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"Cookies Are For Chumps": Getting Sterile Processing Recognition Right

I'm not a cookie-hater. I just like some things more than cookies - like getting a shout out from the chief of surgery, or receiving a thank you note from the hospital president. I can get my own cookies at Walmart, but those other things are worth far more (to me) than 4 for a $1. But what do cookies have to do with recognition? (and why am I obsessed with talking about food and Sterile Processing?) Let's get right into the meat of this foodie-inspired conversation.

Why are Cookies for Chumps?

To encourage all you cookie-lovers out there, I've got good news. Cookies aren't always for chumps. But anyone -- leader, frontline technician, coworker, or customer -- who has ever gotten recognized for doing something great at works knows that people respond in different ways to different kinds of recognition. This next sentence is the entire point of this article: Successful recognition of your Sterile Processing team can not be cookie-cutter. There is no silver bullet (or chocolate chip cookie) that will hit everyone's hunger for recognition in the same way. Sometimes cookies are just the ticket for making someone's day in SPD. Other times they can totally miss the mark. Let me flesh this out a little bit more for those in the back:

1) Recognition from Leaders

There are some folks out there (like me!) who thrive off of recognition from their leaders - OR Managers, Directors, VPs of Surgical Service, and COOs, CEOs, and CNOs. Nothing hits the spot like my boss seeing something I did and taking the time to give me props for it. How they do it is not nearly as important as the fact that they do. No amount of other recognition types can compare to it.

2) Recognition from Co-Workers

Many of our department recognition programs are built around the concept of peer-to-peer or co-worker recognition. For some folks, this is where its at. They desire nothing more than working hard, having their team members notice, then getting recognized in front of that group of their peers. After all, no one really knows who is slacking and who is killing it except those folks who are actually right beside you doing the work. Yeah, it's nice for these folks to get a shout out from the manager, but when everyone else thinks you're doing a great job too, that's what really gives them the juice they need to keep going.

3) Recognition from Customers

There are others on our team who don't really care what the boss or their coworkers think about them, but they care very much about impressing their customers. These are the folks in Sterile Processing who are addicted to great customer service, and the feedback & recognition that comes when they go above and beyond to make sure the customer is happy with their Sterile Processing products. People like this can become very deflated and depressed if they give their jobs all they got, but never get that customer feedback they hunger for. No amount of manager pats-on-the-back or peer recognition can fill that customer-shaped void.

Recognition in Real Life

Those of you who are a little saucy this morning may be thinking, "That's great Hank, different people value different types of recognition -- tell me something I didn't know." Well, how about this gut check? There may be people on your team who haven't been recognized for doing something positive in years. We don't know what our technician's lives are like when they go home. They may clock out of our SPD's into a thankless world where no matter what they do, it never seems to be enough. Perhaps they are taken for granted by their spouses. Maybe they are treated like failures by their parents, or used by the folks they thought were their friends. And the one place they could find encouragement, refuge, and yes - recognition, is in your Sterile Processing department. But do they even find it there?

Nice people aren't the only ones who deserve recognition. Even the trouble makers and complainers in our department do things that could be praised. In fact, folks on our teams may be angry and complaining specifically because of the lack of recognition they get outside and inside of work. But recognition can have a funny effect on people. It can actually change them. There's a Bible proverb that says, "Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones." (Prov 16:24) Anyone who has ever gotten recognition for something out of the blue knows that it is indeed sweet to the soul. And the more of it you get, the healthier your self-confidence becomes. You start to see your real value to the team. You begin to trust your contributions to the larger mission. In short, you feel recognition in your bones.

Practical Next Steps

For leaders: Find different ways to regularly include the three different types of recognition mentioned above for your team (Leaders, Co-workers, & Customers). Too much of any one of these will inevitably leave part of your team out in the cold. Food recognition is fine -- as long as it's only one of the ways you thank your team, and not the only way. Set the example for your team and your customers by intentionally looking for opportunities to praise even the trouble-makers on your team for a job well done.

For technicians: Let your leaders know what kind of recognition you value most. Be willing to give recognition to people on your team who do a great job, even if you may not personally like them. You may be surprised at how it can change the person and impact your relationship. Don't forget to recognize your leaders when you get the chance. They need encouragement just like everyone else!

Whether it's cookies or kudos you hunger for, I hope you get what you deserve today. Your work matters to each and every patient who walks in the front doors of your hospital. If they knew what you did and who you were, you can be sure they'd love to give you a hug and a mountain of thanks. Until then, let's make sure to be thanking each other.

Keep fighting dirty,


Beyond Clean © 2021

Hank Balch is the Founder and President of Beyond Clean. You can follow him on Linkedin, and find his Fighting Dirty video series on YouTube. He is addicted to Sterile Processing education, networking, and innovation. In addition to being an international thought leader, Hank has presented at the World Sterilization Congress on the topic of Social Media & Sterile Processing and has written over 150 other Sterile Processing articles and commentary, along with published articles in Becker's Hospital Review, Infection Control Today, AAMI News, AAMI BI&T Journal, Outpatient Surgery Magazine, and contributions to Healthcare Purchasing News. Hank's CS/SPD team in Louisville, KY was named the "2016 CS/SPD Department of the Year" by HPN. He has also served as the founding President of the South Texas Association of Sterile Processing Services and President of the Kentuckiana IAHCSMM Chapter, in additional to being nominated for the 2017 President-Elect & 2018 President-Elect of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management.


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