Follow Through in the Time of COVID-19

During the recent American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress, Dr. Atul Gawande said in an interview that a significant problem with health care is that it’s been, “All breakthrough and not enough follow-through.”  He went on to explain that many of the social determinants of health have been known for decades, but there has been insufficient attention to addressing them in any rigorous, sustained way.

I thought that his observation has relevance for many sectors in addition to health care. It has a lot to do with what I call Shiny Object Syndrome.

What is Shiny Object Syndrome?

It’s apparently the plight of many executives who continue to seek the Silver Bullet that will rescue their organizations from any competitive disadvantage, shifting markets, and emerging technologies.  How do you recognize it? Look for signs of initiative-itis, the repeated occurrence of new programs being rolled out to fanfare, tee-shirts, and coffee mugs only to be abandoned at some point in the future when the discipline and hard work set it. I was a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt in an organization that abandoned its program less than 3 years into the journey when the rigid adoption of the GE Six Sigma program collided too violently with an avowed “process-averse” culture.

In your own organization, what program did you have in place 3 to 5 years ago?  Is it still not only alive, but thriving?  If not, why did you abandon it or let it simply limp along until it was no longer active? Did it once provide value to your organization, your customers, and your employees?

The Discipline of Follow Through

One of the examples demonstrated by world-class athletes is their discipline in never being satisfied with being “good enough.”  I remember reading an article about pro-golfer Tom Kite many years ago. He rarely finished Number One in a tournament, but for more than a decade finished the majority of the time in the top five. Some of his peers said that he wasn’t a natural golfer, but he worked harder than any of them. It was not unusual for him while not on tour to take buckets of golf balls out on the course and hit the same shot over and over for 7 or 8 hours as he built the “muscle memory” to use a sand wedge or chip onto the green.

That’s the hard part about follow-through. It comes after some initial “early wins,” but soon turns into the tough work of data analysis, executing action plans, and evaluating the results.  Then the really hard part comes with sustaining the effort to maintain the gains.  And like the previous sports analogies, it’s even harder to get the momentum back, to rebuild your muscles, and renew your endurance.

What Does Any of This Have to Do with the Pandemic?

When the pandemic first hit, many of our previous strategic objectives and action plans were shelved – by necessity – as we pivoted to address the crisis.  However, now that vaccinations have begun with the promise of return to some type of new normal, have you decided to dust those plans off and breathe fresh life into them?  What are some lessons learned during the past year that, in fact, ought to become part of your new normal, your follow-through?

As one of the speakers said on a recent health care webinar, “Never waste a good crisis.”

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