Our culture and society is in fast-change mode. If you don’t believe it, look at the largest growth industries today. One of the largest growth companies is Google, whose very business premise didn’t exist just a few years ago.
Many senior care providers are operating in ways very similar to how they operated 20 years ago. Staffing models are essentially the same; the menu of services and the way it is delivered is unchanged.
We’re on the verge of a dramatic change in our society that will affect the way senior care is delivered as we boomers advance into old age. We will likely insist on change, as we refuse to age the way our parents and grandparents aged.
Learning organizations are those that have the foundational structure in place to keep up with these changes. They’ll be the leaders – or perhaps the survivors.
How can you nurture your own organization (or your own department, for that matter) into become a true learning organization?
Get rid of the language that resists change. When you hear someone on your team say, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” ask one question: “Why?” Teach your team to ask why as well. And then open the doors to thinking as a team about how else it could be done. If it’s working really well, leave it alone. If it could be done better, change it.
Take action, then analyze. When we started the first online CNA training program in the state of Oregon, we decided that we needed to own the entire training program. That meant getting lab and clinical training sites located throughout the state, managed by a variety of non-profit, for-profit and government owned organizations. Some of our sites were very well run and managed; some were highly dysfunctional. Within 90 days we realized that the program needed to be changed. Fortunately, our co-sponsor, Oregon Health Care Association, was open to a healthy, rousing analysis of what was working and what wasn’t. Together, we arrived at Plan B. We were no more sure that it would work smoother than Plan A, but we knew we needed to at least try it. Now, we’re offering just the online aspect of the course, and requiring our training partners to manage all other aspects of the training program within their program. We gave up all ownership of students and programs, and simply offer the online course. It works well – today. But we’ll be continually reviewing the program to catch it quickly, we hope, if we need to change it again. The point is that if we would have waited to launch the program until we knew exactly how it should work, we may never have launched it, or we may have been so invested in the Plan A approach that we may have been unwilling to quickly change to another approach.
Include all levels of your team. Typically the folks in the “C” suite (CEOs, CFO, COOs and their kin) make all the strategic plans for an organization. But in a true learning organization, all levels get involved. Who understands best, for example, what works and doesn’t work in your kitchen beside the cooks? Who understands best scheduling dynamics of shifts better than the caregivers? Learning from experience means getting all levels involved. It means fostering an environment, from the ground up, that allows people to ask questions and give input; that takes action and then analyzes that action, without assigning blame or fault.
Make change a part of your culture. Managing change is one of the hardest aspect of running an organization, especially change that affects everyone in the company. Some employees will resist any change; others will actively look for ways to make the change into the problem, rather than truly analyzing the results of the change. Communicate to your team that change is a fact of life – that things WILL change. Invite them to become a part of the change in a positive way. Make change fun, exciting, interesting, and most importantly, productive and worthwhile. Let your team know that if the change doesn’t produce the desired result, you’ll analyze it and take action – you aren’t just changing for the sake of shaking things up. Team members will begin to see the value in this continual iterative process of plan-launch-analyze-tweak until they, too, start participating in the process.
Most of us won’t have the luxury of business as usual, year after year into the future. We’ll need to become true learning organizations to survive and thrive.