How to Improve ANY Part of your Healthcare Team’s Performance

String-around-fingerThink back to your first week at your current job. Did you go through an orientation program? Did your new boss go over information and materials with you? Did you shadow someone who reviewed processes and procedures or do’s and don’ts?

How much of that information can you actively recall? Repeat?

Not much, I’d wager.

Turns out that even the most dedicated, educated, focused among us are limited in our capacity to retain information. Your healthcare team is no different. While dealing with the countless tasks, challenges, and responsibilities of each day, they focus primarily on what is directly in front of them and rely on knowledge and habits that have been ingrained over time. They are, after all, human. This is why leaders who want teams to reach and maintain a high level of performance find creative ways to reinforce new or desired behavior over and over again. These ever-changing refreshers dot the landscape of the workplace and are encountered repeatedly by employees.

For example, let’s say you work in a clinic whose patients are often in a state of advanced agitation or emotional distress. To bolster the emotional intelligence of your team and ensure an appropriate level of service delivery, you adopt the mantra “Always be kind.” You share this with your team, explaining how important it is and encouraging them to keep the concept at the fore of their work each and every day. You cultivate empathy by compassionately discussing the challenges faced by your patients. You review in great detail your service recovery protocol and how team members can support each other in the face of emotional or taxing patient interactions. You might even devote a whole day of training to a skill development workshop on dealing with difficult patients. Then, afterwards, everyone goes back to work.

And little, if anything, changes.

While “Always be kind.” may resonate in the days immediately following your announcement, that mantra doesn’t come to life until it is repeatedly revisited and reinforced. It’s not enough to espouse this standard of behavior. Employees must encounter, over time, reminders that trigger the new behavior desired.

Leaders who want to observe actual change take on the role of “refresher” by putting reminders in plain sight. They deploy physical reminders like leaving notes on backstage dry erase boards. They hang signage and distribute buttons. They keep the concept visible through a variety of mediums, like emailing a powerful YouTube video to the team or by telling stories at meetings about why “Always be kind.” matters. They take these steps over and over again, refusing to let the idea/information fade. It’s a learning and development strategy referred to as “little and often” learning.

And, over time, the concept truly becomes a mantra.

This approach is also relevant when processes or policies need to remain top of mind. If, for example, you recently installed a new EMR, holding a 5 minute huddle each morning for the first few weeks to review one nuance or detail reinforces learning. Other strategies might include printing labels with reminders on them for the back of employee badges, leaving post-its on the back of room doors, making index cards to attach to the clipboards they carry each day, or posting signs on the lounge refrigerator with the “reminder of the week.”

the forgetting curveI don’t have to cite the scores of research proving that forgetting occurs with the passage of time. If you are human, you already know this. Repetition is necessary to reinforce learning. Reminders like the ones described above not only reinforce learning, they also assign value to the concepts, standards, or steps revisited. The repetition alone designates the information as important and eventually the employee – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) assigns greater value to it than was assigned at introduction.

I’ve been a trainer for over 15 years. I tackle “soft skills” topics my audiences have usually heard before: customer service, collaboration, leadership, giving feedback, etc. Often my job isn’t to teach healthcare professionals something new. It’s to help them show up differently. I have to find a new way to revisit an old subject and make it worthy of their attention and effort. This is what successful leaders do at every level. They embrace their roles as catalysts for learning. They surround personnel with the mental triggers teams need to show up in the ways they need or desire.

Need something to change or improve in your clinic? Don’t just tell your team what is expected. Ensure that they encounter reminders, reinforcement, and refreshers over and over and over again. Cut down on the forgetting by frequently reminding, refreshing, and reinforcing.

Joe Mull, M.Ed is President of Ally Training & Development, which provides dynamic leadership training and staff development programs to healthcare professionals. In demand as a speaker and trainer on employee engagement in healthcare, he is the author of the book Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams. For more information, visit


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