Are you caught in a trap? Trapped by problems that, no matter how many times you lecture, correct or threaten, you never seem to be able to fix the issues? Trapped by the failure to deliver exceptional medical care and client service to every patient, every client, every time? Trapped by the inability to break free of the negative cycle? Perhaps you are trapped by what Albert Einstein called “insanity.”
According to Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Perhaps you are in this insanity because you are trapped by negativity. You are using the same tools (lecturing, correcting, threatening or adding more management layers) to fix a problem, be that problem a procedure or a person. Break free of the trap by using a new tool—the positivity tool!
There is a process whereby you use what is working well to fix what isn’t working. Appreciative Inquiry, also known as “AI” (no, not artificial insemination), is that process. AI focuses on positive assets, capabilities, procedures and resources to solve other problems. For example, a practice has low client acceptance of the newly implemented wellness program, and no number of threats or bonuses has improved the numbers. However, another program for senior wellness is going like gangbusters. What is the difference? What is being said or done that garners higher client acceptance?
Taking time to explore what is working well in the program helps identify the team’s strengths, best practices and peak performances that can be applied to designing a strategy to improve what is not working well.
The AI process hinges on asking positive questions on constructive topics. It is NOT about accusations and inflammatory questions. Consider the difference between these two questions:
a) “Why can’t we ever post charges without mistakes and missed charges?”
b) “Can you describe what happens when the correct invoice is created, and what small changes could be made to improve accuracy in those wrong-invoice situations?”
Which question would you prefer to answer?
AI differs from the traditional problem-solving routine most of us are accustomed to where we approach every problem based on the assumption that people and processes are broken. Look at the two questions above; the first one screams that the team is always messing up and the invoicing process needs significant fixes. In contrast, the second question is inquiring, locating specific steps and focusing on positive dialogue to explore changes. Changing what questions are asked is the first step to getting out of the negativity trap and moving the team to look for a solution in what is working well (looking at the positive).
While the traditional problem-solving technique (identifying the key problem, analyzing root causes, discussing possible solutions and developing an action plan) may be necessary for some issues, AI may be a better choice for solving many of your other dilemmas.
AI is not the cure-all for every problem you and your team are facing; however, the AI process is best suited for specific issues such as:
- Complex, multi-cause issues
- Recurrent problems not responding to other solutions
- Worsening problems.
When faced with multiple causes to a problem, stop trying to tackle each complex issue and instead focus on what is already working well and applying it to the problem. For example, the client compliance dilemma mentioned earlier: This is a complex, multi-cause issue involving cultures, personalities, income variances, etc. Since you cannot “fix” such an extensive list, look at what is working (either at your practice or from best practices in the medical field) and build on what does work for compliance.
How will the AI process look in your team? Consider another issue such as attracting new clients:
Do not state the problem as, “How to fix our low new client numbers,” but rather, speak positively, such as, “Ways to accelerate new clients scheduling appointments at our practice.”
1. Discovery: Gather stories about what attracted recent new clients to the practice. What do team members see as most important to new clients? What are team members most proud of about the practice that they tell other people? Identify patterns: What is the reason past new clients came to the practice?
2. Dream: Dream about what might be accomplished by emphasizing the positive points brought out in the discovery phase. Will you enhance what past new clients said they valued? Will you stop doing things that are not attractive to new clients? Will you promote what the team has identified as what they are proudest of?
3. Design: Drill down. Time to get the specifics of the strategy for attracting new clients. Who needs to spearhead projects? What protocols need to be changed? What strategies will be put into motion? (e.g., marketing, appointment procedures, new client packets, surveys, new team roles such as Client Experience Team).
4. Destiny: Implement with a clear plan. Write out the project using a project implementation document such as:
Title/Goal: Using Social Media to Promote Our Practice and Attract New Clients
Objective: To attract potential clients to our practice website and follow Facebook stories with the ultimate goal of getting them to call us and schedule an appointment.
- Strategy–Active, engaging social media use.
- People–List of People responsible for the content, posting, replying, responding, and monitoring.
- Finances–Budgeted payroll “X” hrs./week for each person and budgeted continuing education to attend a conference highlighting eMarketing.
Time Frame: Establish the members of the New Client Team by next week. Register members for a conference or webinar within the next three months. Schedule weekly project development time and bi-weekly postings.
Metrics: Past new client numbers, new numbers, reasons for visits, survey results.
Notice that the process did not talk about what is wrong with the practice; that can be discovered by what is working and what is valued, thus leading to, “what we should stop doing because it isn’t working.” Using this framework, your practice can explore the AI technique and create their SOP for the AI process and project implementation. It is essential to include all the steps in the AI process; skipping a step will derail the group and give the impression that management does not support it.
Using AI can be a transformative process to bring up positive change and let go of negative questions and demoralizing tactics. Appreciative Inquiry can help your team discover what is working right and highly valued in your practice and then allows you to apply this positivity to solving problems and creating strategic plans for the future. +