Working Together Is Success

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn my recent post, “Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”, we explored how UTMB’s vision for the future forms the basis for our goals moving forward, both in the present year and in the years to come. We also affirmed that the key to our success is working together to be the best academic health center. This week, I’d like to talk about why working together as a team, cooperating and forging relationships, is so important to our future.

There is a line in a poem by John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Many of the great things worth doing probably can’t be achieved in isolation, and working together often allows an organization to achieve something that an individual working alone cannot. At UTMB, we want to become the preferred, integrated health care provider in the region for our patients, partners and referring physicians. Simply put, we want to be the best. Therefore, our goals and strategies must also be integrated in as many ways as possible. Through teamwork, we can achieve higher quality outcomes that are more efficient, thoughtful and effective. By doing so, each individual and team at UTMB can garner great support and achieve a great sense of accomplishment.

Success in the modern health care environment is complex and continually presents new challenges. At UTMB, we’ve been progressive in our work and our goals must be ambitious in order to remain competitive and truly become the best. We have a lot on our plates as we take major strides to improve patient satisfaction, patient and family engagement, and the quality of care, all the while lowering costs and improving efficiency. Our resources are limited, and this means we must find ways to team up and streamline our work. As a health care provider, or even as a business, we are not alone in this—today companies, on average, set six times as many performance requirements as they did more than 50 years ago.

However, challenges also present great opportunities for success. The key lies in how we will respond to the challenges. As we strive to develop more efficient processes and new models of care, improve access to our system, and enhance communication with our patients and families (all of which are multifaceted initiatives), we must create an environment in which our providers and staff can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. We must be innovative and adaptive. Our solutions don’t have to be sophisticated or perfect, but they have to create greater value. The solutions must be developed by and integrated among teams who work together and depend on one another.

When people cooperate, they use fewer resources; conversely, when we don’t cooperate we need more time, equipment, systems, teams and resources. Staff must compensate for a lack of cooperation, and often, even safety risks can result. Teamwork involves removing barriers that make us self-sufficient. Sharing resources is a good way to make people more dependent on, and more cooperative with, one another. Without such buffers, our actions have a greater impact on one another’s effectiveness. By creating overlaps, streamlining activities, partnering with our partners and affiliates increases the mutual value of our work.

But teamwork is more complicated than cooperation alone. While cooperation is usually for the sake of a common goal that the entire team is working toward—some measurable outcome, a willingness to cooperate stems from relationships that develop between coworkers and leaders. What are the connections, the interactions, and the synapses? Teamwork cannot exist without relationships, even if the extent of the relationship is minimal. Teamwork does not occur if each person does their own thing separately from their work relationships.

To respond to complexity intelligently, people have to really understand each other’s work: understand how each person on the team contributes to the overall process of accomplishing a goal, the goals and challenges others have to meet, the resources they can draw on, and the constraints under which they operate. People can’t find this kind of information in formal job descriptions; they can learn it only by observing and interacting. Without this shared understanding, people might blame problems on other people, and not where it actually should be, like broken or inefficient processes, for example.

In many cases, understanding what people do by shadowing them will provide insights into where and how cooperation is breaking down. Identify individuals in your work area who are already interacting with multiple stakeholders (patients as well as internal partners). These people can act as integrators, helping the teams obtain from others the cooperation needed to deliver more value.

Finally, bring the best out of one another. Know and recognize the strengths of others in your teams and encourage one another to leverage those strengths. Everyone is empowered to use their judgment and intelligence, and feedback is important so we can all understanding where we are performing well and where improvement is needed. Stay tuned into how your team is performing. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see something that feels unsafe, if you feel concerned, uncomfortable, or think the team should stop and reevaluate a situation. Reward those who cooperate, and don’t fail to ask for help when you need it!

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” —Henry Ford

This entry was based on “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated” by Yves Morieux

Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the belief that we can.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWe are now a couple weeks into the New Year, and I am still in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions. I am going to make a guess we all have at least two things in common: we have made a New Year’s resolution at some point; and we have broken a New Year’s resolution at some point. I know in my past, I’ve let my focus drift off those resolutions, but I also have to remind myself that just as long as it takes to break an old habit, it usually takes time to create a new habit, especially when we are pursuing a big goal. It can be easy to get discouraged when we waiver, yet you can’t rush a good thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

The path to success is full of obstacles. We will undoubtedly stumble as we pursue our goals. In the process, we learn how to confront future challenges. This all has a lot to do with our perspective, doesn’t it? That’s why I thought I would share the message of recorded lecture I recently came across, called “The Secret to Happy Work”, presented by Shawn Achor, an American educator, author and speaker.

