As many of you know, my wife Mary had open-heart surgery this past January. She is recovering very well and, after only 60 days, is back to her full self, minus a little weight and muscle. The cardiologist has cleared Mary to go back to her normal life. A full recovery in 60 days – she was (and is) blessed. Praise the lord.
This article is not about Mary’s operation, but about the extraordinary experience we had at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. Our week in Palo Alto has become the Stanford Experience – an experience I am excited to share with you.
Imagine a place where people truly feel it is an honor to serve you and to serve each of their co-workers at all levels. Stanford Medical Center is such a place. Our experience that week was so refreshing and rewarding that I wanted it (and maybe even expected it) in every aspect of my life. Well, it wasn’t at the grocery store or the gas station; I didn’t find it at the bank or the post office; and it certainly wasn’t at the DMV. In just a matter of days I found out that the Stanford Experience is apparently rare, and my expectations were quickly diminished. But, let me tell you about our experience and see if you don’t agree with me that the benefits of the Stanford Experience are exciting and huge.
From the moment we entered the hospital we sensed something was different. We were greeted with an almost happy and uplifting atmosphere. Ok, so the receptionist was friendly, helpful and cheerful – that’s her job description and she’s just one out of several hundred people working in a stressful, sometimes life and death environment. The real truth will show itself when we check in at pre-op. I expected professional, caring people; but, their professionalism would keep them rushed, distant, and impersonal. If you haven’t had a personal experience in a hospital, you’ve certainly seen enough on television. Doctors are snooty, nurses harried and brisk, and everyone else just wants to put in their time and then get home. When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
The experiences just got better and better with each step from check-in to pre-op to surgery to post-op through recovery. At each phase we were amazed. Every nurse, orderly, doctor and hundreds of volunteer’s worker knew our names and why we were there. Every single person working in that hospital made a favorable and lasting impression on us. I swear to you I almost enjoyed being in a hospital! Granted, I wasn’t the one having my chest cut open, but the fright and anxiety of standing by and waiting while your loved one is operated on can be tormenting.
The day of surgery began in the wee hours of the morning. A nurse was assigned to me to keep me informed throughout the surgery. It seemed her only purpose that day was to inform me, to explain things to me, and to sometimes comfort me. That nurse probably had many other patients and duties that day, but you’ll never convince me that her sole purpose that day was anything other than taking care of me. When Mary was transferred to the cardiology thoracic intensive care unit after her surgery, the quality of care and attention did not let up, it got better.
One nurse is assigned to two patients for 12 hours. Each nurse arrives 30 minutes before his or her shift to learn about those two patients. The nurse completing her shift gives a report of the last 12 hours to the next nurse. All of the patient’s improvements are noted and the course reviewed to allow for progressive healing. This review and reporting is done in the patient’s room in front of the patient and the patient’s family. In other words, these nurses are outlining Mary’s path thus far and expected development – for their own working benefit and for the patient’s healing benefit. They were practicing the “Pygmalion” dynamics – better known as positive reinforcement of a specific idea: the healing of Mary (and me). The nurses were honored with their responsibility and honored to see that responsibility through. This happens every day at every shift change.
So, was our experience in the Stanford Medical Center unique? Was it a situation we see all too often in the business world not as normal but rather an exception to the rule? Mary was in the hospital for six days, so I had plenty of time to witness most of the staff. On days when I could see Mary for only an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, I made it a point to wander around the entire medical facility and quietly observe. It’s an amazing place. I could go on for pages with numerous examples of extraordinary customer service; but, what I want to give you today is an overview of what we now call the Stanford Experience and show you how you can implement it where you work and live.
Here’s what I witnessed:
- The entire hospital works as a team.
- Being a part of this team is much, much more than just a job.
- Each team member has a clear vision of what customer service means and it is implemented at its highest form.
- Each team member from housekeeping to the doctors believes it is an honor to be there. It is an honor to serve. It is an honor to be a part of something that people will talk about for a long time.
- Each team member is responsible to meet, if not exceed, the expectations of every visitor (whether a patient or not) even if it is not that team member’s department or job.
- The culture is uplifting and clear about the role of the Medical Center in the life of the patient and his or her family. Each and every visitor to the medical center (whether a patient or not) is treated with respect.
- The culture is one that everyone wants to work for and be a part of. It has a definite energy and is the very definition of teamwork.
- They care for their teammates and are honored to serve them.
How do you create the Stanford Experience? First you cannot force those who work for you to be honorable in all their actions. The desire to be a person of honor can only come from within. Honor and respect are earned and nurtured. How you serve your team members and how your team members serve a customer is a direct reflection of the respect and honor you have for yourself and for each other. As a leader, you set the bar.
The most common remark I hear from leadership is that staff should be grateful just to have a job. If that is your mind-set then you have already declared your view of honor and respect to your team. You have, by example, communicated to your team members to treat customers like they are lucky to get waited on at all and they should just be grateful for that. Not at all what you wanted. You are an example to your team by your behavior – that behavior is exactly how they are treating your most valuable customers. And then you wonder why you can’t find good help! The very way you treat your staff is the key to the Stanford Experience.
Mind-set number one: Truly believe it is your honor to lead your people. I have worked for and with a variety of people through the years. Not all people are destined to be a leader or a good boss. The ones who are good leaders and good boss are the ones who truly care. They care for the right reasons – not for their own personal gain, but because their workers deserve honesty and respect. Your spirit of intent has to be one of honor to get honor. The other day I held a door open for some people to enter a building and not one person said thank you. Secretly I yelled at them, but my wife recognized the look on my face. Mary asked me a gut-wrenching question: Did you open the door to get a thank you or to be a nice, honorable guy? How are you leading?
Mind-set number two: Create a culture of praise and respect. If the President of the United States walked into your business today what would you say, how would you act, and how would you treat him? Think about this even if you don’t particularly care for the President. You would respect the person or at least the position and show honor. You could say the same thing about the Pope or any other distinguished person. You would (or should) honor them, thereby giving you a sense of pride that you had the opportunity to wait on them. What would it look like if you felt that same way about each of your employees? How do you think they in turn would treat your customers? The same way.
Mind-set number three: You do it first. The challenge is we want everyone else to treat us honorably first. I can remember back at the Stanford Medical Center the emotions I felt with my wife going through open-heart surgery (indeed, I will never forget it). Even through my concern and focus was about Mary, I was feeling so much care and honor from the staff it caused me to act. I went out of my way to talk to strangers and show them where to find what they were looking for in the hospital. I gave 20 of my books away and felt each one was a gift that the receiver felt honored to get. I don’t know if I made an impact on them or if they read the book, but that is not what was important. What was important was that it was truly my honor to give first.