Leadership
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Health Care’s Most Important KPI: Social Capital (17:09)

What’s one of the most common reasons people give for staying with an organization? Respect for their colleagues, says Stephen Swensen, [former] Medical Director for Leadership and Organization Development at Mayo Clinic. In other words, camaraderie. Camaraderie is the driver of social capital, and it’s the most important leading indicator of performance and our ability to deliver the best care to every patient every day within an organization.

Swensen likens it to the most profitable Fortune 500 company for 25 years ending in 2002. Despite an industry fraught with bankruptcy after bankruptcy, Southwest Airlines succeeded when essentially no one else in that business sector could. Why? It comes down to culture and “relational coordination,” which is a fancy way of saying camaraderie. It was the trust, interconnectedness, and respect that the colleagues had for each other — from the captain, the first officer, the navigator, the flight crew, the ground crew, to air traffic control.

“It’s the same thing in health care,” Swensen says, adding that you can get the same results. “The teams that had better teamwork, relational coordination, camaraderie, outperformed the others. Patients had safer outcomes, higher quality outcomes, at lower cost.”

Swensen goes on to discuss how the valuation of Fortune 500 companies today has changed from by brick and mortar to intangible assets — intellectual capital, human capital, and specifically social capital. Social capital is trust and interconnectedness of colleagues within an organization. “It makes them safer, it makes them better learners, and it makes them highly productive. It’s an admirable trait that as leaders we need to pursue if we want the highest value care for our patients, families, and the communities that we serve,” Swensen says.

So what motivates us beyond, Swensen asks? He refers to a study whereupon one of two sight variations were put by every hand sanitizer machine in a hospital. Half said “Use of hand sanitizer prevents you from catching diseases.” The other half said: “Use of hand sanitizer prevents patients from catching diseases.” There was a huge difference in sanitizer use, but which sign had more of an impact might surprise you. When health care professionals were reminded of why they went into health care, of the altruism of helping the patient have a safe stay in the hospital, they took an extra squirt of hand sanitizer. This is what we as leaders need to double-down on to engage colleagues in our mission, Swensen adds. “Not data, not the brain, but about 14 inches lower with the heart. And why we’re in health care, and why we’re going to the hospitals and clinics every day.”

“When you have teams, and departments, and organizations that have high levels of companionate love or camaraderie, you get some amazing dividends with employee engagement, productivity, commitment to the organization, accountability, better patient outcomes,” Swensen says.

“The beauty of it is, the same thing happens with patients.” There are dozens of peer-reviewed papers on kindness and the dividends it has for patients. “When you have a team with high levels of camaraderie, engagement, satisfaction, they are more likely to be kind to patients. Patients’ wounds heal faster if they’re treated kindly.”

From the NEJM Catalyst event Leadership: Translating Challenge to Success at Mayo Clinic, June 2, 2016.

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