Shawn begins by telling a story about a time when he was seven, playing with his younger sister, Amy, on top of their bunk bed. Shawn, in the role as oldest sibling, naturally assumed this meant she had to do everything that he wanted to do—and he wanted to play war. As they played on top of their bunk beds, he lined up all of his G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. On the other side, were all of his sister’s My Little Ponies, ready for a cavalry charge.

Then, somehow during the game, “Without any help or push from her older brother at all,” he claims, “Amy suddenly disappeared off of the top of the bunk bed and landed with a crash on the floor.” As Shawn nervously peered over the side of the bed to see what had befallen his fallen sister, he saw that she had landed painfully on her hands and knees on all fours on the ground.

Now even more acutely aware of his role as the older sibling, Shawn knew he was in trouble. His parents had asked that he make sure they played safely and as quietly as possible. As he looked down at his sister’s face, he saw a wail of pain, suffering and surprise threatening to erupt from her mouth and threatening to wake his sleeping parents. So he did the only thing he could think to do in his frantic state to avert this tragedy: “Amy, Amy, wait. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy, I think this means you’re a unicorn.”

Of course, being a unicorn was an option that was open to her brain at no point in the past. He could see how this had taken her aback, as she nearly forgot her pain while contemplating her new-found identity as a unicorn. Instead of crying, instead of ceasing their play, instead of waking their parents and all the negative consequences that would have ensued for Shawn, a smile spread across her face and she scrambled right back up onto the bunk bed with all the grace of a baby unicorn…with one broken leg.

Shawn identified this as the moment he stumbled upon a concept that some 20 years later would be at the forefront of a scientific study: positive psychology. Today, Shawn has devoted his life to research in the field, and in particular how we can be happier by realizing it’s not necessarily reality that shapes us, but the lens through which our brain views that reality. He says, if you change your lens, you can not only change your happiness, but the outcomes.

To that end, he explains that our society’s most commonly held formulas for success are broken. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. We think, “If I can just find that great job, or win that next promotion, lose those ten pounds, or (fill in the blank), then happiness will follow.”

But Shawn’s extensive research and other recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work.

He believes the three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection, and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat).  If we want to raise happiness, we need to make both mindset and behavior shifts.

This discovery has been supported by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world. Shawn now spends his time teaching, advising and lecturing at top organizations on how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work and create more success, happiness and reward in our lives. What are the five key steps that we can take each day to increase our experience of happiness?

  1. Bring gratitude to mind – Write down three NEW things that you are grateful for each day
  2. Journal – About a positive experience you’ve had recently for 2 minutes once a day
  3. Exercise – Engage in a minimum 15 minutes of mindful cardio activity
  4. Meditate – Watch your breath go in and out for 2 minutes a day
  5. Engage in a random, conscious act of kindness – Write a 2-minute positive email or note thanking a friend or colleague

Do these steps for 21 days, and experts believe you can reprogram your mindset toward being more positive. And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, Shawn believes we can create ripples of positivity. In the end, happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change.  It is the belief that we can.

“Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day…is too dear with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Watch Shawn Achor’s full presentation at TEDxBloomington:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en

Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs we begin 2015, I want to take a moment to wish everyone a healthy, happy and fulfilling New Year. I always enjoy celebrating the New Year, and I embrace the idea of New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s an opportunity to set personal goals that will hopefully make my new year better than the last. Even though I know I can set new goals for myself or create a clean slate at any time, the New Year seems like an ideal time to do so. It’s a time when we can all begin again on our journey to be the best we can be!

A little more than four years ago at UTMB, we were in the midst of rebuilding our campus. In spite of the challenges we faced as we recovered from Hurricane Ike, we knew we could turn our situation into a great opportunity to become something even better than we were before. With this progress, it was time for a new brand identity, one that reflected our spirit of revitalization, forward-thinking and collaboration. We also set an inspiring goal for our future—our organizational vision. As leadership guru Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Our new vision was the “big picture” concept of what we wanted to become: “We work together to work wonders as we define the future of health care and strive to be the best in all of our endeavors.” Our vision was not about being the biggest academic health center or being the best-known academic health center—it was about being the best, and this would not be achieved by one individual or one department alone, nor could this vision come to pass simply because we willed it; it meant we would work together to achieve it.

