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The Law of Gravity Doesn’t Apply to Patient Satisfaction

Posted by Kristin Baird on October 5th, 2011 • No Comments »

What goes up must come down, right? This indisputable law has been regarded as a hard, fast fact for hundreds of years, but it doesn’t have to apply to your patient satisfaction scores. Just because your scores go up, doesn’t mean they have to fall again. And on the flip side, just because they go up, doesn’t mean they’ll stay up.

I was recently chatting with a client about what it takes to sustain positive change and I was shocked to realize how many leaders assume that positive changes aren’t sustainable.

This revelation came about in a conference room where I was meeting with a group of managers. The group was marveling at the steady upward trend in its patient satisfaction scores, when one of the managers said, “It won’t last. We’ve seen this before. Don’t get your hopes up.” Was this the Eeyore of the group? Was this guy just a Negative Nellie? As I was absorbing his comment, and getting ready to respond, I looked around at the faces of the other managers who were nodding and making comments like, “Yea, I guess you’re right. We’ve seen this before and they always fall.” What kind of defeatist attitude is that?

Here was a group of leaders who had made such positive changes, and were seeing the desired results, yet they reverted to an assumption that it would shortly fall apart. Staying the course is the real test in these situations, so it gave me the opportunity to talk with them about what they thought had caused their previous successes to slip. Here’s what they said:

  1. We took our eye off the ball. “Once we hit the desired score, we felt like our work was finished.”
  2. We moved on to other priorities. “We had other priorities that needed our attention.”
  3. We lost focus or just tired out. “It took too much energy to stay focused and hold people accountable.”

At another campus across the country, I had a similar discussion, but this time the managers had hit their satisfaction goal and were surprised to see the scores plummet. This group had been busy basking in the glory of their success and expected their scores to stay up. They were shocked and disheartened when the scores fell. I asked them what had happened. Here’s what they said:

  1. We took our eye off the ball. “Once we hit the desired score, we felt like our work was finished.”
  2. We moved on to other priorities. “We had other priorities that needed our attention.”
  3. We lost focus or just tired out. “It took too much energy to stay focused and hold people accountable.”

In both cases, these comments gave us opportunities to discuss how to avoid these success traps in the future. The pessimists expected the scores to fall, while the overly optimistic expected them to stay up once they hit the mark, too.

Even though the two groups had different perspectives, they shared a single epiphany—what goes up can stay up as long as you stay focused on the things that got you there and remain open to even greater improvement. Lessons learned:

  1. Set goals, and when you hit them, don’t turn your back on the things you did to get you there.
  2. When juggling multiple priorities, enlist the help of other service champions on your team who can help keep the energy and focus.
  3. Celebrate success, but remember the job is not finished. Hitting your goal is proof that you and your team can do it; sustaining the change is the real measure of success.

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Baird Consulting


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