5 things process excellence professionals can learn from nurses

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In honour of the recent World Nursing Day, Debashis Sarkar looks at five things process excellence professionals can learn from nurses.

You all would probably agree that nursing is probably among the noblest profession on earth. Since Florence Nightingale laid the foundation of transforming nursing from that being a domestic service to that of a profession in nineteenth century, nurses have been serving humankind.

Every time I see a nurse in action, it amazes me to see how caring and compassionate they are as they navigate through multiple duties which could be as varied as comforting patients with pain, delivering babies, changing saline bottles, inserting a catheter, consoling the relatives of someone who has just died, cleaning soiled patients, listening to the traumatic stories of patients and so on.

Nurses are real heroes who work behind the scenes to keep us all healthy while keeping patient’s needs central to everything that they do. For nurses patients are their customers and the commitment with which they serve is something that many of us would have felt. We often don’t realize but they help us to navigate some of the most difficult moments of our lives.

So in honour of the recent World Nursing Day (May 12th), what are some of the things which process excellence professionals learn from nurses? While the list can be large I have picked five of the most relevant:

#1: Advocacy

As a patient advocate, a nurse stands up for the patient’s needs and makes sure that the care provided is in their best interests. As nurses continually interact directly with the patients they are well placed to understand what impact decisions about care will have on their patients.

Process Excellence Professionals (PEX Pro) also need to be advocates - but of the customers (i.e. the end customer) of the process. When we’re improving only a part of a process we can sometimes forget the impact on the end customer and this can be quite disastrous. For instance, if we’re looking at improving the accuracy of the "cash cheque" process at a bank branch we want to make sure that we’re focussing on the entire experience. Otherwise, measures we put in place to improve accuracy may make the process less efficient and pleasant from the customer’s point of view. When facilitating improvements, it’s imperative to always keep this customer in mind and think of any process from their perspective.

#2: Patience

Having patience is the hallmark of a good nurse. In an emotionally charged environment like a hospital, a nurse needs to be calm and manage the difficult emotions of patients on one side, ensure hospital’s need for being operationally efficient are taken care off and also carry out the instructions of a demanding doctor. Under such circumstances if a nurse looses his/her calm, things can go awry. Hence, it requires a nurse to always keep the larger picture of compassion and care in mind and not to do anything that could make them dysfunctional and impede rational thinking, despite all the stress and workplace and managing the various constituents.

What process professionals need to learn from here is that they need to be patient as they try managing the various stakeholders. Sometimes these individuals could be irrational, demanding and even rude. It’s important to keep calm and not get emotional about these reactions. You must always keep the larger objective of the process excellence endeavour and demonstrate emotional resilience to manage varied situations.

Also, just like it can take a long time for a patient to get well, process professionals must be aware that the culture of process thinking takes time to grow and embed in an organisation. There is no magic formula to make it happen. One has to be at it and over a period of time it becomes a part of the organisational fabric.

#3: Passion for education

Nurses are just not care givers but also health educators who play the role of educating patients on what need to be done to maintain a healthy life. They also act as teachers for other budding nurses, provide mentorship to fellow nurses and provide latest knowledge and information from fields such as medicine, medical technology, customer-service, healthcare legislations etc , so that nurses are updated.

Like nurses, process professionals must focus on continual learning and teaching. They need to focus on creating cadre of change agents who can contribute in process excellence efforts. A successful process excellence deployment is one in which process efforts have become a part of business-as-usual activities of an organisation. And this would happen through repeated training and awareness facilitated by PEX Pros.

#4: Adaptability

For a nurse every day is different. They face a wide array of situations. Patients can come in one of the most vulnerable and dark moments which makes them often unpredictable and irrational. There could be days a patient may arrive with complex medical condition which could be a matter of life of death. There could be varying medical procedures that they need to administer. To summarize a nurse’s life is filled with uncertainty and they need to wade through varying operational environment for which they need to demonstrate adaptive leadership.

This is a great learning for PEX professionals who also need work in varied settings. For a process professional no day is the same. Sometimes you can be dealing with an aggressive sales team or a demanding CEO, the next it’s an indifferent shop-floor worker or disengaged staff. Successful PEX professionals are just not "tool-heads" but change leaders adept in adaptive leadership.

#5: Detail orientation

Nurses are detailed oriented. They have a great eye for details so that even little things are taken care of that can impact a patient’s health. Missing even a small dose of medicine or a step in a medical procedure could be fatal. An effective nurse can decipher even minor symptoms which could indicate the deterioration of a patient’s health. It’s the little things that the nurses do contribute towards healthy recovery.

Like nursing professionals, process excellence leaders also need to have an eye for details. It’s the focus on little things that ensures a great outcome. While embarking on a process endeavour a PEX leader should list all the small and big things that need to be addressed to make sure the final results are desired. For example, if the focus is enhancing customer experience in a fine dining restaurant; the focus has to be on food quality, food presentation, aroma, ambience, wait times, staff-friendliness, staff-knowledge, interaction with chef, valet-parking, location of the restaurant, approach to reservation, display of food history etc. It’s all these little things that add up to experience.

To summarize, if nurses are responsible for quality of human life, the work of process excellence professionals is to ensure the health of an organisation by focussing on the process management system.