Teams trained in-house can be extremely effective

Self-taught teams get job done

A long-term benchmarking consultant may not be in your hospital’s budget, but with proper training, your employees can become a great benchmarking power source, benchmarking experts agree.

Just make sure you involve employees who comprehend benchmarking’s contribution to your hospital’s mission, understand data, and really want to be part of a benchmarking team.

"We use people in the quality department a lot because they have a good handle on data," notes Julie Jacobson, CPHQ, director of the quality management department at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, which has 24 hospitals in Western states.

But don’t rely entirely on quality department personnel for your benchmarking efforts, experts note. "Benchmarking is a process that individuals at any level in the organization can carry out themselves," says Eleanor Anderson-Miles, MA, director of corporate communications for MECON Associates in San Ramon, CA.

That doesn’t mean you should train your entire staff, experts caution. Some employees may not be able to grasp benchmark concepts or may lack interest. "Unlike basic quality methods, benchmarking is not applicable in the daily work life of individual staff members," notes Doug Mosel, MS, a total quality management and organization transformation consultant in Oakland, CA.

Teaching the benchmarking process should be limited to staff who are on benchmarking teams, Mosel recommends. Training can take a few hours or a few days. It can cost as little as the price of paper and the time employees spend away from their daily routines. Or it can cost several thousands of dollars for intensive three- or four-day workshops, which may be necessary to get the benchmark training ball rolling if you don’t have someone in-house who can do the job.

If you turn to an outside consultant to start the training process, train one or two managers, who then can teach other managers and team members, the experts advise. Solid training of a few chosen individuals is crucial from the very beginning because you need somebody on site who can supervise and guide the training of other employees, Anderson-Miles notes. Those highly trained individuals then become the drivers of the in-house teaching process.

Keep training brief

Team members will make it to training sessions more readily and enthusiastically if the sessions are short and integrated into the regular workday, Anderson-Miles says. For example, total benchmark training should not take more than a few hours, and it can be conducted during regular organizational meetings.

If you’re under pressure to finish training quickly, and it can’t be done during organizational meetings, allocate training time and emphasize that attendance is important, she recommends. "Just say, ‘This [benchmark training] is a priority, and you will do it, and these are the days you will do it.’"

Team members may be enthusiastic at the starting gate, but they’ll run out of steam if you don’t have enthusiasm at the top, warns Mosel. There are two important dynamics that must be operative to maintain team enthusiasm, Mosel says:

• The team must have administrative support or support from the hospital’s quality council to ensure they are given the time required to do their work.

• The administration, quality council, or body responsible for chartering the team must ensure that management supports taking employees away from their regular jobs to work on the benchmarking project.

"If the project is unclear or the manager unsupportive, there will be a problem," Mosel says. Some team members will balk, so expect it, especially if they were reluctant to participate in the first place or skeptical of the process.

That’s not necessarily bad, Mosel says. In every organization, there are adapters (those people who buy into a process quickly) and resisters (those who take a while to get used to new ideas). Be careful that your team is not wholly comprised of resisters, but don’t exclude them, he cautions.

Overcome resistance by reminding staff why the benchmarking process is important to the hospital’s future, Anderson-Miles advises. One technique is to share benchmarking success stories to prove effectiveness, she says.

Sharing data in a timely fashion also can help overcome resistance because it reinforces the knowledge that decisions are made based on that data, as well as the importance of the data in reaching the team’s goals, Jacobson notes.

Once your team is in place, provide them with an overview of benchmarking, Mosel says. In addition to teaching the basic definitions of benchmarking, teach the different types of benchmarking processes, he says.

For example, the team should know the difference between benchmarking like processes — comparing your hospital’s admission process to that of another hospital — and benchmarking functional processes, such as cross-industry benchmarking.

Focus on use of data

The tools you use can be simple handouts with charts and graphs. For example, at Intermountain Health Care, the use of data is the main educational thrust, with courses on data management, statistics, and measurements. Each course has a simple module, a syllabus combined with various worksheets and overheads, says Jacobson. Courses cover these topics:

• Why measurements are important.

• How data type affects analysis.

• How data are used to test improvement ideas.

Reinforce training by teaching the appropriate methods for each step of the process just before the team takes that step, Mosel says. "For example, if they want to learn to research databases to identify potential benchmarking partners, teach them how to do that just before they research," he says.

[Editor’s note: For more information, contact Doug Mosel, 534 Fairbanks Ave., Suite A, Oakland, CA 94610. Telephone: (510) 268-9100; Eleanor Anderson-Miles, MECON Associates, 200 Porter Drive, Suite 100, San Ramon, CA 94583. Telephone: (800) 356-3266; or Julie Jacobson, Intermountain Health Care. Telephone: (801) 321-1242.]