I ran across an interesting article in the Business Section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week. From, Habitual Excellence: The Workplace According to Paul O’Neill (former CEO of Alcoa), published in the Post Gazette on March 13, 2012:
Mr. O’Neill made safety at Alcoa a priority and he drove lost work days to .125 per 100 workers. His leadership principles are highlighted in “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Live and Business” by Charles Duhigg. The author argues that much of our lives are ruled by unconscious habits, and that by becoming aware of these we can improve our practices.
Mr. O’Neill: “Every company . . . says somewhere in its annual report, ‘People are our most important resource,’ but in my observation from all the places I had worked there was no evidence it was true.” Now, O’Neill focuses his attention on improving safety for workers and patients in healthcare.
One major problem with patient safety initiatives in American hospitals, he said, is that "they are projects; they are not efforts to create an organizational culture. Most projects will create incredible results for a short period of time, but there's a wasting away back toward normal because the changes don't belong to the culture, they belong to a project."
Also from the article:
[Harvard surgeon and healthcare reform advocate Atul Gawande] has led efforts by the World Health Organization to reduce surgical mistakes by adopting standardized checklists before and during operations. Even though use of the checklists cut complications by 35 percent and deaths by 47 percent, he said, there has been strong resistance by many hospitals to adopting the new approach, "because using a checklist forces us to have a different value system, like humility, discipline, teamwork... This is the opposite of what we were built on - independence, autonomy, self-sufficiency."
"We've come to a place," Dr. Gawande concluded, "where we have no choice but to recognize that complexity requires group success; we all need to be pit crews now."
Mr. O’Neill is critical of healthcare leadership. “I would argue that in an awful lot of hospitals . . . there is nothing I would call leadership.” “
What can we learn?
- Hospitals need to do more than pay lip service to the idea that their workforce it their most valuable asset.
- Improving patient and worker safety is more about diligence and focus, and understanding individual traits and behaviors than about some “flavor of the month” program.
- The changes we need (like checklists) will never be successful if we don’t identify and develop the behaviors that make adoption and 100% implementation, possible.
- We need to bring more diligence to the process of selecting and developing leaders. Healthcare hiring still seems to be a decade behind other industries in this regard.
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