Don’t believe that your new smoothie station will turn around a demotivated workforce!

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There is a steady stream of articles, posts, and news items touting new “employee comfort” enhancements in company facilities. In just recent weeks, I have seen postings about a new coffee station in one facility. In another, the redesigned work area includes living room-like relaxation areas for employees to “connect and interact.” I have seen a variety of employee benefits added, such as meditation rooms or classes, yoga classes, de-stress rooms, new gourmet food courts, etc. Yes, from an employee perspective, these are nice, for sure! They make going to the workplace more enjoyable and fun. In many cases, they make it easier for working parents to balance work and family. And, because of this, it may even enhance employee retention and satisfaction. So, I am not trying to bash these efforts. Anything that can make the work experience more enjoyable and less stressful is good.

However, I think there is a perception that employee comfort efforts alone will drive an overall positive culture or drive improved productivity. I know many believe that a more enjoyable workplace automatically results in improved productivity and culture. I would suggest that this might be true in some cases, but there are other more important factors in play.

Many of my work years were spent in manufacturing facilities. I would say that in some of these, there were none of the employee comfort features that are becoming popular today. In fact, working conditions in some facilities were quite difficult. In some work stations, there might not even be air conditioning, much less a room to de-stress. Some of the work is dirty. The cafeteria, if there was even one, only offered a daily choice of a fried entree. Comfort was not a word used much to describe the work environment. However, some of the best employee culture experiences and highest productivity I ever personally witnessed occurred in those plants. Employees were engaged, enthusiastic, and dedicated to the work, the customer, and each other.

So, what is it that really makes a difference in employee culture and overall productivity? Are there factors you can list that truly make a difference? Everyone has an opinion on this, but let me list just six key things I have observed that make a difference in employee culture and productivity:

  1. Unity in goals and purpose – When employees are bound together to accomplish an important goal, you’ll always be amazed at what they can achieve. I recall in my manufacturing plant life what occurred when an FDA inspection occurred. From the time the investigators arrived until they left, every individual at the plant was focused and engaged to produce a positive result. Collaboration and cross-functional interaction was never better than when the plant was focused on a positive FDA inspection result. When information was requested, everyone pulled together to provide it. Employees worked late and came in early to prepare and drive a positive result. It seemed that there was no time in the life of the plant when the employee population was more focused on a positive result than during an inspection. Then, when the inspection was over, the entire site celebrated. I often wished that we could somehow keep that spirit of teamwork and focus all the time. So, when employees know what needs to be done and can work together to achieve it, they can do phenomenal things. Just make sure that the goals you choose for that focus are goals that matter and will “move the needle”.
  2. The ability to contribute and impact results – Almost every employee wants to make a difference. Employee morale suffers when employees feel the work they do – the way they spend nearly 50% of their awake time is spent – adds no value. I have seen this in every work venue possible: manufacturing plants, corporate settings, academia, government, etc. When an employee feels their work doesn’t matter – whether done well or poorly, on time or late – their attitude, productivity, and work quality all suffer. When we help every employee understand the value of their work, eliminate non-value added work, and ensure that individual employees are impacting the company and its customers, their performance improves.
  3. Communication and feedback – Every employee also wants to know how they are doing. It is inexcusable for an employee to go into his/her year-end performance review conversation with no idea how their work performance is perceived by their boss. I have seen many instances where an employee excitedly attended that meeting feeling their performance “exceeding expectations” for the year, but received the bad news that they were rated “needs improvement.” Employees perform best when there is routine, consistent, and truthful feedback regarding what they are doing, how they are doing it, how they could improve, and how much they are appreciated. When you do this well, you don’t need “employee comfort” features to sustain employee engagement, interest, or productivity.
  4. Frequent celebration of successes – Top employee cultures always celebrate and recognize successes… in fact, it is better to err on the high side in this regard. There is nothing that helps bond and motivate teams and individuals than having a pizza lunch to simply say “thanks” for a job well done. Identifying those efforts “above and beyond” tell the workforce that what they do matters and is noticed. If you have ever been to a soccer or basketball game with first-graders, you’ll notice that the kids are always looking to the sideline to ensure that their parents or grandparents were watching that last play. It matters that they notice and appreciate what they do. Employees are the same. It makes a significant difference when it is clear that efforts are genuinely recognized and appreciated.
  5. A commitment to do things right – “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” How many times have you heard or, better yet, observed this attitude? When an organization, from the leader on down, is committed to doing things right (e.g., safety, benefits, commitment to quality, adequate investment, and day-to-day philosophy), employees become more committed, focused, and dedicated. By showing a concern, thus, a commitment, to employees, you foster increased dedication and motivation.
  6. Leaders that are trustworthy, involved, and that have integrity – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the leaders of an organization determine overall employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Someone once said, “An organization’s culture is defined by the worst behavior that is allowed to occur.” This puts the responsibility for employee satisfaction squarely on the shoulders of the leaders. Leaders must be trusted – what they say is truthful, open, detailed, and meaningful. Leaders must involved – they are engaged in the success of the organization, they are visible, they interact frequently, and they allow themselves to be vulnerable and knowable. And, leaders have integrity – followers always know that their leaders will do the right things, in the right way, at the right time. They never have to be worried about being embarrassed by their leaders. When leaders act and behave like this, you don’t need a smoothie station to keep employees coming back.

