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Don't Just Do Something, Stand There: Why Activity (Alone) is Not the Answer to your SPD Problems



"Barely staying afloat!"

Any of these sound like a normal day in your CS/SPD department? Yeah, I thought so. And do you want to know why I'm not surprised? Because few days go by when I don't have that same sinking feeling, like I've got concrete blocks tied to both of my feet and I'm frantically trying to swim up for air. Whether you're a frontline technician in decontamination or sitting in the director's chair justifying last month's productivity numbers, the weight of surgical responsibility is always heavy on our shoulders.

So, how do we cope with this ever-present flurry of processing activity? Vendors wanting meetings, surgeons wanting answers, staff wanting attention, bosses wanting efficiency, and us wanting to succeed.

Before I throw out a few answers to this, let's take a look at the most common, but least effective response to the overwhelming nature of our jobs as modern-day microbial dragon slayers:

The CS/SPD Shakespeare: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

As a vendor or visitor to a CS/SPD department, have you ever encountered a frazzled CS leader who looked as if they had just been roughed up by an unruly gang of frustrated surgeons, hadn't slept in a week, and needed to lay off the caffeine for... um ... maybe a few years? Or maybe you work in a department where the manager is so busy running around that their office chair has more dust on it than the top of the break room refrigerator? The overarching story here is of a department with much activity ("sound and fury" in the words of Shakespeare's tragic hero), but not necessarily one that is moving in a particular direction.

Often times, unfortunately, it's these same exhausted CS leaders and departments that are in need of the most help. The reason for this is that it is nearly impossible for burned out leaders to lead with the kind of confidence and surety that CS team members need to get through the mountain of work that they encounter on a daily basis. Leaders and teams fail when they are so busy putting out the fires of the day that they fail to look for the sources of the flames, or install that metaphorical sprinkler-system to automate a correct response. The big things continually get neglected, because they are crowded out by the little "sounds and furies" of our daily schedules, and we walk out of our departments and hospitals feeling like the same 3-alarm fire will be waiting for us when we return tomorrow morning.

The Anti-Activity Manifesto: On the Power of Planning

Whether we like it or not, there are no silver bullets for CS/SPD success. There's no magic consulting-pill you can take that makes you wake up with three suits at your door on Monday morning who can flip a switch and make all your troubles go away. There's not a perfect piece of equipment that can solve for all the complexity that we encounter on a daily basis. And, believe it or not Mr. Administrator, there's not enough money in the world you can throw at CS/SPD problems that can fix a faulty process or broken culture.

And as we've seen above, there's one more thing that won't work either: activity alone. If you or your CS leader spend their day in a continual game of whac-a-mole, always responding but never thinking or planning for the future, you will never win the war against service failures, communication breakdowns, staff morale, or the countless other issues that demand your attention.

The answer to this perennial CS problem is for leaders to ditch Shakespeare for a little Bob Newhart...: "Just stop it!" If you ever want to get ahead of the CS curve and start fixing some of the systemic problems in your department, you MUST commit to setting aside time to stop, think, and plan. Here are three examples of what this anti-activity mindset could look like in your department:

1) Weekly Department Staff Meetings

Take time every week to pull your team out of the hustle and bustle of the CS workflow, sit them down as a group, and talk to them. Share what's going on at the leadership level, communicate recent changes to processes, recognize team members who have gone above and beyond. The trays will be waiting for them when you return, but the time spent during these meetings will pay dividends in growth, morale, and teamwork.

2) Weekly Department Leadership Meetings

Just as important as your department-wide meetings is scheduling regular time with your leadership team to discuss workflow challenges, shift dynamics, improvement projects, and staff development. The value of having a dedicated opportunity for your leaders to collaborate together without being pulled in a million different directions is hard to overstate. Give your leaders time to think, plan, and grow together on a weekly basis, and they will give you the kind of leadership that makes great teams.

3) Scheduled Management Work/Vision Days

Finally, don't underestimate the importance of giving yourself and your department leader time to think big and plan for the future. As an SPD Director, I schedule certain days for my Manager and I to spend time writing SOPs, updating job descriptions, outlining improvement projects, brainstorming workflow changes, and developing educational material. These are the things that are hard to prioritize amidst the normal flood of competing interests in your department, but they are some of the most important things you could be doing to provide long-term improvement to your team.


So, before you head back out to lead your troops into battle against those dangerous microbial fire-breathers, remember one thing: Sometimes great leaders don't just do something, they stand there!

Now, be brave and give yourself and your team some time to think...

What say you?

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019


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