Patients need us to change our thinking!

22 February 2022

Arnout Orelio

It’s now clearer than ever: healthcare needs to be improved continuously to prepare us for the increasing demand on our system. A system that is becoming increasingly complex and cumbersome, and is burning-out our physicians and nurses.

If it so clear, why aren’t we changing it! My hypothesis: we try to apply the same thinking that got us this system, to get us a better system! For example, people are complaining but look at the current leaders and even the government for “solutions”. And when these leaders respond to the complaints, (of course) the response is: “those solutions won’t work”. We are caught in the “circle of continuous misery”, that keeps us at the status quo.

But, how to get out of the “circle of continuous misery”?!

If you want to really improve your results, you need to change your system into a better one. Changing a system requires a coordinated effort from a team of people. They all need to think differently, if they want to succeed in actually changing the current way of working.

Imagine that people think differently about the new system and associated practices you want to introduce. They believe in the system and really want to make a success of it themselves. They believe in the positive effects of the new system for themselves and their patients. In that case they themselves will have the drive to change the environment and their behavior in such a way that the system becomes and remains successful. They don’t want to work any differently anymore, so to speak, and will always give each other feedback if the situation threatens to relapse.

And, how to change people’s thinking?

“It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than it is to think your way into a new way of acting” – John Shook, CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute.

To influence people’s thinking, you will need to provide experiences from which people learn what the intent is and in which they experience success based on the new thinking. You want them to become convinced of the new system. Like with anything else, you need a process to change people’s mindset. You need a training process, which provides experiences and changes people’s thinking.

Such a training process contains of number of phases: planning, building awareness, practicing,  and coaching. This is a cyclical process that takes place over and over again. Each subsequent cycle provides deepening and / or broadening of the knowledge, skills and mindset of the leaders, going through this process.

Phase 1 Planning

To create the right experiences and the right training process, you need a plan that clearly defines the thinking (the principles and beliefs) on which the new way of working or the new system is based and the behavior it should lead to.

Phase Two: Building awareness

In this phase, you provide people with knowledge about the what, why and how of the new system and the principles and convictions on which it is based. Note that we want the new behavior to follow from people’s beliefs rather than from following instruction. In this phase, make sure you get people to think for themselves rather than just telling them how you want them to think and work.

By experiencing, seeing and hearing, people build knowledge and learn, for example, what the new way of working looks like and how it is structured. It is important that you provide a safe environment, where there is room for misunderstanding, objections and making mistakes. Methods to create awareness include:

  • Reading books, watch video’s, listen to stories.
  • Training exercises.
  • Simulations and games.
  • Observations in the workplace.
  • Visiting other organizations and finding inspiration there*

* To get the most out of your visit to another organization. Download the free “company visit checklist”

Phase Three: Practicing

In this phase, you will apply the new methods and behaviors, in everyday practice, under supervision, until you get the hang of it. I deliberately choose the word “practicing” here, because it’s about putting the new method or system into practice and gaining experience with it. In this phase the system and the new way are leading. They form the standard. The goal of this phase and of the coaching is to learn and successfully apply the right way, until you master it.

Phase Four: Coaching Each Other

Finally, when you have mastered the way of working, it is time to question the way of working, bend it to your will and further improve it, together with your mentor. When you have gone through all the phases, you can then go through these four phases with someone else who has not yet mastered the new way of thinking and working. Here you yourself are the coach and mentor. Being a mentor here means that you teach people the new system based on your own experiences and that you teach them to learn. In this way you develop yourself further and enter a new cycle of learning, yourself.

Yes, but what can I do, personally? I’m just an individual!

It can be overwhelming, thinking about going through all these phases and cycles of learning. Especially, when you are not yet seeing yourself as a leader.

Although you may not like it, the answer is simple: take the lead and start self-developing. This is where we get to the root of the issue. It requires different leadership, by people who are willing to self-develop first. You need, as it were, a chain of learning. Meaning, leaders that are willing to go through the change process, first, and coach their “followers” through the process.

To self-develop, change your thinking and improve health care, today, take the following steps:

  1. Turn your back to the – current – leaders, ask them to have your back and let them observe what you are doing.
  2. Focus on your work for patients.
  3. Look for overburden, unevenness and waste. You do this by asking yourself: “What is the added value of this process? and “How does this activity contribute to this?”
  4. Train yourself to see all problems, from the perspective of your patients.
  5. This requires standards for everything you do. Deviations from the standard are a problem and need to be solved.
  6. Continuously improve and eliminate waste. This will immediately give you more time to focus on your patients and their needs.
  7. And you develop your leadership skills in the process. Making you less depended on those you originally saw as the leaders and “problem solvers”.

This will result in higher work satisfaction and higher productivity for you and your team, addressing the two biggest issues in health care today.

Good luck with starting-up or joining your chain of continuous improvement and learning!


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