Mission Check: How to keep your essential promises

Typically, organizations pour a lot of effort and brain power into developing powerful mission, vision, and values statements. The final results of arduous brainstorming sessions, these statements are boldly plastered on websites, walls, organizational literature, and employee name tags. They stand as the organization's essential promises to their customers. Breaking any one of these promises leads to a breakdown in service, quality, and, ultimately, your reputation.

If your customers read and believe your mission, vision, and value statements, they'll likely feel confident that you are committed to a set of standards that you are willing to stand behind. But what happens when the customer has an experience that isn't in line with that public mission statement? In healthcare, that disconnect can prove more damaging than in any other industry. Why? Because the stakes are much higher in healthcare than they are at the local pizzeria, hotel, or themepark. You are dealing with lives.

If the registration clerk at the Ritz Carlton talks about your room preference in front of other customers, you might not take much notice. If a registration clerk at your local hospital starts talking about your upcoming procedure in earshot of three other customers, you're likely to wonder how committed that hospital is to their value of "privacy."

When was the last time you took a step back to see how well your employees are holding up their end of the mission statement bargain? The promise of a mission statement is only as good as the people who are living it out on a daily basis. As you round throughout your organization, filter your observations through your mission statement, vision statement, and values. Pay attention to how your employees are living out these promises and ask yourself if you are willing to stake the organization's reputation on any one snapshot or experience.

Mission Statements: What are you doing today?

Simply stated, a mission statement says why you exist and what you're doing today at this moment in time. If your mission statement is "to provide quality healthcare," how are you doing right now? Do your employees feel connected to the mission? Do they believe this is what they are doing right now? Do your patients believe this is what you are doing right now?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," where is the disconnect? What happens if there is a disconnect? How do you get back on the right track?

Linking your associates to the mission should start during the interview process. It should be an organization-wide expectation that, without exception, all employees promise to fulfill the mission statement in their jobs. Many organizations will ask employees to sign a mission promise in the interview or orientation process, binding them to the organization's values. Even online applications can be set up to require that job candidates must read and agree to living the mission and values as precursor to completing the application. Does checking the little "agree" box guarantee that their behavior will be perfectly aligned? Of course not. But it positions your organization as one of accountability. That first impression can be powerful.

Many organizations begin orientation with the CEO talking about mission, vision, and values. But orientation shouldn't be the last time an employee encounters the mission; he should really be reminded of it daily as he and his colleagues bring it to life. Communication must be ongoing and woven into daily discussions and printed messages, whether it's an e-mail announcement or printed memo. Where is the mission statement visible in your building? Are employees reminded of the mission statement and how their daily tasks help the organization uphold that promise? Do they grasp how important their piece of that promise is?

Do they use this promise in their interactions with patients and other customers? Have frontline providers talk to patients about your mission promise during the admission process: "At XYZ Hospital, we're committed to providing you the best in healthcare. What are two or three things that we can do during your stay that will make your care the best it can be?" Write these on the whiteboard in the patient's room. That way, everyone coming into the room will be able to see the patient priorities and can support the promise on the patient's terms.

Vision Statements: What will you do tomorrow?

The greatest leaders are able to articulate a clear and compelling vision. Those who are well prepared for the future have a clear vision statement articulating where they want to be in the future. Particularly in uncertain times, your team members need to know that you are focused on the future. Those who are best prepared for the future have a workforce that stands behind that vision and is committed to seeing it through. Many organizations have a vision to be the provider of choice and the employer of choice. It may be articulated in different words, but the bottom line desire is the same. The promise is implied. And that promise is aligning what patients experience today with your vision.

Several years ago, while speaking at a conference, I bet that 90 percent of the employees at my organization at the time could recite our vision statement, which was "to be a place where patients choose to come for care, where physicians want to practice, and where employees want to work. " A couple of my staff members in the audience put my remark to the test and launched the organization's VisionQuest. A team spent two weeks interviewing employees throughout the organization, and in the end, it was determined that 91 percent of employees who were asked could recite the vision statement.

As a campaign to increase awareness of the organization's vision, it worked wonderfully. But what would have happened if that VisionQuest team had gone on to ask each employee, "What are you doing to bring the vision to life?" How many employees would connect their daily actions to fulfilling the organization's vision? Would they be able to articulate that they have the ability to bring the vision to life?

Keeping the promise of the vision statement requires a big-picture view of where your organization is today and what goals you want to achieve in the future. By articulating a vision statement publicly, you have an army of customers waiting to hold you accountable for that vision. Periodically including all employees in a "vision check" will ensure that all are traveling on the same journey.

Core Values: What do you believe in?

Core values statements are oftentimes displayed right alongside mission and vision statements. Core values statements articulate what the organization believes in and how they intend to treat their customers. Core values statements must be consistent with what's practiced on a daily basis. Healthcare employees are continuously, if not consciously, being evaluated by their patients. In this day of transparency and consumer-driven healthcare, consumers are more aware than ever of service. If the provider proclaims to value compassion and the patient is treated coldly, that is perceived as a broken promise, and trust is destroyed.

If there's a promise being broken, you can't afford to let it go on. There may be times when limited resources, faulty processes, or facility limitations create barriers to keeping promises. Identify and fix.

Do a mission check. Either you, or someone from outside your organization, should do periodic examinations to help you and your organization bring your organizational promises down off their plaque on the wall and into life in your everyday operations.

Chances are, your mission, vision, and core values have been established and published for quite awhile. You've made the promise, now make sure that you are living it at each and every turn.

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