In any organization—whether great good, satisfactory or “needs improvement”—there are always some islands of excellence. Some people find innovative ways to overcome the barriers that organizations often create so that they can form excellence in their area of responsibility. And with their persistent focus and attention, they can even maintain these isolated islands of excellence while they are surrounded by chaos or mediocre performance.
I recognized this phenomenon early in my career, and sought ways to identify what was different in these islands of excellence. What were the processes, policies, competencies and skill sets that gave them the ability to excel? Often, the person to whom they reported and certainly a majority of their colleagues either did not posses these qualities or were not motivated to achieve or maintain excellence in their departments or programs.
After studying these islands and determining their unique qualities, it became clear that this was an opportunity to share these learnings with other parts of the organization. Hence, my commitment to the identification of best practices and the development of a process to share these best practices among others in the company was created. I know this is the best way to move an organization from islands of excellence to a continent of excellence as quickly as possible so the brand and brand promise are clear and uniform throughout. It is so essential that an organization’s Journey to Excellence can be accelerated by eliminating the need to “reinvent the wheel.”
It is this learning and understanding that has resulted in CHRISTUS Health developing a formal methodology to foster sharing of and rewarding best practices from around our system. The cornerstone of this process is our Touchstone program and award ceremony. The development of best practices is encouraged throughout our system, and if certain benchmark criteria are met, the practice has sustained itself for a reasonable period of time and has fostered measurable and reportable outcomes, these practices can then be entered into the CHRISTUS intranet for review and sharing across our international system.
Each year, any best practice that has been submitted via the intranet by April 1 can be considered as a finalist in our Touchstone program. To accelerate the Journey to Excellence, each best practice must fit into one of our “four directions to excellence,” which are: clinical quality, service delivery, business literacy and community value. The finalists are reviewed by staff “reviewers” who utilize a uniform set of objective criteria to rank and rate them. These selections are done in a blinded fashion, so as to prevent any prior relationships from influencing this process. Then these best practices are reviewed by the appropriate Senior Leadership Team members (those who are considered the experts in each of the directions). This process results in naming finalists in each of the five categories.
The finalists are then submitted to the appropriate committees of our System Board of Directors, and the board members select the winners. (Specifically, the Quality committee of the board selects the clinical quality and service delivery winner, the Finance and Strategy committee selects the business literacy winner, and the Mission and Ethics committee selects the community value winner.) This process provides high-level recognition and credibility to the participants since their projects have been elevated not only to the CEO and senior leadership, but also to the international CHRISTUS Health System Board.
In addition, this gives the committees of our board a clear understanding of the excellence which the Associates and physicians of CHRISTUS Health are creating on our Journey to Excellence.
In order to stress the importance of this program, an awards ceremony is held annually in association with our September leadership retreat. It is formatted much like the Academy Awards, and is a time of celebration of the highest level within the CHRISTUS family in order to provide enormous energy for all Associates to create and submit best practices throughout the following year.
This year, on Sept. 20, we will be holding our seventh Touchstone awards ceremony, which means we have reviewed over 400 submissions, named over 120 finalists and selected 32 winners. I consider this a clear representation that the “continent of excellence” has evolved during CHRISTUS Health’s eight-and-a-half year history.
In order to stimulate sharing of best practices--which is the ultimate end goal of the Touchstone awards—in the second year of the program we added one more category, the spirit exchange award. We utilize this category to reward facilities that have “stolen” a best practice from another region and implemented it in their own, providing clear evidence of positive results. In addition, we obviously recognize the facility or group that originated the idea and submitted it on the intranet so that it could be viewed and taken to other locations. We are hoping that through this part of the program, we will encourage more and more best practices to be shared. One of the major criteria for winning in any of these five award categories is that the best practice must be easily replicated and transported to another location in almost a turn-key process.
In the end, an excellent organization must move as rapidly as possible to benchmark levels of performance, and it is clear that developing and sharing best practices is the ideal way to accomplish such. It is best if this can be done via a formal, operationalized program such as the one we have described, to not only align the incentives to develop these best practices, but also award the true winners and heroes of an excellent company in a very high level fashion.