A Winning Way to Handle New Ideas
Janet DiClaudio, who was charge of medical records at two large American hospitals, had an unusual problem.
But, the past master in finding creative solutions to work related problems that she was, she found an equally unusual solution.
Of course, proper record keeping is critically important in any hospital. Moreover, if it is run on a commercial basis, medical records will determine how and what the institution gets paid. On the other hand, filling out medical records is not the most exciting pastime in the world. It can be a big pain, in fact. Doctors would prefer to do other things with their time.
But records have to be completed, properly and promptly. So what do you do about it? Janet DiClaudio got down to work and developed a highly "sophisticated system" :)
Janet called her system "Tootsie Roll Pops". Every time a doctor completed a medical record on time, he or she was awarded a Tootsie Roll Pop - apparently a cheap candy you buy by the bagful - and his or her name went into a drawing for a magnum of champagne.
Now, you don't have to feel sorry for most of these worthy doctors, thanks very much. Some of them can afford to buy a Tootsie Roll Pop factory. Many have case loads of the best champagne in the world back home in their cellars.
Yet Janet's system worked like a charm. The "Tootsie Roll Pop" campaign led to a doubling in record-completion productivity at the General Hospital in Buffalo, New York, where Janet was working.
She then took a new position at a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, and found that her new institution had a backlog of about 300 medical records. No problem! In Savannah, she rewarded each doctor who completed a record from the backlog with a handful of animal crackers.
Two weeks later, the hospital had gone through twenty pounds of animal crackers, but the record backlog had been all but eliminated. As a result, the hospital was able to collect more than four million dollars. For that return, I hardly think the accounts department would have complained about the expenditure on the crackers!
Basic need that moves the most sophisticated..
Roger Firestien recounts this delightful medical saga in his Leading on the Creative Edge which I quoted in a previous article. What has it do with us?
Well, I bring it here not only because it is such a beautiful illustration of creativity in problem solving, but also - and this is what really concerns us - it forcefully demonstrates the power of praise and recognition.
After all, the doughty physicians in our story weren't children; it couldn't have been the handout of a few measly goodies that motivated them. There's a more basic need, however, that apparently doesn't fail to move even the most sophisticated amongst us.
In a landmark work In Search of Excellence researchers Tom Peters and Robert Waterman ask readers to imagine that they are sales assistants in a store who are being punished for failing to treat a customer well.
If you are in this situation, you might feel yourself to be in a frustrating dilemma, because you still don't know what to do to receive approval. In fact, you might well react by avoiding customers altogether, since you have come to associate customers with punishment.
Now, supposes a manager would tell you that a "mystery shopper" has complimented you on your outstanding courtesy and helpfulness. What would you do now?
Most likely, you'd rush back to the floor to find more customers to treat well, for now you have associated them with praise and recognition. Your self-esteem has been enhanced immeasurably, and you want to keep living up to expectations of you..
I would have thought that you don't need to be a university professor to work this one out, but Peters and Waterman report:
"Our general observation is that most managers know very little about the value of positive reinforcement. Many either appear not to value it at all, or consider it beneath them, undignified, or not very macho. The evidence from the excellent companies strongly suggests that managers who feel this way are doing themselves a great disservice..."
But positive reinforcement should be dispensed not only when someone whom we lead does something we wanted him to do. Encouragement is also the appropriate response when someone suggests a novel idea or solution to a problem. And this brings me back to a subject we have discussed before.
Inhibitions to the winds...
About 30 years ago, a creativity consulting firm on the American East Coast was conducting creativity seminars for large corporations.
The leaders urged participants to throw inhibitions to the winds, unleash the power locked up in their minds, and to throw up all the ideas they could manage, however wild they might appear to be. Their peers were then asked to evaluate the proposals and see if they could be used to solve company problems.
Inevitably, seminar participants could only see negative aspects in most of the suggestions, and swiftly tore them to pieces. As the sessions ended, the more discerning amongst them sometimes confided in the organizers: "You know, we had the beginnings of some pretty powerful ideas in this session. But by the time we got done evaluating them, all we had left were the same worn-out, old concepts."
Then it happened that at one seminar, several people from the same company noticed the idea slaughtering. They approached the two leaders conducting the session and suggested they talk to the president of their company.
"This man," they explained, "has a unique way of dealing with ideas. And it seems to pay off. Our company is growing by leaps and bounds, has excellent relationships with customers and suppliers, and is a great place to work."
Of course, the two consultants were intrigued. They asked for a meeting with the company president. "I obviously must be doing something right," he told them, "but I'm darned if I know what it is...I'd love to find out."
In short, the consultants shadowed the president for a week. They sat in on meetings and strategic conversations and walked through the plant with the president.
The visitors soon realized that when someone approached the president with a new idea, the latter became very conscious of what was about to occur. Someone in the company was about to present an idea they thought might improve the organization, smooth out the work flow, or make more money.
The president became all ears. In contrast to his counterparts in many other companies who perceived new ideas as threats, he saw them as opportunities. He knew that this was the stuff that made his business better.
When someone proposed an idea, the president would respond by enumerating the PLUSES (strengths or advantages) of the idea. He would then discusses its POTENTIALS (possible spin-offs or future gains which could be realized if the idea were implemented). Finally, he would address CONCERNS posed by the idea.
Even when addressing concerns, however, instead of saying: "This idea will cost too much", he would throw out a challenge by asking: "How might you reduce the cost?" or "How might you raise the money to develop this idea?". Instead of offering a prophecy of doom by saying: "Management will never accept this idea" he would inquire: "How might you get management's support?"
The seed which was planted in the minds of this corporate president's "shadows" that week led to the development and fine-tuning of a tool that was to have far reaching effects in the business and organizational world. The PPC (Pluses, Potentials, Concerns) Technique was developed by Dr. Firestien and two colleagues, Dianne Foucar-Szocki and Bill Shepard.
If you were to propose an idea to this company president, and he evaluated it together with you in the manner outlined above, how would you react?
Wouldn't you be inspired by the friendly challenge thrown out at you to find a way of overcoming even the smallest concerns?
It makes you think, doesn't it?
Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.
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