4 February 2016

The Drive for Process Improvement Part 1: Making Champions of Believers

Three leaders from the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) – a nonprofit founded by organizations known for progressive business practices and rigorous research: Harvard Business School, The Boston Consulting Group and the Karolinska Institutet – published an article in Harvard Business Review that analyzes the success some healthcare organizations have had in implementing patient outcomes measurement programs. The article lists five steps that should be applied when implementing major change or process improvement within healthcare systems. This blog post is the first in a series of five that critique and nuance each ICHOM step from a Kaizen perspective.

Identifying a Champion

The first imperative outlined by the ICHOM is finding leadership that is invested and enthusiastic about the process change at hand, otherwise known as believers. Although the need for believers in any change is apparent, the benefits that may be derived from capitalizing on a believer’s unique perceptions, passion and leadership qualities are essential to effective transformation of a department and implementation of change. A Kaizen approach demands identification of specific individuals among a group of believers that may be enabled as a champion of the change you are trying to implement.

Champions have specific qualities that optimize the development of process improvement strategies. Any champion must demonstrate a passion for process improvement. Champions frequently take initiative on account of an obvious need for change or an inability to meet departmental goals. An ideal champion has stable, influential networking in their current system.

Developing a Vision

Development of vision is a crucial step in the formation of a champion who will advocate for robust process improvement. Vision may be an inert quality within a champion or it may be necessary for the administrative staff demanding improvement to encourage and develop a strong vision to pursue perfection in departmental functions. In any case, administrative staff must be available to assist a champion in refining vision and ensuring the visibility of the champions approach to process excellence within the department.

The greatest challenges further display the resolve of the strongest champions. Model champions are conditioned by seemingly insurmountable challenges. Ken Colaric, M.D. of Saint Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, Missouri recognized that his Emergency Department used an antiquated model of sequential ED care that prevented patients from seeing ED professionals as they became available. In the course of a three-day Kaizen event, Dr. Colaric championed the development of a streamlined, efficient model of care that reduced average stay times by 30 percent and reduced the “left before being seen” rate by a staggering 88 percent. The vision Dr. Colaric pursued has resulted in Saint Mary’s swift transformation to a model of efficiency.

Team Building

An ideal champion recognizes that individuals are not responsible for the successes and failures of their team. Rather, the success of a system is dependent on the team’s communication and dedication. A team cannot build trust and synergy if it overly scrutinizes its constituents as it attempts to improve departmental functions. Instead, scrutiny must be devoted to the process to determine inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. Champions may thereby mentor members of their team and effectively guide the greater group. Ultimately, an ideal champion elevates and inspires those around them.

The champion and the members of their team thereby gain knowledge of the process through direct observation. As team members begin to understand the dynamic nature of process improvement, they become believers as well. In this manner all team members realize that active engagement by all stakeholders is necessary to implement positive change. Entire teams of believers that recognize the benefits of constructive criticism and the dangers of complacency set themselves apart from their competition.

The secret to a successful team is a champion who does not simply demand discipline, but inspires it as well. Kaizen thought makes it clear that it is not simply enough to find believers to most effectively implement organizational change, rather you must find a champion capable of creating believers.

Final Thoughts

A Kaizen event may be a fixed point in time, but the philosophy is derived from the Japanese word for improvement. As a philosophy, Kaizen demands consistent awareness of the drive toward process improvement. For this purpose, you must encourage transparency, as trust is essential for every hospital team. A simple way to promote awareness and transparency is to place a visualization of progress to a departmental goal in a visible location. Give your team a statistical reason to believe in systemic improvement. It is possible to implement substantive Kaizen change through simple actions within your department.