4 Characteristics Hospital Lean Leaders Can't Do Without

Hospitals across the country are adopting Lean techniques to improve processes. Some hospitals use a Lean approach for specific projects, such as infection prevention and quality improvement, while others integrate Lean techniques and philosophy into the organization's entire culture. To create a culture that values Lean principles of efficiency and continuous improvement, Cleveland Clinic has built a team of Lean leaders.

Ted Stiles, partner and vice president of executive search for Stiles Associates, a retained Lean executive search firm that helped Cleveland Clinic establish this team, shares four characteristics hospitals should look for in Lean leaders. He also explains why many Lean leaders come from the manufacturing industry.

1. Process orientation. Lean leaders should be able to study processes end to end, then redesign them to cut waste and deliver a better outcome in terms of patient satisfaction, efficiency, safety and cost, according to Mr. Stiles. Traditionally, hospitals have been organized by different silos separating various departments and people. This silo structure encouraged people to look at only their area or role instead of the entire process from a patient's perspective. Lean leaders need to break down silos and look at the whole process to identify opportunities for improvement.

People in the manufacturing industry are trained to be process oriented, according to Mr. Stiles. In fact, the Lean system for improvement originated at Toyota's manufacturing plant in Japan. The market has forced manufacturers to cut waste to compete with other countries; Lean has allowed them to design processes that eliminate waste.

"Most of the companies that are making products in this country and competing with lower-cost countries are typically doing so because they have adopted some or all of these [Lean] techniques," Mr. Stiles says. As hospitals are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and improve quality, they too are using Lean to reduce non-value-added steps in processes.

2. Management experience. In addition to having experience using Lean techniques, Lean leaders should ideally have experience in management, Mr. Stiles says. Many Lean leaders are engineers who have moved up the ranks to manage plants or serve in other management positions. Their operations management experience allows them to help hospital leadership teams with strategic planning and the establishment of key performance indicators at departmental, divisional and enterprise levels. "More importantly, they can help them establish the discipline to review those metrics daily so that they can build corrective action plans in real time," Mr. Stiles says.

3. Relationship building skills. Lean leaders need to be able to build relationships with people in the hospital — from the frontline staff to the C-suite. This skill is crucial for Lean leaders transitioning from the manufacturing to healthcare industry, as the environments are different, and Lean leaders will need to learn how to adapt their skills to the new setting.

4. Intellectual curiosity. Lean leaders should also have a level of intellectual curiosity about healthcare and be interested in improving healthcare processes, according to Mr. Stiles. "You want to find those that are curious about healthcare — how it can be better — or those who may have had some personal experience where they are clearly connected to healthcare," he says.

More Articles on Lean in Healthcare:

How to Get Hospitals to Think 'Lean': 5 Key Principles
Scott & White Healthcare Create Institute for Lean Process Improvement

Lean Processes Trim $1.3M in Costs From ORs at Michigan's Oakwood Annapolis Hospital

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