Chronic Operational Issues Getting You Down? Get Creative!

By: Betsy Finkelmeier, RN, MBA

[box]”Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” – George Kneller[/box]

Every organization has them – those chronic operational issues that plague advancement of our marketing, referral development and physician recruitment agendas. These challenges to growth are widespread in today’s large and complex healthcare systems. Whether it is fragmented communication among clinicians, barriers to patient access, or delays in organizational decision making – the same operational issues all too often persist year after year and continue to undermine the organization’s strategic goals. Some issues seem so intractable, so complex and so multilayered, that we all too often develop familiar scripts about why the problem cannot be resolved until it truly seems unsolvable. The issue then becomes institutionalized as “normal” and embedded as part of the organizational culture. Instead of taking on the issue, it becomes easier to excuse it to ourselves and our customers as an unavoidable feature that is compensated for by the organization’s many positive qualities.

The reality, however, is that these chronic operational problems — while persistent and challenging – can be overcome. Healthcare organizations, along with their clinicians, operational leaders and business processes are continually evolving. Why not organize a fresh team of stakeholders to undertake an innovative and focused process improvement project? With leadership commitment and a creative approach, 2016 could be the year to align the people and processes to achieve and sustain improvement.

Just how does one introduce new perspective to a deeply embedded issue?  Start by considering the problem through a different lens. Find some focused time to delineate various dimensions of the issue. Analyze your own expectations and opinions. Ask yourself if you’ve been lulled into believing that the problem cannot really be solved. Then, imagine you are viewing the issue through a kaleidoscope, twisting the cylinder to look at the components from various stakeholder perspectives. Challenge yourself to think as if you have been hired by the organization as an external expert. That is, try to peel back all the assumptions you have formed. Carve out components that can be impacted, solicit leadership support, and identify key stakeholders who need to be involved in the work to resolve the problem.

Gaining perspective from outside the organization may be critical to helping your team adopt new ways of thinking about the problem. Consider bringing in an external consultant who can lead the improvement process, provide focused expertise and share perspectives about how other organizations have solved similar challenges. An internal consultant can also be of great support. Many organizations have process improvement leaders who are highly skilled in navigating interdepartmental biases and facilitating needed change.

Taking on that chronic operational challenge will no doubt require leadership commitment, interdepartmental teamwork and focused effort. Most importantly, it will necessitate “rearranging what we know in order to find out what we don’t know.” Think creatively and propose a new solution.  This could be the year you rid the organization of that longstanding organizational albatross!