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Positive Change Opportunities for Trying Times

By: Nicholas Schmitz, PMP, LSSBB

April 1, 2020

We are all having unprecedented experiences here in the US. You and your departments are undoubtedly operating in circumstances that were never expected. Knowing the fine professionals you all are, I know you’re doing everything you can to help. Excelling in a time of adversity is another service you’re offering.

If nothing else, these trying times are challenging everyone’s assumptions and habits, so let’s take advantage of that in a most positive way. Now is, believe it or not, an excellent time to make changes. Let’s use this time to be proactive and make changes that we’ve already been wanting, but just hadn’t had the opportunity to tackle.

Healthcare certainly isn’t the only business facing strife. Businesses throughout the world are suddenly challenged with needing to serve their customers in new ways. Imagine being a restaurant that can no longer allow customers to come inside! How these companies react and adapt will likely determine whether they survive the current situation. McDonald's, in particular, is giving a great blueprint for organizations to follow at this time. Quick context: In a recent national webcast to McDonald's restaurant operators, the company announced it will phase out its all-day breakfast menu, at least temporarily.

Here's what we can all take away from that decision and how a similar approach might be applied to any business that’s facing trying times (including healthcare):

1. Simplify your production

This is the most obvious rationale behind the McDonalds decision: as Crain's Chicago Business put it, it’s a chance to "streamline kitchen operations during the outbreak." Doing away with all-day breakfast means increased efficiency at the drive-thru, too, with many states banning sit-down means during the pandemic.

If you're thinking of ways to streamline your operations, ask whether there are things you’ve historically done that take up more than their share of resources. Those might be the things to target first. Think of task pain points that, if eliminated, would not negatively impact the quality of your instruments and might, in fact, improve customer service and quality, and help you better meet the needs of your customers now.

2. Streamline distribution

Fewer choices should mean a faster customer experience, as long as McDonald's is confident that it won't destroy its sales in the process.

While you don’t have the same sales concerns, the streamlined distribution is directly relatable and should be a part of your thought process as well. Can you eliminate some decisions for your staff to allow them to focus their time, effort and energy to more important/essential tasks? During this time, you’re likely being asked to do things that have never been asked before. With that added complexity, ask yourself: is there an opportunity to simplify elsewhere, without impacting quality (or, ideally, while enhancing the department’s service in other areas)?

3. Reinforce customer habits

This is a forward-thinking consideration. Someday (and thankfully), our current troubles will pass. By streamlining things now, you’ll be better positioned to keep serving your customers and retaining (or building) a good relationship.

Within the hospital context, this may be an excellent opportunity to present and receive acceptance of changes from your partners (departmental teammates and customers). Are there things your department does that you wish you didn't have to – or is there a better way to do it? This might be an opportunity to reflect on those aspects and, perhaps, even curtail some duties that aren’t serving the department or its customers well.

4. Readjust things that aren't working

Nobody ever says this outright, but I've wondered whether breakfast-all-day was a customer perk McDonald's wished it could take back. It was great marketing, but the analyses I've seen make me wonder if it made good sense in the long run. If so, the coronavirus outbreak gave McDonald's the opportunity, if not the excuse, to pull back.

Ask yourself: What simple things can you ask (perhaps to the Operating Room) to be done that would simplify and improve operations in Sterile Processing? Undoubtedly, there are some things you’ve probably discussed previously that never came to fruition. Why not take the opportunity to raise those issues again now? We’re all having to make changes to ensure the safe delivery of care. Since everyone is already changing and, in some cases, operating outside of comfort zones, resistance could very well be lessened.

5. Control the timing

Finally, it's worth pointing out that while McDonald's announced this change to its operators, and at least one of them leaked the decision to Crain's Chicago Business, I saw nothing to suggest that McDonald's planned to announce this change publicly.

Now is a time where many people are expecting and accepting change. As long as a change is not going to impact quality or safety, I believe it’s a great time to be brave and seek ways to instill positive change. Take this opportunity to set your department up for success today as well as in the future. It’s a move that could very well improve outcomes for the SPD, its customers and the patients being served.

Making decisions like this now can offer another benefit, too. At this time, it seems we're all reacting to the outside world and many of these changes are being dictated, beyond our control. This can create anxiety and foster all kinds of negative reactions. Why not take the opportunity to make positive, quality-focused changes that will help you better control your environment, instead of it controlling you?

Nicholas Schmitz, PMP, LSSBB, is President of Schmitz Consulting LLC. He holds a Master’s degree in organization development and change management, as well as a Master’s degree in project management. He also is a certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.