by Mike Monahan, RN, MEd
Part Five: Making Your Unit Unique
In Part Four of this series, we explained the importance of treating staff differently. In this fifth and final article of the series, we explore three reasons why unique units outperform others, along with ideas for how to make your unit unique in today’s multi-shift environment.
Studer, Transformational Care, Lean, Baldrige, “Best Places to Work” – What do these all have in common? They are all ways to not only improve your outcomes but also make your unit or organization “unique”. Unique simply means that a unit is doing something different, trying harder, or challenging the status quo and impacting performance.
Between problematic turnover, low staff engagement, and difficult work that is often underappreciated, achieving top performance at the unit level is tough. Yet, there are a few units in almost every hospital that outperform the others. This is confounding since these units look the same on the surface; comparable workloads, equally treated staff, and an organizational culture that impacts all the units equally. However, upon closer examination, it’s clear that these higher performing units have a positive uniqueness arising from:
- Implementing a diligent improvement process that stretches the expectations for staff in their work performance, level of collaboration, and outcomes. Literature and professional association presentations are full of examples where workgroups that attempt to receive some kind of award or recognition are better off for the effort, regardless of their ultimate success in “winning”. The effort is the key. Units that try to get better through this process often find unique improvements in performance indicators related to financial, quality, people, and many others.
- Building a sense of obligation and pride in being a member of the staff in the unit. Staff present during off shifts or those with less than full FTE status need to be included in special projects, improvement efforts, and all unit-based activities. Treat a 24/7 clinical unit as a virtual team with new and special requirements for leadership and communication.
- Creating a visual means of identifying the uniqueness of members of the unit. T-shirts, badges, and patches are like uniforms and trophies for sports teams – drivers of pride in past accomplishments and incentives for future enhancements. Staff members that feel a sense of pride in belonging will work harder to keep that uniqueness meaningful.
Virtual, or multi-shift teams are becoming de rigueur in today’s borderless economy. The latest research shows that team members separated chronologically have the same issues as those separated geographically. Enhancing performance skills are not simply different from those needed for running geographic and chronological co-located teams; they are often the exact opposite.
- You must communicate differently.
The utmost key to multi-shift team leading is, without doubt, communication. But when we communicate virtually, we often become less influential. Bulletin boards and notes will not carry the message with the emphasis and passion in-person interactions do. Rounding, Skype, sending video clip messages, and budgeting for periodic in-person meetings will carry more weight in multi-shift communications.
- You must lead differently.
While one-shift teams often benefit most from a leader who acts as a facilitator, virtual teams need a manager who provides clearly-defined direction and removes all ambiguity from the process. When a team works together on the same shift, you can have loose job descriptions, possibly even with two people sharing elements of the same role. In multi-shift teams, however, this just doesn’t work. Team leaders have to formalize roles and responsibilities – starting with their own.
- You must build trust differently.
Trust takes on a whole new meaning in multi-shift teams. When you meet your workmates by the front desk or nurse’s station everyday, you know instinctively whom you can and cannot trust. In a multi-shift team, trust is measured almost exclusively in terms of reliability. Leaders of multi-shift teams need to concentrate on creating highly-defined processes where team members deliver specific results in a repeated sequence. Reliability and trust are only established after repeated cycles of trustworthy performance.
Today’s healthcare leaders do not need to wait for system or organization-wide programs to enhance performance in their units. Make your unit unique in terms of efforts, and leadership and results will follow.