As health care delivery systems embark on their transformational journeys, the complexity of their environment begets the question; where best to begin? Some are pursuing a model of Total Quality Management, a.k.a. Six Sigma. As complex as they are, the process controls necessary to ensure the quality build of a GE 777 jet engine do not have to contend with the greatest variable set of all; a continuous stream of ill, suffering, frightened human beings and their families. As proven as TQM methodologies are in industrial settings, how will these approaches deal with the human emotional element?
The emotional landscape of every patient is effected at each touch point of the delivery system. The breadth of this challenge elevates it to the level of being cultural. Changing organizational culture is seen to be fraught with risks, but that needn’t be the case. Through their interactions, people create culture. Change the tone of the interactions and the culture will follow suit. To create lasting change, however, one must go deeper than the behavioral interactions of clinicians, to the causal elements behind the impetus for said interactions. This speaks to each clinician’s particular emotional style.
Affective neuroscientist Rich Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, has demonstrated that human beings have six emotional styles. Each dimension is a continuum upon which we reside…our orientation point, so to speak. Dr. Davidson’s research has identified, using advanced imaging technology, what parts of the brain respond, at differing degrees in each individual, to various emotional stimuli. He’s also created a simple assessment to measure each dimension and shared it in his 2012 book, “The Emotional Life Of Your Brain”. Our emotional style is not set in stone, however. Thanks to the plasticity of the brain, we can actually change where we are on each continuum through conscious effort. These dimensions of emotional style culminate in our level of emotional intelligence; how we connect, engage and interact with both our internal and external emotional landscape. Basically, how we show up and great the world at each and every moment.
Ample peer-reviewed research exists that supports how emotional intelligence contributes to positive clinical, financial and organizational outcomes in health care settings (drop me a note and I’ll be glad to send along the bibliography). If we look to the patient-centric environment the HCAHPS assessment is attempting to create and measure, the importance of strong communications skills, sensitivity, empathy and responsiveness jump off the page. Key attributes of emotionally intelligent clinicians.
Here’s another strong indicator as to where to begin; today’s high performers, in highly volatile, challenging environments, share ten demonstrated competencies* that emerge from a strong blend of their dimensions of emotional style. It’s not a stretch to see how these competencies would bring both immediate and long-term benefits to any clinical environment. It’s also not a stretch to see how by cultivating these competencies throughout an institution would impact both real and perceived quality of care. This approach to capacity building reaches an inflection point, once enough associates are consistently demonstrating these skills, that shifts the culture.
By assessing for emotional style and targeting for high performance, observable skills, specific developmental opportunities are revealed and can be measured. Incorporating a talent management analytics platform (we work with technology partner Talent Sprocket) enables an institution to baseline competencies and styles. This foundation of data sets can be used to measure developmental investments, correlate HCAHPS scores, and identify best fit candidates in the pipeline. Over time, as the data base builds, predictive analytics can emerge to further guide strategic decisions.
Of course, it all begins and ends with leaderships’ buy-in and support. But by taking a scientifically-substantiated approach to targeted skills development health care systems can begin to shift their culture without introducing elements of risk.
© 2013, Terry Murray.
*“Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment – Identifying and Enabling the New High Performer”, Executive Guidance for 2013, CEB, December, 2012. http://www.executiveboard.com/exbd/executive-guidance/index.page.