December 3, 2004

‘Elevate’ initiative lifts off as leaders begin training program

Featured Image

The Studer Group’s Quint Studer addresses VUMC leadership at the kickoff presentation for the institution’s ‘Elevate’ program.
photo by Mary Donaldson

‘Elevate’ initiative lifts off as leaders begin training program

Last week about 340 managers and physician leaders from Vanderbilt University Medical Center gathered in a spacious meeting room at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel for a daylong organizational development presentation by well-traveled health care consultant Quint Studer.

The next day another 290 or so VUMC managers and physician leaders gathered in the same room for a repeat of the presentation. The VUMC executive leadership team attended both days.

The presentation capped nearly a year of negotiation and planning to begin an engagement between VUMC managers and Studer Group consultants. Elevate is the name chosen by VUMC leaders for this upcoming work.

“This is a turning point at Vanderbilt Medical Center,” said Vice Chancellor Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., speaking to the gathering toward the end of the Monday session. “Think about Nov. 22 as the day that changed your career and changed Vanderbilt, because that's the way I think of it.”

Excellence, integrity and ongoing improvement are the credo of the Vanderbilt clinical enterprise, and leaders say elevate is intended first of all to help VUMC best embody these core values.

Summing up at the end of Monday's session, Executive Vice President for Clinical Affairs Norman Urmy said to the crowd at Loews, “This is huge. I'm going to have to change everything I do at work.” Urmy spoke of elevate as a two- to four-year process for change. “Thank God we don't have to do all this by next week. … We got only the syllabus today; there'll be specific training on all of this.”

Elevate centers on the adoption by VUMC leaders and managers of certain principles and practices packaged by Studer. Vanderbilt leaders stressed that this is not the start of yet another VUMC operational improvement program. In fact, they said elevate is not even a program.

The bulk of Studer's presentation was devoted to nine unflashy principles for service and operational excellence:

• commit to excellence;

• measure the important things;

• build a culture around servic;

• create and develop great leaders;

• focus on employee satisfaction;

• build individual accountability;

• align behaviors with goals and values;

• communicate at all levels;

• and recognize and reward success.

It's not the principles alone but the supporting practices and system of accountability that distinguish the Studer approach. The immediate aim, leaders say, is to improve the experience of patients in Vanderbilt hospitals and clinics.

While they're about it, the leadership team plans to refine how work in general is directed at VUMC. New goals and accountability for patient satisfaction will be matched with goals and accountability for clinical quality, financial results, staff and faculty satisfaction and growth in patient volume.

Elevate comes with an executive steering committee headed by Jacobson and separate committees for leadership development, leadership evaluation, communication, standards, service and operational excellence, performance measurement, physician satisfaction and employee recruitment and retention.

Studer used personal stories to illustrate his principles for service and operational excellence. To pick just one of his many recurring points, he emphasized how simple it can be and how important it is to lower patient anxiety, saying this translates to higher patient satisfaction and better patient compliance with the treatment regimen.

In all he talked for nearly seven hours on Monday, pacing a long stage between high, twin video screens that alternated between a PowerPoint slide show and live video of the event. Studer frequently stepped into the audience to engage individuals, helping to add a Vanderbilt context to his presentation.

The audience was asked to begin within a week to communicate elevate principles and practices to staff and faculty in their departments.