During the Covid pandemic, today should be no different than any other day in healthcare. People in our communities still require care, have medical or behavioral health needs, and are experiencing challenges in caring for family members and themselves. The difference is that now our world has been served a big plate of confusion, uncertainty, and illness layered on top of our already vulnerable population. Front line healthcare teams are going above and beyond to provide information, assistance, and care for all of us. Leaders and front line workers are in a mode of constant change and adjustment. As an executive coach for c-suite and leaders in healthcare all over the country, I hear many variations of the same challenges. I also hear the passion that overflows from their words; their desire to want to fix it all and make this pandemic go away for their teams and for their patients. If this public health crisis disappeared tomorrow, we would not only be left with pure joy, but a wealth of lessons learned and new perspectives on how to provide services. Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of a crisis full of uncertainty and rapid cycles of change.

Where can new ideas come from? Though it might feel like the idea-well is running dry and people are too tired to journey on, there is hope. I was working with a Clinical Director from a health center who was feeling stuck as some of her direct reports were feeling unmotivated and experiencing burnout. She wanted to engage them in making process improvements was unsure how to move forward to still provide a level of high quality care to patients, enhance morale, and achieve organizational and financial goals.

I was listening beyond her words and felt her passion overflow the detail of her story. I heard her yearning for stability and consistency and yet, within these heavy conversations, I also heard courage and endurance that has been living under the surface. It is those qualities that are keeping her hope alive and drives her to stay motivated and strong day after day. During these encounters, I often think of the quote from Ernest Hemingway ‘Courage is grace under pressure.’ Dynamic coaching relationships like this one allow me the permission to dive deeper and grab onto the client’s hidden strengths and work with them in meaningful conversation. Together, we untangle past experiences that make them the amazing leaders they are today. We can draw out specific examples of how specific attributes and abilities were born because of past struggles and conflicts. It is this process of uncovering the true value of the person that we can reinvent old systems and ways of thinking to create new practices based on the core of the strengths that are brought to the table. New ideas and fresh perspectives come from within and from our past experiences.

Just as I help leaders find their core inner strengths and skills, we use the same process for system transformation and performance improvement in an organization. If we look at what we have learned from past projects, what innovations others doing, and what we are doing well in our own organization already, we can realize organizational strengths and view fresh perspectives on resolving specific challenges. In short, we already have the ideas. We already know what to do and how to do it. Now let’s bring that to light in a way that we can actually appreciate it.

How we can use appreciation as a tool.

There is a concept developed by David Cooperrider called Appreciative Inquiry which can bridge two areas of an organization or two people together who are facing the same challenge. This strategy engages people in discussions to highlight strengths, successes, and what is working rather than focusing on just the problem and what is going wrong. The idea is to look at another internal process that is currently working or examine your successful actions from the past and why they worked so well. What aspects of those experiences could you apply in this situation?

In my experience working with different organizations, there are many other benefits to using this concept.

  • Brings people and teams together who would not have normally collaborated
  • Creates an opportunity to develop a dashboard of projects, successes & lessons learned
  • Inspires and motivates employees to get engaged
  • Individuals have opportunities to train others and learn how to share knowledge effectively

Incorporate an appreciative inquiry approach into your routine

  • Be the example for others. Whenever you are bringing people together, the first question to start with should be “What have we done well in this area?” The next question should be “Who has done this well?” As you continue to make successes the way you start each meeting, your staff and colleagues will begin to expect it and prepare to answer that question and in turn repeat the pattern with their teams and meetings.
  • Think beyond just your own industry, state or sector. For example, if you are struggling with how to communicate with your front line teams because they are seeing patients and not looking at email during the day. You can look at the hospitality and restaurant industries to evaluate how they communicate with their staff without desks, laptops or email connection during their work day or shift.
  • Interview your colleagues. You might think you already know your colleagues and work family very well. But what you might not know is how they started at the organization or became interested in the field they are in. Set up a time with a colleague to inquire and ask lots of questions; like “What do you value most about this department? Your role?” “What about this organization makes you glad you work here?” “What/who inspires you?”

Use the four areas of the Appreciative Inquiry Model; 4D Cycle:

  • Discovery – Interview your colleagues, other departments or organizations. Ask questions about:
    • Our changing world
    • Organizational or community
    • Context of opportunity
  • Dream – Use your imagination to look at what the future could look like if we had all the resources, time, and innovation.
    • Articulation of vision and the future we want
  • Design – What areas would receive the biggest positive impact of change. How do staff interact now and how will they in the future?
    • Principles
    • Proactive propositions
    • Ideals
  • Destiny – What will this mean for our teams? How will the new innovation be delivered in a way that is accepted. How will we embed this into our process and sustain it over time?
    • Initiatives
    • Pilots
    • Improvisation

“In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein