you are in the dark.”  When no one’s looking, we are the ones to whom we answer. Having integrity means we believe in what we do and why we do it, and essentially, we trust one another to do the right thing. Moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. They trust us to be honest, qualified, knowledgeable and to not only have one another’s best interests at heart, but to especially have at heart what is in their best interest.

We show respect to everyone we meet. It is widely acknowledged that there are different kinds of respect. Respect can be defined simply as a behavior or it can be defined as an attitude or feeling. However, respect is always directed toward, paid to, felt about, or shown for another person. We can show respect to others by valuing and appreciating them as unique individuals and when in the work environment, also treating them as esteemed colleagues. We show respect by listening and engaging during discussions and meetings. We value the thoughts and opinions of others, even when we may think or feel differently. Finally, we regard one another not merely as a means to serve a purpose, but as valuable human beings. Therefore, we should all work in partnership with one another because we are all here at UTMB, in whatever our role, to serve a single purpose: to provide the best service and safest possible care for our patient and their families.

We embrace diversity to best serve a global community. The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences, including dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other the best we can and moving forward in our encounters with respect of those differences, including how we communicate, educate and provide patient care. We should embrace and celebrate the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

We promote excellence and innovation through lifelong learning.  Through innovation and by exploring new solutions, we not only gain knowledge, but we are also then able to contribute to the greater body of knowledge. Lifelong learning makes us successful, no matter what our definition of success may be. We grow as a person through learning and when one masters a subject through continuous learning, it brings satisfaction. Lifelong learning enables us to be confident, competent, and knowledgeable; it increases productivity and makes us better leaders.

I’ve said it before, but I am proud to be part of an organization like UTMB and to work alongside each of you. Everyone is doing a truly remarkable job, both by helping one another and going the extra mile to serve our patients and families. So this year, let’s embrace the values of compassion, integrity diversity, respect and lifelong learning and embark on the beginning of a very successful 2014!

Be sure to share the great achievements you and your teams accomplish along the way!

What we really do for a living…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System

How often do people ask you what you do for a living? I am often asked this question, and I simply respond by telling people that I manage health systems. However, I recently found an anonymous parable on the internet that caused me to rethink my answer.

The parable tells of three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on chiseling while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

As I began to reflect on what I truly do for a living, I thought about the work that we all do at UTMB. While our work allows us to receive paychecks to support ourselves, and in some instances our families, that is not what we really do. While paychecks are essential, they are really the result of doing our work.

While we all agree that we want to do the best job we can possibly do to care for our patients, and we all work to assure that our physicians, nurses and others have what they need to provide optimal patient care, it really is not what we do. Doing the best job possible is an essential element of what we do, and we all should strive every day to do our best at work, but it still is not the answer to the question.

For our health care teams, the work that they do assures that, when possible, healing occurs; however, when this is not possible, their work is to make the patient’s quality of life as comfortable as possible. We are in the business of caring for people (our patients and their families), and that has many dimensions—from healing, to teaching others how to lead healthier lives, to helping provide appropriate care and compassion when there is no cure—that is the work that we do.

Although I never provide direct patient care, I can make a difference in patients’ lives by trying to make the systems of care more efficient, by managing our financial resources well enough to assure that we have what we need to take the best possible care of patients, and by working together with our clinical chairs and physicians, the deans, nurses and our staff to assure that we offer state-of-the-art systems, facilities and equipment in which they can accomplish their best work.

So now when I am asked what I do, I plan to say that my job is to create safe and effective systems for patients to receive the best care possible. In the future, how will you answer the same question?

Achieving a Culture of Trust

by Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, Health System

Donna_Sollenberger I presented a “Culture of Trust” message at the President’s Strategic Executive Council meeting earlier this month, and during my presentation, it occurred to me that I should talk about the message in this week’s Friday Flash Report. As I hear more and more people talking about what it takes to have a Culture of Trust, I feel that we are making progress toward achieving it. Yet, I also wonder whether we all truly understand how our actions can affect our success toward this goal.

We have just finished that time of year when, as managers, we wrote and shared performance evaluations with employees and when, as employees, we received the evaluations. This can be a time-consuming process. However, one of the basic principles of a Culture of Trust is that each employee understands the goals and objectives that he or she is supposed to achieve in the coming year. After all, the better an employee understands his/her job, the better the whole organization will perform.

So, rather than dread the time when we conduct employee evaluations, we should look forward to it, because it is a chance to reflect on our accomplishments of the past year and to celebrate with our teams. It also gives us an opportunity to look at what we did not accomplish and to discuss why we may not have been successful, so we can address it. Most importantly, it allows us the chance to talk together—supervisor and employee—about what we need to accomplish in the coming year and how each employee can contribute to the organization’s success.

Here’s an example of a goal that we all share in the Health System this year: eliminating preventable complications by 2018 (including infections). One of the easiest ways we can achieve this is to wash or gel our hands each time we enter and exit a patient room or care area. Physicians, nurses, health professionals, patient care technicians and medical assistants all understand how they play a role in this because they deliver direct patient care, but how do individuals in roles such as maintenance, I.T. and environmental services impact infection control?

The answer is simple: anyone who enters a patient room or a patient care area can affect the patient’s outcome. We all can carry germs on our hands that we could potentially pass to a patient, whether or not we are directly delivering patient care. Therefore, everyone should wash or gel their hands every single time they enter a patient care area or room.

I have learned from experience that even though practicing proper hand hygiene every time sounds simple, it is not! I must always keep it at the top of my mind. I have the pleasure of visiting our patients in the inpatient units and the emergency department. I enter rooms. But the other day, as I was talking to a patient, I was mortified by the realization that I had walked into the room and had forgotten to gel in! We must all hold ourselves accountable for following this important initiative and we should all feel empowered to remind one another to practice proper hand hygiene when someone has forgotten. I wish someone had reminded me!

This week, I’d like you to think about your role. What can you do to prevent complications and infections? I would love to hear from you, particularly those of you who do not work in direct patient care areas. Send me your ideas to health.system@utmb.edu so I can share some of your thoughts on this in the future!