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Lead with Vision
“Nothing ever changes.” “I’m tired of complaining; no one ever listens.” “We’ve been dealing with the same problems for 20 years. Why can’t sterile processing get it together?”

Sterile processing leaders often struggle with operational needs and the daily fires. This limits their ability to drive change, improvement, and efficiency. The needs in the moment far outweigh the needs of the future. With the sterile processing leader struggling with the day-to-day needs and stress, the leader and team cannot see a vision of the future where trays flow through their walls without a backlog, missing instruments, instrument trays missing in action, and operating room complaints.

Sterile processing leaders and teams need a shared vison for the future to release themselves from the problems of the past and move into a new day together.

The future is now. Our industry is rapidly evolving. Sterile processing professionals are building a professional identity. Innovation and technology are revolutionizing our departments; however, many teams are left behind. Sterile processing teams throughout the industry continue to function in crisis mode. How can they be expected to think about how to solve the problems in sterile processing if there is a patient on the table waiting for the critical instrument being processed?

Sterile processing leaders often neglect their critical job duty: futuring. Futuring is the process of mentally pausing operational needs, employing crisis-mode thinking, and envisioning what the future may hold. This includes contemplating what’s next. How might the industry change? What would happen if we tried something different? Sometimes it means thinking about what the processes and team would be like if they were not living in crisis mode. Taking time to pause and think about what might be enables the mind to expand thinking beyond rigid crisis-mode thinking. Futuring enables the leader to see what might be so that they can build a shared vision with their teams for a future with innovation, team collaboration, and effective work processes.

Breaking through the silos
Shared vison cannot happen in a silo. Leaders do not have a monopoly on the future. Sterile processing team members often have a deeper understanding of the operational struggles of the day, as well as innovative ideas for how to improve. Without their input and buy in to the leader’s vision, the vision will not come to be. The same goes for critical customers. Without the feedback and input from these key stakeholders, such as the operating room and infection control departments, critical ideas and support will be missed. Difficult changes and implementations can be successful if team members and key stakeholders understand the change is a steppingstone to the shared vision of the future.

Building a shared vision for the future should be a flexible process where feedback and communication fluctuates back and forth between all team members and layers in the facility. For example, if a team member has an idea, they should be able to share it openly with voice. They should also be able to hear feedback from their teammates about the idea. The team should be able to talk though the idea. Does the idea lead to the future vision? Does the idea put a bandage on a problem, but add complexity that will have to be dealt with later to get to the future vision? Is this something that could be adjusted and implemented to reduce the crisis of the day so the team can design a future state without the bandage in place? Should the team look at other ideas as well? 

Building a shared vision is an iterative process that enables team members to understand the vison and path forward to buy in to the changes, ultimately leading to implementation success. Small changes can make a big impact. If the team develops a shared vision, new ideas small and large are considered. Sometimes several small changes lining up with the shared vision, can lead to achieving the larger vision in surprising ways. Imagine how quickly that goal becomes achievable if all team members and key stakeholders were learning and adapting from each other while focused on the same goal.

With shared vision, the future is a novel improved state that no single person can foresee on their own. Sterile processing professionals are stronger together.

Marjorie Wall is a director of sterile processing at Kaiser Permanente and IAHCSMM board of directors member. As a sterile processing leader with over 20 years of industry experience, Marjorie pushes the boundaries for change and innovation in her organization and in the industry. Marjorie built her career turning around underperforming departments and is now an industry change driver as a writer and keynote speaker.

Marjorie has achieved a masters of organizational leadership from Azusa Pacific University, CRCST, CIS, and CHL certifications from IAHCSMM, and Six Sigma Black Belt Certification from the American Society for Quality. Marjorie has personally developed 12 frontline staff into SPD leaders and 13 SPD techs into Six Sigma Yellow Belts. 

Marjorie Wall’s life philosophy is, “Sometimes you have to take a leap and build your wings on the way down.” We have to be willing to change and improve through the toughest challenges. We have to lead SPD.

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