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The Power of Words and the Wonder of Wit: 5 Tips on Leveraging Language as an SPD Professional

1) "Like a good neighbor..."
2) "Come on down, you're the next contestant on..."
3) "Maybe she's born with it,..."
4) "There's some things money can't buy. For everything else..."

Chances are very high that if you've spent any time in the United States over the past 20 years you can finish at least three out of the four phrases above (give it your best shot in the comments section below). 

Do you know how I know this? Because words have power, and when an idea is packaged with the appropriate verbiage, it crawls deep inside your subconscious and camps out for a good long while. I'm sure there's a mountain of marketing studies out there to back this up, but who needs studies when I can just start humming, "Gimme a break, gimme a break/ break me off a piece of that..."

What's the use of speaking if no one remembers what we have to say?

A well-placed word, or a "word in season" as Proverbs calls it, has the power to punch a one-way ticket to people's memories like few other forms of communication. And that is why it behooves Sterile Processing leaders to know how to leverage their language to build their teams, cast their vision, and spur their folks on to industry excellence. What's the use of speaking if no one remembers what we have to say? Here are five quick tips to help ensure your quips have emotional staying power:

 1) Develop a Department Dictionary

Your first step in making your words work for you as a leader should be to develop a department dictionary with all the words, concepts, mission, vision, and values that you want your team to be hearing from you on a daily basis. This could be something as simple as a one page list of the department values you want your team to focus on (things like "Quality," "Customer Service," "Professionalism," etc.) or as substantial as a multi-page strategic plan for your department. Whatever it is, make sure you and your other leaders treat it as the air you breathe and the water you drink. If someone cuts you with a mayo scissor, you need to bleed those words.

2) Make the Concepts Public (Department) Domain

Once you have developed the contours of the message you want to be giving your team, now you have to make it known.

Keep in mind that this step requires you to convert your dictionary into a powerful and memorable format that your front-line technicians will both be able to understand and be influenced by. A few modes of transmission for this message could be quotes on the department whiteboard, daily email updates, login messages on your instrument tracking system, monthly department newsletters, employee recognition cards, and staff meeting minutes. The more formats you can integrate, the better -- make your message the aroma of department life. They should be able to walk in the door and smell "Quality." 

3) Use the Gift of Gab and the Wonder of Wit

As noted above, when publicizing your vision or values for your team, take special care to break out of the monotony of company clichés. Instead, engage in all the wit your team can muster. For instance, if you are rolling out a new program on flexible scope care and handling, instead of calling it "The Flexible Scope Care and Handling Project," why not call it by the much more memorable moniker of "Hope for Scopes"? Or if you are starting a new leadership program to give your front-line technicians exposure to practical leadership skills, skip the temptation to title it "Leadership 101" and create an acronym like "LeaPE Training" (Leadership and Practical Experience Training). While we are not in the business of selling products per se, we are in the business of selling a vision and/or message to our teams. Make it a point to make it catchy. 

4) Make use of Department Choir Practice

Okay, so I'm not encouraging you to literally have your folks split up into Bass, Tenors, Sopranos, and Altos for a stirring rendition of the "Sterilization National Anthem" -- but the analogy of a choir could be helpful nonetheless.

To be successful, this message of yours can not be a solo act. You will need all your leaders and every team member singing the same vision-infused lyrics, so take advantage of your time together to teach them the tune. During staff meetings or daily huddles, ask other leaders to highlight a particular department value or encourage front-line employees to recite portions of your strategic vision from memory. In the early days of these meetings, you may feel more like a choir director, teaching them the lines and keeping folks on key. But as your team gets acculturated, you'll feel more like just another voice in the band.

5) Go Tell it on the Mountain (Over the Hills and Everywhere)

So the words have been crafted, the dictionary dispersed, the message refined, and the team tuned up -- now for the every day experience of shouting your department vision from the rooftops. Almost as important as the content of your words should be the inescapable pervasiveness of their presence. The reason you know which paper towel is "the thicker, quicker picker-upper" is not because you heard it once and it immediately became unforgettable. Rather, you heard that Bounty commercial dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and it finally stuck. Your message -- whatever it is -- must be just as pervasive. Hand-written thank you notes, incident follow-up emails, corrective action conversations, annual evaluations, congratulatory comments in the hallway -- make every moment count and leverage every word to continue building your department narrative. It is in these small moments that the verbal seeds of a leader's vision really take root. 


Before I close this post, let me just say that I realize not every SPD leader is an oratory aficionado -- and that's OKAY! While many great speakers are also great leaders, there are many great leaders out there who don't have the gift of gab themselves. What's most important about leveraging your leadership language is not the pursuit of flowery speeches, but the pursuit of powerful content that's purposefully packaged, periodically publicized, put into practice and consistently preached. Yes, it will take some attention and a little bit of time. But so does crossing the street -- and most of us manage this feat of strength every day without incident. Give it a shot.

Can you hear me now? Good.

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019


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