Champions of Change Make the Difference at Franciscan Health

While many organizations are stuck in “the way it’s always been,” some health systems, like Franciscan Health, are discovering the benefits of getting everybody involved in improvement.

Across 14 hospitals and many medical practices in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, Franciscan Health leaders embrace the values and practices I described in my first article on Champions of Change: They’re committed to a culture of innovative thinking, collaboration, and empowerment, at every level. And the results speak volumes.

Thousands of Small Ideas = Big Results

Joe Swartz, Franciscan Health’s Administrative Director of Business Transformation, is dedicated to nurturing a culture of change. As he and I explored in our book Healthcare Kaizen, organizations like Franciscan Health find energy, creativity, ideas and leadership at all levels. Their ideal is for every employee and every leader to be a champion of change.

Over the past ten years, staff in three Franciscan Health hospitals in Indianapolis have implemented and documented more than 30,000 improvements, sparked by ideas from all levels. These staff-driven improvements have saved millions of dollars while improving the workplace environment and many dimensions of patient care.

Champions of Change Lead and Coach Others

Joe and other senior leaders at Franciscan coach managers to work closely with employees to make continual improvements. Champions of Change don’t just assume that people will speak up or should speak up. They ask supply chain team members to look for ways to make their work easier or to reduce waste. Franciscan Health employees regularly offer ideas for small but significant improvements, such as simple modifications to their carts that make them more ergonomic to use or quieter as they roll through a hallway.

The Franciscan Health supply chain team can talk to their internal customers about ways to simplify and streamline work. Nurses and medical assistants might note that the formal supply names on Kanban cards are not the same as the informal names used in the unit, leading the supply chain team to modify the Kanban cards to include both names. Champions of Change focus on their internal customers and the end customer (the patient).

Champions of Change also make sure improvements that help one team don’t inadvertently create problems for other teams or sub-optimize other processes. For example, the supply chain team might want to reorganize a supply room to simplify the restocking process. But before making such a change, leaders should talk to the teams that use the supplies. If a team is concerned the change would make it harder for them to find supplies, keeping them away from patients and the bedside, managers can ask everyone to brainstorm solutions that work better for all teams.

It Starts With Leaders

Franciscan’s culture of change started with the CEO of their Indianapolis campuses at the time, Bob Brody. Brody and other senior leaders championed change by recognizing that everybody in the organization is the expert about their own jobs and that everybody could implement ideas to improve their work and patient care.

In Healthcare Kaizen, we shared Brody’s thoughts on pursuing a culture of continuous improvement: “It was easy for me to say yes to Kaizen. As a leader, I recognize my role is to lead others to create the future of our organization. I knew our future required the continuous development of the improvement skills and abilities of all our staff and their engagement in continually improving the services we provide to our patients and their families.”

Brody encouraged his senior leadership team to lead by example — to make and share small improvements to their own work in supply chain, materials management, and other areas. In turn, those leaders encouraged their managers and staff to step up as Champions of Change. The senior leaders delegated responsibility but stayed involved as servant leaders who could help eliminate barriers to improvement as needed.

An Investment of Time and Effort That Pays Off

Ronda Freije, the pharmacy director at Franciscan, says initially it was more time-consuming to engage others in problem solving instead of solving problems for them. But within a few years, she saw the enormous return on that effort. Her team no longer ran to her with every problem — as Champions of Change, they tackled challenges themselves.

Changing the culture within her team gave Ronda additional time to focus on less reactive, more strategic improvements for the future of the hospital and its patients. A culture of improvement in the supply chain organization leads to better processes that allow clinicians to spend more time with patients instead of searching for supplies and materials.

When visiting Franciscan, I have observed managers walking through their departments, regularly asking their staff members what ideas they have for improvement. It’s a continual process of observing, asking questions, encouraging, and discussing change. Leaders don’t pressure staff to improve; they engage staff in a friendly, caring, and supportive way. When leaders create the right environment, people will more than willingly participate in improvement! This is a culture that you and other “Champions of Change” can create in your department or more broadly in your organization.

In upcoming articles, I’ll be sharing more stories of how Champions of Change power progress for their organizations — and I hope you’ll keep celebrating the champions you know, by tagging them on LinkedIn or Twitter and telling us how they made a difference.

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