Healthcare Managers Bridge the “I Can” and “I Do” Gap
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Healthcare Managers Bridge the “I Can” and “I Do” Gap

Being caring and communicating caring are two very different things. In the same vein, having skills and using them are two very different things. When employees engage in communication skills training, they improve their skills, but this doesn’t mean they use the skills in their work.

As I see it, bridging the gap between people’s capabilities and their USE of their capabilities is a major challenge to us as we pursue the consistently exceptional patient and family experience. So many healthcare organizations have invested heavily in communication skill training programs for staff. It’s obviously not enough for staff to “like” the training and give it high ratings. What matters most is their use of the skills in their everyday work. THAT’S what creates the concrete improvements in the patient and family experience that you seek as a return on your investment.

And herein lies the challenge.

How can leaders ensure that members of their teams regularly use the communication skills they learn, as they go about their everyday routines?

There is no avoiding it: This takes focus, commitment, time, and work on the part of the manager. Leaders need first of all to master the skills themselves –to have credibility and to be able to coach their team. They need to be able to say in good conscience, “Do as I say AND do as I do.” A colleague of mine told me about a time when she conducted service excellence training for a hospital’s Admissions staff. During the training, they discussed how emotion-laden the Admissions touchpoint is for patients and families. And the employees committed to (and practiced) connecting to the patient and showing care and sensitivity, instead of exclusively focusing on information collection.

A few days after my friend conducted this training, a member of the Admissions staff stopped her in the hallway and said, with a tinge of sarcasm in her voice, “Remember that great training you did for us last week? Well, I saw a woman sitting by herself in the reception area with her little suitcase and she was crying. And I thought I have an opportunity to make a difference to this person right now. So, I left my cubicle, approached her, sat down and talked with her, and did my best to reassure her that she would be in good hands. And I felt really good about it—until later. When I returned to my cubicle, my boss called me aside and reprimanded me for leaving my station when we needed to process so many people. She didn’t even acknowledge that I did a nice, caring thing for the woman who was waiting. So, I loved your training, but I’m not allowed to use those skills in my job.”

This story demonstrates the fact that there is no point, in fact it’s counterproductive and disillusioning, to train staff in effective, caring communication and then send them back to a manager who doesn’t actively encourage, support and value employee use of the skills learned.

Healthcare managers need to create the conditions that not only support and encourage use of the skills learned in training, but also require it.

If managers don’t support and expect skill use, you are not going to get the quality improvement you want from the time, effort, and expense of training. And you will demoralize staff who want to be more than efficiency machines. They want to connect with people and make a difference to them.

What does every healthcare manager need to do to make communication skill training matter to employees, patients, and families? See these leader actions and message points.

Share this article with your leadership team and ask them to do a self-check using this tool. And afterward, ask people to share with a partner a strength and an opportunity for improvement. With the whole group, unearth and discuss the resistance points on the part of managers, so you can propel skill use, service quality and employee engagement forward.

I welcome your comments below.

Categories: Accountability, Caring and Empathy, Change and Transformation, Leadership, Patient Experience Strategies, Reinforcement and Sustainability


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