The Joint Commission and Studer Group: Partners in Cultural Transformation

Studer Group recently sat down with Mark Pelletier, chief operating officer, accreditation and certification operations for The Joint Commission, to discuss their partnership with Studer Group and their journey to cultural transformation.

Q: Why did The Joint Commission decide to partner with Studer Group?

Inspiring organizations to be highly reliable and commit to zero harm is our mission. However, our customers did not always see the services we provide in that way. Instead, some organizations felt that we sought out problems and focused on small issues that were not important to patient safety. This reputation was a barrier to our goal because when surveyors delivered findings in a way the organization perceived as punitive, they would shut down, become defensive, and refuse to listen, which did not help mitigate patient safety risks.

We recognized that our approach needed to change so customers would be open to feedback and our efforts to provide education and to share best practices we have observed. We needed a transformation. We wanted to transition from being just an accreditor to being a true partner in performance improvement. Achieving a major cultural shift is difficult, and can be nearly impossible without an objective partner. We knew that we needed help, so The Joint Commission turned to Studer Group, well-known for their expertise in cultural change.

Q: How is the transformation going?

Studer Group has worked with our organization to create a framework for lasting cultural change. Several key behaviors have been introduced and implemented to begin and foster our ongoing journey:

  • Aligned and Objective Goals Setting objective, measurable goals was the first and most critical step. Studer Group worked with us to establish the right goals. When creating the goals, we had to focus first on the results we wanted to see in our organization, not just the tactics to get us there, and this took our team some time to work through. We experienced some cultural barriers to this heightened level of accountability. Next, we needed to determine which leaders had the most responsibility and power to make changes in these areas, and who needed to share goals to create the greatest outcome. Last, we had to prioritize the goals by selecting the actions that would have the most impact on changing the culture. After finalizing the goals, senior leadership cascaded them to all leaders in a series of workshops. 
  • 90-Day Plans and Monthly Meetings – Studer Group worked with us to create 90-Day Plans with action steps. The 90-Day Plans helped our team see how long-range goals could be achieved, which made the goals manageable and provided a roadmap. Also, reviewing 90-Day Plans during monthly meetings was essential to staying on track because it held leaders accountable and the plans ensured we were on the same page and working on the same target. During the meetings, we also discussed how each person contributed to the overall goals of the organization and how their leader could assist them in moving forward.
  • Leader Rounding on Employees Communication, especially through rounding, was the key to effecting lasting change because it promoted a free exchange of ideas between leaders and staff. Employees at all levels, even those not on the Leader Evaluation Manager® software, were aware of the organization’s goals and understood how they contributed to the company’s success. Through rounding, our leaders gain valuable information and are able to act upon employees’ ideas and concerns, and this resulted in statistically higher employee engagement this past year.  
  • Key Words at Key Times and Tough Conversations We provided our surveyors coaching to help them enhance how they interacted with our customer organizations. We wanted them to have the mindset of an advisor, rather than a critic. To accomplish this, surveyors received training with four primary objectives in mind: 1) provide meaningful assessments for each organization served; 2) inspire organizations to deliver higher rates of quality care; 3) be transparent throughout the survey, highlighting identified risks the organization is not already aware of; and 4) educate our customers and help them understand why they are not meeting a standard, linking the standard back to safe patient care. The Studer Group team helped us develop key words to use at key times when discussing difficult issues with customers. We also learned how to constructively hold tough conversations that resulted in a win for all parties. 

Q: What have been the results so far?

Internally, we have changed how we interact and work together. Our atmosphere which was once closed is now collaborative and collegial, and thanks to rounding, we enjoy more open communication. Employees more freely share their ideas and have increased confidence that leadership will listen and act on their concerns. Because of these changes, our employee engagement results have increased significantly.

Equally as important, relationships with our customers have improved. Many now see us as advisors and partners who help them achieve patient safety goals. Customers are giving surveyors positive feedback and thanking them for identifying issues. Our mission is becoming a reality. We are working as a team with our customers to provide safe and quality care for patients. As many service-oriented organizations do, we survey our customers. As a result of our partnership with Studer Group, we have appreciated significant improvement in the voice of the customer results we have achieved.

Q: What is your advice for organizations who want to commit to high reliability?

We believe that organizations can use the same framework as us to reach high reliability. For example, creating objective and measurable goals is a critical first step to getting everyone aligned. Continuous course correction with 90-Day Plans encourages accountability, while ongoing communication provides employees with structured time to discuss safety matters, contribute to improved quality and safety of care, all which lead to higher rates of reliability.

Here is an example of high reliability in action: Recently, a surveyor was on site at a large organization to audit infection control standards. Typically, the leader of their infection control initiative would handle the entire interaction with The Joint Commission surveyor. However, that day, the infection control leader was on vacation, so others stepped in to review the process. In some organizations, this could have been a problem, but this hospital passed all standards, and their employee was knowledgeable and confident about the standards that were in place. Why was this organization different? Because following the correct process was a part of that organization’s culture, and not dependent on a person. That is high reliability - having the proper system in place so that everyone knows how to accomplish a task the right way, all the time.

Understandably, it can be hard for organizations to know where to begin in their efforts to improve the quality and safety of patient care, so we have established the Center for Transforming Healthcare which helps organizations solve common safety problems. Any organization that we accredit can access Targeted Solutions Tools® (TST®), an online application that provides guidance for several initiatives, including hand hygiene and falls.

Once organizations make safety a part of their culture, then our shared goal of committing zero harm will be the natural result. After all, the desire of every person in healthcare is for everyone - including our family and our friends - to receive the safe, quality, care they deserve.  The Evidence-Based LeadershipSM platform that Studer Group helps organizations embed provides a solid foundation for accountability and ultimately, for cultural transformation.

Studer Group wishes to thank Mark Pelletier and The Joint Commission for conducting this interview and for their ongoing commitment to patient safety and the delivery of quality healthcare.

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