Monday, June 17, 2013

Cultures of excellence

The Urban Farm on the MUSC campus, after a heavy rainfall (Jun 2013)

“Did he say what he wanted him to have?” From where she knelt beside my son’s bed, the physical therapist directed her question at me and the nurse. The nurse and I looked at each other before the nurse spoke. “No, he didn’t say. Well, actually what he said was, order whatever you think he needs.”

“I love it when doctors say that!” The physical therapist exclaimed as she stood up, child-size walker now in ready position.

That exchange was emblematic of our visit to the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital. It’s also emblematic of a mission-driven, collaborative culture in an organization. A culture of excellence.

Just a few days ago, my elementary-aged son had surgery (he’s recovering fine), and my husband and I spent two days at MUSC in Charleston. Our experience was fantastic, a testament to teams of people in a large, complex organization empowered by one another and their leadership to advance their common mission. What evidence do I have for saying that?

People evidence: the orthopedic specialist, at our first appointment, listened a lot. Then he talked about the limits of what he knew. Pre-op, the surgical nurse asked if the surgeon had stopped by; to our “yes” came an almost reflexive compliment. He’s so good. We overheard the pediatric anesthesiologist praise the skills of the surgeon, too, as he oriented two residents who’d join them in the operating room. And of course, after surgery, the doctor deferred to the therapist on gadgets that would help my son be mobile in the recovery period.

Need more evidence? I have place-related evidence of excellence, too. As in most hospitals, my husband and I got updates as surgery proceeded. Looking to extract my parental anxiety from the waiting room and knowing check-in times, I strolled around campus. Two gardens: one, an urban farm, complete with beehive and signage, simply alerted folks who might have allergies to the presence of bees. I thought immediately of an HBR article I’d recently read about great organizations. One characteristic: no stupid rules. Some leader, somewhere, could have squashed the beehive idea or even the garden because of the risk of allergic reactions to stings. They didn’t; they fostered a start-up culture and enabled passersby to make the call on safety themselves. I returned to the waiting area, noting the flat screen video panels that educated those of us waiting for elevators about achievements of individuals and teams. Attractive signs inside elevators shared information on new initiatives. Mission-driven, people-centered excellence.

Sufficient evidence. Conclusions? Cultures of excellence, built around mission, liberate people to drive that mission forward. To do great work and enjoy doing it. For us, that meant a sporty wheelchair and walker for our active son. The physical therapist knew that crutches in the hands of a little boy with a little brother, would likely produce no speedy recovery! It meant our son wrote a thank-you card to his nurses: “I hope to see you again soon, just not for surgery.” And it meant we got tugged into the gravitational pull of that mission, too, advancing it by talking about its exceptional culture and care to our friends.

Empowered individuals, thoughtful contributions, no stupid rules. Cultures of excellence. Are you celebrating one today? Building one?