Patient Experience Needs Leaders Not Just Cheerleaders

Posted by Kristin Baird on October 8th, 2016 • No Comments »

The patient experience has become more important than ever in our consumer-driven world.  Organizations that want to differentiate themselves with great customer service can achieve that goal but not without a solid plan and competent leadership. The problem is that not just anyone can, or should, be inserted into that leadership role.

A few years ago I was working with a health system that was just beginning to use patient satisfaction scores as a criteria for bonuses. One of their hospitals was the outlier with low patient satisfaction and we had been retained to help. When I met with the CEO to discuss a plan, it was clear that we’d have a long way to go. As I began to lay out a model for improvement, I asked who he planned to lead the journey. He rattled off a name I didn’t recognize from the leadership team. When I asked what role she currently held he said she worked in registration and described her as bright, bubbly and had great customer service skills. “People love her,” he said.

While those are fantastic qualities for registration; a role that often shapes the first impression, they hardly described someone equipped to navigate the organization through change. He actually said, “She’ll be a great cheerleader.”  Would you put a great cheerleader in charge of finance? How about quality?

Healthcare is notorious for taking good clinicians and appointing them to leadership roles. One day you are a good, competent staff nurse – the next day you are the manager leading large business units with dozens of employees. This practice has been ineffective in clinical departments and now it’s being applied to the patient experience. It boils down to the difference between leading and cheer-leading. A cheerleader is great at encouraging teams to reach a goal, but have little experience with strategy setting and execution.

Inserting a cheerleader into the top patient experience role is dangerous. They can kill credibility of the entire effort and feed the “flavor of the month” reputation held by “programs” in the past. While cheerleaders are enthusiastic about great customer service they are ill equipped for the change management required to set strategy, rally support and execute a plan.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of places for cheerleaders to keep the enthusiasm going. But they just can replace a real leader.

Patient experience leadership requires creating and articulating a compelling vision, crafting measurable goals and setting forth an action plan with clear accountability. And it requires a seat at the executive table.  Who would you rather have lead your patient experience – a leader or a cheerleader?


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Baird Consulting

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