Leaders are Signal Generators

05 May 2014

Virginia Mason Medical CentreBy Kevin Hardy

Dr Gary Kaplan, CEO and Chairman of Virginia Mason Health System, spoke at the IHI Forum in Paris earlier this month. He made a number of comments that resonated for me. The first is not new, but he reminded the audience of global health leaders that we often need a North Star to guide us and sometimes it takes time to pin down that North Star. He used the phrase “If you dream it, you can do it”.

Yes, not new but good to be reminded to continually seek the ultimate potential of our organisation and to drive relentlessly towards that potential. However, driving with determination also needs us to demonstrate the flexibility necessary to adjust as critical circumstance demands. For example, it took Virginia Mason two years to finalise their vision! They persevered until they got to a vision that made most sense to them and in the process they built on their culture of commitment to lean, patient centred healthcare.Secondly, he spoke of impact through:

Leaders are story tellers and narrators in their role of building culture and meaning, as well as pointing in the direction of the North Star. Being able to create a dream for the future enables people to be part of the excitement of the future. To be a true leader, you need to be a “signal generator”. To create a dream for the future, that enables people to be part of and engage in the excitement of the future.

Since Dr Kaplan has been CEO, Virginia Mason has received significant national and international recognition. Virginia Mason is a national leader in deploying the Toyota Production System to healthcare management – reducing the high cost of healthcare while improving quality, safety and efficiency.

As I sit and listen to presentations at IHI-type Forums I come from a different perspective. For me quality, safety, value are just as critical in an organisational sense. In fact the partnership between organisational leaders and clinical leaders (no matter what your level is in an organisation) is essential. This is not negotiable.

That partnership starts with having the right leaders in place who can give direction, tell stories about what the future will look like and how the journey is both exciting and challenging. Leaders need to validate the importance of patient and client centredness, engagement, transparency, boundarylessness, relationships and at the end of each day, results. The right leaders provide the right opportunities to grow their people, to involve them not only in clinical quality but organisational quality and value which in turn builds a culture of learning.

Note:- the Virginia Mason Production System is the leading methodology for innovation in healthcare in the United States. They apply lean principles to increase patient safety and quality of care, while reducing costs.