Cream of The Crap

This week I was speaking on a panel at The Cleveland Clinic’s Patient Empathy and Innovation Summit – how to build and sustain a culture of service excellence. Quite an important topic in the healthcare industry, where the top performers in patient experience are known as the “cream of the crap,” according to Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of UCLA Health System.

Part of the foundation for building a brandful workforce (one that works FOR the brand, not against it), is first having a product or service that employees are proud of – quite difficult at a hospital where one patient may have, say 25, uncoordinated caregivers on any given visit. While one employee, like a doctor, could be proud of her individual contribution to the service, that does not define the overall service provided to patients. The Cleveland Clinic realized that every single employee, janitors included, was to be called a “caregiver” and deemed part of the patient experience.

But how do you get everyone together and build that culture of service? I wrote in a previous blog about incentives and how I am opposed to rewarding an employee for something they should already be doing.  But more importantly – if they really believe in what they are doing – they don’t need to be incentivized. My experience in Cleveland this week, confirms this. While both UCLA Health System and The Methodist Hospital System indicated that they do incentivize their leaders, The Cleveland Clinic firmly is opposed to this strategy, and was able to achieve desired results without using incentives.

On my panel, I focused on the brandful workforce roadmap that calls for increased employee involvement and ownership in the brand, as a way to build a culture of service. Another speaker, Ananth Raman of Harvard Business School, who also co-wrote an article about the transformation from bottom to top performance of The Cleveland Clinic, spoke about employee empowerment at Toyota. He explained that Toyota installed a rope throughout the factory so that all employees could pull it whenever they saw something wrong. Any issue could be addressed immediately. He believes this had a big impact on the success of the company. As well, I bet it helped instill a sense of pride and ownership in Toyota’s product, within each employee, as any one of them, could be personally responsible for improving the product.

I certainly consider the healthcare leaders to be more than “cream of the crap.” They not only have valuable insights for other industries on how to transform a culture and put patients (or customers) first, they are actually doing what no other industry can claim: saving lives.