We then set long-term goals, a strategic plan, that would help us achieve our vision. This is UTMB’s Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future, forming the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area. We are all guided down our path by our core values: compassion, respect, integrity, diversity and lifelong learning. These ideals represent what we want the heart and soul of this organization to be.

From the Road Ahead, the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support derive their “resolutions” each new fiscal year. These are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals that will, in turn, help UTMB achieve its vision for the future. These plans are then passed along to departments and work units, where those teams hone in on ways they can help UTMB be successful.

However, the truth of the matter is that any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success, ensure UTMB will have an outstanding reputation, or assure that we will always provide the very best service. That’s why the real key to UTMB’s success is our people—you are our greatest asset.

Without the individuals and teams who make up this organization, each of whom represents UTMB and helps create our reputation, we could not be successful. Each of you brings value to UTMB and each of you possesses special gifts that, collectively, enable us to care for our patients and their families in extraordinary ways. Therefore, now is a perfect time to celebrate the role each of you has in UTMB’s success!

At a high level, it may not always seem clear how every single individual can directly impact a specific goal that has been identified by the Health System, but there are ways we each can contribute. In fact, making an impact on a day-to-day basis might be easier than one might think! If we simply consider that our business in the Health System is to deliver optimal health care and the very best service, and that our top priority is the patient’s experience and their family’s experience, if we realize that the work we do supports the areas that can directly impact a certain goal, then it might be easier to see how each of us truly adds value to UTMB Health.

Here’s another example. If I were to ask any person how they brought value to their particular organization, their most immediate answer might be that they go to work each day and complete their job responsibilities. While this could be considered an accurate response, adding value means something more—adding value is what makes the organization a great place for customers (in our case, patients) and makes it a great place to work for others. That value may even give the organization an edge in quality over all the other organizations of its kind. After all, quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. (Will Foster)

Along with bringing your amazing skills and outstanding talents to UTMB each day, there are some additional ways we can all make UTMB a very special organization for our patients, their families, and our colleagues. Let’s set a few New Year’s resolutions for 2015 as we think about what the Road Ahead means for each of us at UTMB.

First and foremost, let’s commit to excellence in everything we do. Embrace innovation and lifelong learning, which help us to reach our fullest potential, both personally and in our careers: “Whatever your discipline, become a student of excellence in all things. Take every opportunity to observe people who manifest the qualities of mastery. These models of excellence will inspire you and guide you toward the fulfillment of your highest potential.” (Michael Gelb).

Always put our patients and families first and support patient- and family-focused care. This can include everything from improving patient care processes, making patient (and employee) safety the highest priority, always practicing proper hand hygiene and encouraging others to do the same, escalating and reporting issues of concern, focusing on patient education, and improving patient access to our services by supporting “Just Say Yes” initiatives. Prepare for a successful Joint Commission Accreditation Survey. Help build and support UTMB’s relationships with external partners and referring physicians – this rapport is all part of helping our patients stay healthy and helping them to heal when ill.

Support a positive workplace. Remember to respect, trust and value each other as colleagues. We can all help create a Culture of Trust and respect by positively highlighting when an individual, group or department has displayed their values through their words and actions. People find the greatest satisfaction in their roles when they know that they have provided good service and have truly made a difference.

Encourage others to express their ideas in constructive ways; value the thoughts and opinions of others, even though we may think or feel differently. Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let your team members know you used their idea, or better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement or help implement it. When people know their input is valued and expected, their level of responsibility and commitment will naturally increase. The greatest accomplishments are achieved through teamwork, and people will support what they help to create.

Warmly welcome new members to your team and to the organization. When a new employee joins us, we not only want to help them understand what is expected of them in terms of the job, but also what it means to be part of UTMB Health. Help them understand our mission, vision and values. What are the goals for your area? Help them build relationships within the team and with other teams and departments.

UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Though UTMB is now in the fifth month of its fiscal year, in the spirit of celebration of a new calendar year, it’s a great time to reaffirm all that we hope to achieve by the year’s end and in the years to come. Best wishes in the New Year, and here’s to Working Together to Work Wonders in 2015! 

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” — Abraham Lincoln