William Considine embraces Lean Six Sigma to improve Akron Children’s Hospital

Present employees the idea

As the CEO, you have to set the stage.

First, you need to make sure your management team and board will back your idea. Even though Akron Children’s has a philosophy of continuous improvement, the hospital still discussed whether Lean Six Sigma was a worthy way to spend time and money. A few raised concerns, but Considine says sometimes getting buy-in from skeptics centers on how you present the idea and listen to opinions.

“One thing you need to do is respect everybody’s opinions and I do,” he says. “At the same time, advance positive energy in what we’re doing. I find people want to be around positive energy.

“You know how you feel when you’re in a room with a bunch of naysayers. Quite honestly, people don’t want to be around negative energy. I don’t give it a lot of credibility. If people want to voice it fine, I don’t hover around it though. I move on to that positive energy and, ‘OK, we’ll take that input. We’ll process it, and we’re going forward.’ The large majority of people go forward.”

For Considine, Lean Six Sigma wasn’t a hard sell. Members of his leadership team actually recommended discussing the strategy. But not having leadership on board is one of the pitfalls you can face when implementing new processes and procedures.

“Not having genuine commitment from your management team, the people on the front line will figure out real quick and they’ll say, ‘Well, no one really cares about this,’” Considine says.

With management on board, you need to again set the stage for your entire employee base. Akron Children’s used a gamut of communication tools to get the message out — internal publications and departmental meetings, Considine spoke — but it’s how the message is phrased from the top that’s important. You have to explain the plan and set your expectations.

Considine gave Lean Six Sigma credibility by explaining it as a proven technique used in industry, business and recently hospitals to identify ways to improve processes. He outlined what he would expect from employees by telling them the best way to find efficiency is asking those on the front line how to improve what they do every day and that management would be asking for them to present ideas.

“You have to talk about how proud you are of the organization and the service,” Considine says. “When you talk to people, you just say, ‘There’s been a lot of change. You know your job as well as anybody. Are there ways that it can be structured? Are there processes that have been put into place (that can be) made more efficient?’ People respond to that. They really respond. All you have to do is have the courage to ask the questions. Ask them for help and they will help.”

Along with explaining Lean Six Sigma and employee expectations, the hospital identified people within the company who were held in high regard by their peers to be resources for the effort. The idea is to make employees comfortable with changes coming down the pipeline and empower them to take ownership in helping. If employees see trusted colleagues involved, the sell might be easier.

“We identified some of our own people that people in the hospital knew and respected, and said, ‘Here’s the team that can help you, will work with you,’” Considine says. “You have to set the table the right way, but it surely can be done.”