Yes, it certainly is important to work to make employees comfortable and accommodate their needs. We should make their time and effort spent at the workplace as enjoyable as possible.

But, please do not think that by providing a ping-pong table, employee engagement banners, “I love my job” coffee cups, or other amenities will substitute for creating a workplace marked by dedicated, enthused, engaged, and highly productive employees. It simply will not happen!

Thanks for all you do. Have one of your “best days yet!”


How do you say goodbye to the one that taught you how to make cookies?


The thought comes to me often. My wife and I routinely watch our 3 and a half year-old grandson at our house during the week. He is all boy, going one hundred miles per hour all day long. He is into everything all at once and you can’t take your eyes off him for a moment. Yet, he has a very tender, sensitive side to him. He really likes to smell things… candles, food, acorns, worms… anything new. And, he really likes to help his Grandma cook. When she is preparing a meal, it never fails that he pulls up a chair right next to her, so he can watch and be in the middle of the action. I think he will always remember and cherish those times “helping” his Grandma cook.

I ran across the following this week. It was one of those friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend posts on Facebook, but it made me pause and think when I read it:

“How do you say goodbye to the one who taught you everything? From learning the alphabet to baking the best goodies, she was by my side through it all. Having to say goodbye to two grandparents within two days is unimaginable but somehow, here I am having to figure it out. This may be the hardest thing I will ever have to endure but I know through God, I can get through it. Rest easy Grandma, you lived one heck of a life. I will love you forever and always.”               – Anonymous – 

Someday, our little grandson will have to face what this young lady faced this week… saying goodbye to the one that taught him how to make chocolate chip cookies. On the one hand, this is sad and heartbreaking. But, in another way, it can be a source of joy and encouragement to us. That Grandma mentioned in Facebook had a truly amazing impact on her granddaughter. Being by her side throughout her life was a blessing that we would each cherish. There is nothing more satisfying than pouring yourself into someone else, especially if that ‘someone else’ is a child.

So, that brings me to the question of the day… Are you pouring your life into someone else to the point that saying goodbye might be one of the hardest thing they would ever have to endure? Are you making a difference for a family member, a coworker, a neighbor, a classmate, or anyone else?

There have been a number of times in my life before or after meeting with someone when I think, “This (that) might be the last time I ever see him or her.” Let’s face it, there are always “last times” when we move, or change jobs, or shift to life’s next chapter. Recognizing and admitting this can bring a sense of sadness. But, when we can say that we did our best to make a difference to that person or that our life is richer for having known him/her, the sadness is somewhat tempered.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but when you’ve lived your life with intentionality – striving to make an impact – and worked to leave the very best of yourself behind, you know you’ve done your best. Thanks to all of you that have left such an imprint on my own life!

