Brain Surgery, Corporate Culture & Leadership Consistency

My husband, the love of my life, had brain surgery a few weeks ago.

The anticipation, wondering if it was benign or cancerous (it was benign), praying that the neurosurgeon would not suddenly get the shakes, being in a hospital away from home and having no family nearby all added up to make this one of the most stressful experiences I’ve gone through in a long time.

And while we were in the hospital, waiting for Marco to be admitted, something occurred to me.  This was a great opportunity to observe corporate culture.

  • First, I would experience it from the perspective of a customer (instead of as an corporate leader or HR pro or business coach).
  • Second, we would be exposed to all levels of employees: janitors, nurse’s assistants, charge nurses (responsible for all the activities in their unit during their shift), staff supervisors and doctors.
  • Third, we were going to be there for three nights and four days, 24/7.

It was the perfect incubator for observation. Would the corporate culture the hospital spent thousands of dollars and many man hours to create, translate into a consistent experience?

Megan

In the ICU unit, we had a nurse named Megan who explained everything to us. I’m not overstating this. From how each medication was going to help Marco heal, to showing me how to unfold the sleeper chair and set the locks on it so it wouldn’t roll away and everything in between. She made sure we were as knowledgeable about Marco’s situation as she was.

When she met us, she wrote her name and hospital cell phone number on the wipe-board so we would know who she was and how to get in touch with her.

She apologized for having to wake Marco up every hour.

When I asked her where the soda machine was, she asked me what I wanted, left the room and brought a Diet Coke back to me so I wouldn’t have to pay.

She lovingly patted my husband’s head when he was in pain and couldn’t have more pain killers.

She made sure we both understood that he was not to blow his nose for a month.

She brought extra blankets and pillows without us asking for them.

Watching Megan attend to my husband left me feeling comforted, safe and reassured. That was because of two things: She knew what she was doing and she genuinely cared about my soul mate.

Toni & Company

Toni was our nurse when we transferred from ICU to a regular floor.

In her first introduction to us, she wrote her name on the wipe board while explaining this was not her regular floor and that she was on loan from another floor. She didn’t write down her phone number.

We were transferred right around lunch time and my husband was ravenous. I asked Toni when we could expect lunch and her answer was “soon.” 45 minutes later, lunch had not arrived. I went to find her at the nurse’s station and inquired again. Her answer was, “It’s probably up on the ICU floor.” Another 30 minutes later, I left my husband to find her again and asked when his lunch was going to arrive. She sighed at me, asked all the other nurses where my husband’s lunch was and finally said, “I suppose I’ll have to go to ICU to get his lunch.” More time passed before we finally got his cold lunch.

Megan from ICU told us that if Marco got thirsty, extremely thirsty, we needed to call the neurosurgeon right away; it meant danger. The thirst happened during Toni’s shift. We told her five times over three hours what was happening, we told her the neurosurgeon wanted to be paged immediately if it happened. Each time I went to look for her (she didn’t come to us) she said, “Oh. Okay. I’ll call the doctor.” Finally, after 3.5 hours I went to the ICU floor, looked for Megan and told her what was happening. She immediately broke all protocol by leaving her floor to see Marco. She asked him a bunch of questions, her face got red and she said she was going to page the doctor right then. Five minutes later a sheepish Toni walked into the room ready to take care of him. She also told us that the neurosurgeon yelled at her on the phone.

It wasn’t just Toni either. None of the nurses on that floor wrote down their hospital cell phone numbers. When Marco got extremely thirsty he asked for Gatorade and another nurse said, “I’m sorry we don’t have any on this floor.” We weren’t asking for champagne for Pete’s sake! I asked several people if I could have a sleeper chair and the consistent answer was an apathetic, “I’ll try.”

Being on the ICU floor was like being at a Ritz Carlton. The last three days of his stay was like being at a charge-by-the-hour motel.

Organizational Consistency

What happened?  It was the same hospital system.  Each floor had the same motivational employee bulletin boards which reinforced the “competency of the month.”  The processes for responding to patients was the same on each floor.  And I’m sure they were operating from the same employee handbook.

Shouldn’t every employee take patient care seriously?

Obviously, the answer is yes. Yet I think one of the hardest things for organizations to nail down is consistency across their enterprise.  What happened last week reinforced three things every leader needs to understand and do something about:

  • An organization can have all the technical tools in place to create an incredible customer experience, but that is no guarantee that employees will use them.
  • Leaders, Recruiters and HR pros need to continue to focus their recruiting efforts on the technical and behavioral skills candidates present. One without the other is disastrous.
  • Great tools and employees with phenomenal technical/behavioral skills are lost without front line supervisors who know how and have the courage to hold their employees accountable.

It’s a three legged stool. Or is it? What other factors should be considered in creating a consistent experience? Why do you think there was such a stark contrast between ICU and the regular floor?

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