People and Human ROI

Using the considerable brainpower of the organization’s people has proven to be more than sufficient to master its challenges.  In the new era of hospital managing, leaders are cutting the umbilical cord of consultant dependency and using the greater knowledge and capabilities of their own team.  This strategy has repeatedly proven its substantial value and will be core to the success of 21st century healthcare. 

Finding Your Treasure

In the early 1900s Russell Conwell became famous for his lecture, Acres of Diamonds.  It is the story of an ancient farmer Ali Hafed, who in a dream discovered a large diamond, one that would make him rich beyond measure and totally transform his life.  Even though Ali had much to make him contented, the dream made him feel poor in comparison to the untold riches that might be his.  He became obsessed with the idea of owning a diamond mine.  As a result, he sold his farm, left his family and went on a wandering journey in search of diamonds, finding nothing, and eventually dying alone in true poverty.

This sad story has a second chapter.  The man who purchased Ali’s farm found a number of odd stones and rocks, picked them out of the field, and while they did not appear to be of value, found they were indeed diamonds, discovering what would become India’s Golconda diamond mine, a source of much wealth and some of the world’s largest diamonds. The moral of the fable said Conwell:

“Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own cellar, or underneath his own wheat fields or in his own garden, instead of wretchedness, starvation, and death…, he would have had ‘acres of diamonds.’”

Mining Your Diamond Field

The story raises the question, are there acres of diamonds around today’s leaders that they fail to see? Is it possible that those resources are actually “in the house” but are unrecognized?  Are they right in our own back yard if we would but dig for them?

Managements often fail to understand their management opportunity.  Akio Morita, founder of Sony, said, “American management’s biggest failing is that they do not realize that their people are their prime competitive advantage.”  While healthcare’s common sentiment is that our people are valuable, recognizing them as an asset does not mean that their value is realized.  Its like knowing you have diamonds in the back yard, but not knowing how to extract them, nor how to cut and polish them, nor how to distribute the final product to customers.

Ideation mining is the process of finding ideas for change and improvement.  This is part of the new drive to focus on intellectual capital and knowledge management.  Drucker put it this way:

The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the
20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing.

The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.

Turning on the Change Machine

One way to think of an organization is that it is a change processor.  Key to an organization’s future is its ability to manage change, and chew through a lot of it quickly and well.  What is the turnaround time for making things happen in your organization?  The new realization is that being big or having a successful history provides no protection, and that in the new era it is the swift that will eat the slow.  Time-based competition has become one of the new rules for success.

An analogy:  Computer users want their computer to work fast, and to be user friendly.  Two key issues for computer makers are to increase chip speed so more information can move more quickly, and to make the user interface easier to navigate.  Similarly, in the old organization, leaders were asked to do more and more. In computers the barrier is too much heat.  In executives this translates to burnout. As managers struggle to make change in a resistant organization they experience a too-difficult user interface.

To solve the speed problem, computer engineers are following two new tracks that apply equally as well to hospital managers: multiprocessing and operating system changes.  In multiprocessing, the computer divides the work among several processors, resulting in substantially more work being done in a unit of time.  Effective leaders are abandoning the concept of super performing managers who move with lightning speed solving all problems, and moving to the idea that all Associates must be allowed to think like management. Said James Lincoln, the American management genius who founded Lincoln Electric in 1895:

It becomes perfectly true to anyone who will think this thing through that there is no such thing as a management activity, Management and Men having different functions or being two different kinds of people. Why can’t we think and why don’t we think that all people are Management? Can you imagine any president of any factory or machine shop who can go down and manage a turret lathe as well the machinist can? Can you imagine any manager of any organization who can go down and manage a broom—let us get down to that—who can manage a broom as well as a sweeper can?...Obviously, all are Management.

Build Your Own SuperComputer

It would be a mistake to think that this discussion is limited to simply advocating employee ideation and shared governance.  What is really at stake is a future where the intellectual capital of the hospital fully flourishes in a culture that is dominant against competitors, and forceful and powerful in fulfilling its mission.  In this future, the effective hospital leader creates a collective intelligence and performance model that truly makes it superior.

In the computer world, early efforts to build a supercomputer resulted in models like the Cray I, but that model’s performance was easily surpassed at Virginia Tech by simply linking ordinary desktop computers.  One story that passed over the news wires:

A machine called System X with 1,100 dual-processor Power Mac G5 workstations climbed to third place on the Top500 list of the most powerful supercomputers. The machine was built for considerably less than the 100 million dollar cost of the current supercomputer generation. 

Super Performance From Ordinary Components 

When organization leaders are willing to rethink the problem, innovation flourishes, teams become strongly linked, and the job becomes a joy. Analogies often don’t work but in this case we think they do.  To think of healthcare people as “acres of diamonds” is justified based on the millions of dollars worth of value they produce.  And in an applied science business, to think of them as supercomputers is also apt.