Presenting at the Lab Quality Confab


I'm giving a talk this morning at the “Lab Quality Confab,” an event for hospital laboratory leaders. The title of my presentation is “Engaging Employees to Embrace Lean and Energize Their Creativity.”

I think hospitals have a long way to go in fully engaging their employees and team members in continuous process and quality improvement.

Comments I've heard from hospital staff over the past few years include:

“With all of the automation, I feel like a robot.”

This was a 25-year lab veteran who had seen her job “advance” from very manual scientific testing to a role where she “just moved tubes and loaded them into machines.” She felt very detached from the science, just pushing buttons on the new generation of equipment. She felt like a robot, partly because she wasn't being engaged in any workplace improvement.

Ironically, you sometimes hear the complaint that Lean will “turn us into robots” because people are afraid that Standardized Work means we want people to shut off their brains. Not at all! While her routine work had become automated, Lean was an opportunity to start getting engaged in solving problems and making things better in the process.

“I've worked here for six years and this is the first time anyone has asked me what I think about anything.”

This was a comment from a nurse during an initial Lean implementation. It's always sad to hear things like this (even if it might be a bit of an exaggeration, the “first” part). Or maybe it's not.

The Lean methodology and management system gives supervisors, managers, and leaders some powerful ways of engaging staff and employees, creating an environment where everyone is listened to and considered and involved in daily improvement. That's much better than a “check your brain at the door” mindset.

“They want us to check our brain at the door…. don't bring up problems, don't be a troublemaker.”

This is sad to hear whether it's coming from an assembly line worker or a hospital employee. Nobody deserves to be put in a position where they feel like they can't contribute to improvement.

We have to do better. Improving employee satisfaction also leads to better patient care, according to one study (and my intuition). Take care of the people and they'll take care of the patients, don't you think?

What have you done to help engage employees, via Lean, either in a healthcare setting or a factory or someplace else?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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