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Hospital MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to Remember

Whenever I speak to healthcare organizations, I ask them during a particular part of my keynote to tell me their promise to the community. It plays out the same way almost every time. I get a few timid answers, like “quality care” or “compassionate care,” from brave responders. Then I say, “What I really want to know is your mission statement.” Silence ensues. After a few uncomfortable seconds, people frantically grip their hospital IDs or name badges to see if it’s written anywhere on the back. Sometimes they find it on one of the many plastic “cheats” that also hang from the clip. To the relief of some audiences, the mission statement is there. If not, I may hear a reading of the organization’s values, which are sometimes printed on IDs.

Employees are not to blame. Mission statements are often long, rambling sentences that are not only inapplicable, but incomprehensible, which means employees can’t remember them. So the challenge comes when hospitals and healthcare organizations realize they can’t differentiate themselves from others in the market. The truth is that employees aren’t exactly sure who they are and what their brand promise is. Everyone does their own thing and hopes for the best.

I like to think of mission statements like this: When I get up in the morning, I first create a to-do list. Once it’s written, I charge ahead, checking off everything I’ve done and hoping that nothing gets in my way. After all, I’m on a mission! I know what I love to do, it’s clear to me, and I feel a real sense of accomplishment once my daily mission is done. On days when I don’t create a list or a clear guide, I stumble throughout the day, floundering and hoping for the best.

When mission statements are clear, easy to remember, and applicable, organizations can get real traction and move forward seamlessly with clear objectives. I often tell audiences of the time when I spoke to an organization minutes after they unveiled a new mission statement. Before they did, I was tried to predict what it would be: a statement that no one except those who wrote it would be able to remember. Then it came.

“We will care for each of our patients as if they were beloved family members.”

Done. That’s a mission statement everyone can remember and relate to. All care providers should get up in the morning knowing exactly how they will care for patients. This statement is my mission, but I’m not alone. We’re all doing the same thing today — and every day.

When a mission statement is clear we can also hold people accountable more easily. I can almost hear employees asking those who do not uphold the mission statement, “Is that how you would care for your mother? father? grandmother? grandfather?”

If your organization’s mission statement is nebulous but you feel unempowered to make change, concentrate on the mission of your own department by sitting down with your staff and creating your own. Have it align with the mission of your organization, but include the needs of the patient. Make sure everyone knows it as well as they know their name, living it, breathing it, and loving it.

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