Perspectives on healthcare from a patient’s viewpoint

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I spent almost all of my 40+ year working career involved in looking at the healthcare patient as a customer or end-user. Though we do our very best to consider our products and care from the patient’s perspective, it just isn’t the same as when you are that person in the hospital bed whose life and well-being depend upon those same products and services.

Over the last couple of weeks, I found myself looking up from the hospital bed again. This time, I had a total knee replacement. The procedure was relatively quick (about 45 minutes) and the hospital stay short (one night). But, it is amazing how such an event allows exposure to the entire healthcare system, end-to-end. For this surgery, I had x-rays, diagnostic blood tests, surgery, anesthesia, hospital care, physical therapy, home visits, pharmaceutical products, medical device products, etc. that illustrate both the good and not-so-good of our healthcare system.

Today, I would like to cover a few insights and perspectives that I have gained from this most recent experience. Keep in mind, this particular journey isn’t yet over… I am only about 18 days post-op. But, I think it is worth sharing what I have learned and observed that might benefit others.

  1. Everyone loves to hate opioid pain medications… until they need them! – Opioid pain medications are on everyone’s evil drug list these days. While it is true that many ills in society are due to the addicting nature of these products (e.g., morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.), try having major surgery without them! These products have an amazing ability to temper or eliminate the severe pain associated with surgery. I often find myself watching the clock in anticipation of my next pain-relieving dose. Thus, it is easy to see how one might become overly dependent on them. Finding that balance between benefits and risks is a challenge that we must somehow achieve. For now, I credit a large degree of the success of my surgery to opioids. For without them, I would not have been able to withstand the physical therapy that differentiates success from failure of this joint replacement.
  2. Healthcare is becoming more patient-focused and outcome-based – I have definitely seen a shift in medical care toward results. Before choosing my surgeon, I studied his success and complication rates through internet searches. His standard protocol for post-op rehabilitation has changed in recent months to accommodate new research on eventual outcomes. Insurance companies have become much more focused on ultimate results and will withhold payment on treatments that are not statistically justified. Entire healthcare teams and individuals continuously seek input from customers (e.g., patients) through surveys, opinion polls, and feedback mechanisms. Of course, some of this outcome-based emphasis is good and some not-so-good. When it is directed toward continuous improvement of care and patient satisfaction, it is certainly good. However, when merely used to limit or shift costs and reimbursement, it falls short of desirable.
  3. Strong teamwork and highly coordinated processes are replacing the silo treatment approach of the past – For my most recent knee replacement surgery, I have been amazed at the end-to-end teamwork evident. My past experience was that each phase of the process (surgeon, administrative, physical therapy, communication, etc.) was handled as a stand-alone entity. The surgeon did his work, then passed you along to the physical therapy team, etc. However, in this case, every piece of the process was coordinated and tied to each other piece. Prior to my hospital discharge, home visit appointments were made with a nurse and physical therapist. Everything needed for recovery was arranged and scheduled. A training session occurred before surgery that included my “joint coach” to ensure we both knew what to expect and what we needed to do together to be successful. I have been pleasantly surprised how each element of process has been integrated with each of the others.
  4. Though patients have become more educated on healthcare options and expectations, every individual journey is unique – I have to admit that I probably read too much information on total knee replacement surgery before my own procedure. Though most of the information available on the internet speaks to the positive outcome expected, there are always horror stories that make you second guess your decision. Nonetheless, a patient these days can watch videos of actual surgeries, get a report card on the surgeon and hospital, get hundreds of testimonies from others that have experienced the same surgery, and be very knowledgeable on all aspects of the procedure. You can even “shop” various knee joint manufacturers for options, benefits, etc. in much the same way you might shop for a new car online! Despite this vast amount of available knowledge, the outcome and recovery for each patient is unique. My progress is different than anyone else that has ever had this surgery. Thus, all of this newfound knowledge doesn’t replace listening to the advice of the surgeon, therapists, and adhering to the program they outline.
  5. A shift to modern analytics-based care is occurring – Every individual I encountered throughout my journey, thus far, has been extremely knowledgeable and professional. However, it is evident that the modern approach based strongly on analytics, trending, remote monitoring, etc. has not yet been fully embraced. Most have adapted well to this approach. However, some still prefer the “old days” of patient care and personalized service. I think this scenario plays out in every discipline and every field… some individuals prefer “the way we did it in the old days” to today’s approach. Both approaches are effective, but, perhaps, both are not equally efficient.
  6. Everyone is a specialist – It has been clear to me these last few weeks that almost every person in the healthcare industry today has specialized in something. My surgeon specializes in knees and hips. It seems that the nursing staff has also migrated toward specialization. Has the day passed where an individual can successfully function as a “generalist” or must we all have one or more specialties to thrive in this new age?

