How Sarah Sinclair creates positive change at The Cleveland Clinic

Sarah Sinclair, Executive Chief Nursing Officer, Cleveland Clinic Health System; Chair, Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence

Sarah Sinclair says she could run a Toyota plant or a chicken farm. After all, it’s all about people and processes.

As the executive chief nursing officer for the Cleveland Clinic Health System and chair of the Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence, Sinclair is charged with overseeing 11,000 nurses. When she started, her role was a new one, so she had to focus on the people and create processes in order to make changes to improve the organization.

“It’s not that hard, but it’s hard work because it’s about building relationships,” she says. “People will go with you in the change process if they believe you’re sincere and have good integrity and you’re not in it for something for you, but you’re in it for the right thing in the organization.”

It’s key to make sure you paint a picture of where you want the organization to go.

“It goes very much to being able to create a future state in the form of a vision, which allows people to get engaged in that process,” she says. “That’s the most important thing because if people can see where it is they’re going, why it’s important and be a part of creating that, then they have a vested interest in wanting to go there.”

To start, Sinclair asked whom the changes would impact the most in the organization, and she gathered groups of those constituents together to talk to them. This included patients, physicians, leadership, professionals with whom nurses worked and the nursing leadership and staff nurses. She talked to them about what was important and what needed to be prioritized to make the organization better.

“Surprisingly enough, there will start to emerge common themes of all the various stakeholders of things that are important and things that they see have an opportunity to be better in a future state,” she says.

As these themes emerged, she captured those in the work they did and went through a process called multivoting with each of those stakeholders to prioritize the objectives based on what they thought was needed most immediately. Each person was able to select his or her top three choices.

“It’s really looking at what gets the most votes,” she says. “It’s not a democracy, necessarily, but it is, in a way. If 40 percent believe this is No. 1, and the next closest is 20 percent, then probably that is the priority to the bulk of the stakeholders. There’s usually good thought put into it.”

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