Can a System of Organizational Leadership be Measured?

In a well-written article published by Deloitte Insights (June 20, 2019) by the same title, the authors outline the value of measuring the human experience beyond that of the customer to include the workforce and stakeholders.

The authors quote four Deloitte leaders: “It would be wonderful if we could have a common framework that applies across customers, partners, and workforce…this could drive an enterprise’s competitive advantage.”

My research into organizations that achieve long-term excellence suggests precisely this. They do it through a designed framework, and they deploy it with great care and discipline. This framework is what I call a designed system of leadership because it is leadership, above all members of the workforce, that has the greatest impact on the human experience within the workforce, the customer, and the stakeholder.

Case: I had been asked by the CEO of a rural hospital system in Western Washington to help them design a framework, model, or a system of leadership. He wanted a standard way of doing leadership to be developed and implemented across the system. My first meeting was with the executive leadership team. Our objective was to identify the output of the system because every system has a purpose. It produces something. After a lengthy conversation, Eileen, the COO who had been quiet the whole time, finally said, “we cannot deliver exceptional health for our patients unless our staff (workforce) feel empowered to go the extra mile. Our patients (customers) need a sense of empowerment because we want to do healthcare with them, not to them. And we are a community-owned hospital, therefore our community (stakeholders) need a sense of empowerment so we can work together to create a healthy community.

Empowerment became the central purpose of the framework or system of leadership. This system included key behaviors and routines that all leaders would be expected to model, that would support an empowered workforce, patient, and community experience. After several months, we had to determine a way of measuring the human experience with each of these three groups. We finally settled on two that would measure the experience of the workforce. They had other ways of measuring the experience of the patient and the community, both of which were already showing signs of steady improvement.

Employee safety. Working in a hospital is statistically more dangerous than working in construction. So, they began to measure the number of days lost due to workplace injury as a way of measuring their system of leadership and workforce experience. There was a double benefit to this metric. When an accident occurs in a hospital that causes injury to a worker, a patient is often involved as well. Reduce the number of accidents involving staff, and there should also be a corresponding increase in patient safety.

Fear. It should not come as a shock that fear is the number one killer of innovation, creativity, and empowerment. They already had a data system that allowed employees to self-report errors and near errors in processes and procedures without fear of retribution. In my naivety, I thought, “great, the fewer the reports, the better the performance.” “No,” they said, “we want the number of reported incidents to go up, not down. When the workforce is operating without fear, they are more willing to report their own errors and near errors.”

The result? In one year, the number of days lost due to a workplace injury dropped by two-thirds. The number of self-reported incidents continued its steady increase, indicating the workplace was increasingly a place free of fear.

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