I have been extremely satisfied with my care and recovery, thus far. I am doing my share to ensure a successful outcome, but I have been highly impressed with both the approach and individuals I have encountered along the way.

And, I think it is good to occasionally consider how the healthcare industry is changing. By doing so, we might conclude that changes to other pieces of the industry must also change (e.g., R&D, manufacturing, quality, engineering, etc.). When you look at the key six points I have outlined above, you’ll find these key topics that apply to everyone in every industry:

  • risk/benefit assessment – seeking an appropriate balance
  • outcome-based results – adding value
  • strongly integrated teamwork – collaborating for the ultimate good of the customer (patient)
  • continuous learning – educating yourself, staying current, seeking innovation
  • embracing change – a willingness to accept a new approach, especially when the value is demonstrated
  • specialization versus generalization – enhancing our personal value by enhancing our expertise

So, the question we should be asking ourselves is, “Am I doing what I can to enhance to ultimate experience for my patients, customers, coworkers, family, or associates?” I think there is something here that can help each of us become more valuable to our company and to others that we serve.

Have a great day!

Last night’s nightmare


This morning, my daughter related the following story about my three-year-old grandson:

“Last night, our son came into our room crying, saying he had had a nightmare. I’m thinking monsters or bad guys. Actually, his nightmare was that he was at the store buying a fidget spinner, and they only had girl colors.”

You see, what seemed like a nightmare to him was a very minor inconvenience to almost anyone else.

All of us have nightmarish things happen to us occasionally. Some are major and life-changing. Others are mere inconveniences. When they do occur, however, we have several choices how we might react:

  1. We can hide our panic and deal with it ourselves – Our grandson could have pulled the covers over his head and tried to deal with his nightmare alone. That is a choice we all have and, frankly, the choice we make all too often. By hiding our fears, we often allow them to become bigger than they really might be. By bringing them out into the open, we can better face and defeat them.
  2. We can be comforted that things will always be better when a new day comes – Time really does heal our hurts. Nothing seems to diminish a nightmare like the dawn of a new day. As time moves forward, we should become more confident that our fears cannot control us nor defeat us.
  3. We can strike back and let the event control us – Our grandson could have reacted negatively by striking back at his parents, his sister, or others when the disappointments of his nightmare became known. When we strike back, we often allow the event to control us and distract us from the truth or the reality of the situation. Finding a way to master our fears without over-reacting is a key discipline that some never discover.
  4. We can share it with someone we love and trust and get through it together – Our grandson made the right choice when confronted by his nightmare… he shared it with his mother and learned that together, they could confront any fear. Having someone in your life that will walk through the dark with you is important and crucial in dealing with our own struggles.
  5. We can learn from the event and become stronger as a result – Today, our grandson knows that there are many places where he can find a fidget spinner with “boy colors.” His nightmare was not really worth the trouble. Likewise, when we learn from our fears, we become stronger and better able to deal with the troubles that could come tomorrow.

By this morning, our grandson had no ill effects from his nightmare. He remembered it, but knew that things are newer, brighter, and better with the new day. He also knew that he would not be defeated by his “nightmare”, especially if his stuffed kitty and battery-powered lightsaber were close-by.

Oh, the things we can learn from a child! How are you dealing with those fears that plagued you last night or today?