The power of focus – keep your eyes on the prize

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemJimmy Johnson is an American football broadcaster and former player, coach and executive. His coaching career was incredible. He was the first and one of only three football coaches to lead teams to both a major college football championship and a Super Bowl. He is also one of only six men in NFL history to coach consecutive Super Bowl winners (for inquiring minds, the others included Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Mike Shanahan, and Bill Belichick).

In Johnson’s first year as coach of the Dallas Cowboys (1989), the team had a terrible season. Johnson, however, did not take long to develop the Cowboys into a championship-quality team. Once, before a game they needed to win to keep their season alive, he told the Cowboys a motivational story:

“I told them that if I laid a two-by four plank across the room, everybody there would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be that we were going to walk that two-by-four. But if I put that same two-by-four plank 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it, because the focus would be on failing. Focus is everything. The team that is more focused today is the team that will win this game.”

Johnson told his team not to be distracted by the crowd, the media, or the possibility of losing, but to focus on each play of the game itself, just as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game, 52-17.

Last week in my post, I talked about how, when we began the Best Care initiative, many people expressed to me that our goals for Best Care were too far of a stretch and it would be a highly unlikely feat. Yet, after I reviewed the second-quarter results of Best Care, I feel as confident as ever that if we maintain our focus, we will be successful. So far, we have really improved in almost all areas. It is true, we slipped slightly in our 30-day readmissions goal at the close of the second quarter, but our six-month overall performance still meets the goal. We just need a lot of focus in this area as we head into the third quarter. We also saw a spike in our second major safety measure, the Central Line-Associated Blood Stream Infection (CLABSI) Standardized Infection Ratio (SRI). While the reasons for this spike are partially due to surveillance definitions that affect all measured organizations, we have implemented improvement processes where appropriate, and we expect to improve in the next quarter for this goal, also.

Overall, when I look at our performance for the first two quarters, I see we are trending in the right direction. This made me think about how “overnight success” is a myth. Success is a journey that sometimes comes with setbacks and adversity. Most successful people throughout history dedicated years to learning and perfecting their craft, during which they experienced disappointment, reinvention and, finally, success. Most experienced periods of trial and error. The one thing successful people (and organizations) have in common is that they know in order to accomplish their goals and to be successful, staying focused is critical.

I think when you’re working as hard on something as we have been toward Best Care, when there is any area in which one’s performance isn’t quite as good as one had hoped, there is a naturally tendency to get stuck on the negative and think about all of the losses for the day. But, it is important to also count all of one’s wins and find all of the good that took place. We should be very proud of the progress we have made.

Best Care is a journey, and we are learning as we go. It takes time to make some of the improvements we need. For example, common causes for readmissions nationally involve medications—sometimes patients are on high-risk medications like anticoagulants (blood thinners) or are on a high number of medications (polypharmacy). We will now have a pharmacist on board who will be dedicated to helping us with these issues so our patients are not readmitted. We also will continue looking for ways to find resources for our patients once they are discharged from the hospital. And, we will continue working on our processes to assure our patients have follow-up clinic appointments once they are discharged from the hospital.

I shared a parable once several years ago that tells of three stone cutters 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 stone-cutting in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

Are we all truly focused on Best Care—our cathedral of sorts?

Working on Best Care is our long-range goal. It will require focus, determination and exceptional teamwork. There will be times when we may feel like quitting, but that is absolutely the time we need to strengthen our resolve and remember why we started this work—for our patients to receive Best Care, every time and in every interaction.

We are halfway through the fiscal year, and we have made tremendous progress. If we stay focused on doing what’s right for our patients, I am confident we will achieve our goals by the end of August. Thank you for everything you are doing to assure that we achieve Best Care!