This article is the first in a multi-part series discussing the concepts of organizational intelligence and their impact on healthcare providers.

When you ask healthcare CEOs what their organization most needs, data is usually pretty high on the list. The desire for data across all organizations has grown exponentially during the last decade. It seems that every task and every job have a list of “KPI’s” and “metrics of success” attached to them. Now, more than ever, businesses are monitoring their performance to “improve performance” and to “hold people accountable.”

This approach has worked at many companies, while others haven’t found any footing with it. At its heart, the analysis of data is a science, though the application of data driven insights is an art. It is easy to apply “data” at an individual level. If someone doesn’t meet a critical KPI, such as a sales goal or a budget target, they know where they stand and what kind of affect that might have on them. In the end, the performance of the individual is dealt with, but was the problem truly an individual? Or, is it more systematic than that? Could it be the culture of the organization exerting its influence on individual performance?

Certainly, we know that it can. The science of applying data driven insights to the personality of a business is known as “Organizational Intelligence”. It is part of the greater milieu of data backed intelligence work that is being done at organizations across the country.

Market Intelligence helps a company to better understand their current and potential customers.

Business Intelligence identifies areas of opportunity in operational processes, enabling improved efficiencies.

Organizational Intelligence asks the deeper, more challenging question of “how does our organization work?”

“We know who we are! We have a mission, vision, and values!”, you decry.

Yes, so does every other organization. But do your stakeholders think you are living up to those ideals? Are you implementing them systematically as part of your culture? That’s where Organizational Intelligence comes into play. It is designed to provide a moment of reflection that helps shape a business for years to come.

Learning Your Shapes

One of the earliest, and best-known examples of Organizational Intelligence in action, is found in the myth of King Arthur and his court. In ancient times, a king would sit on his throne, listen to the pleas of his people, and then propound an answer. His courtiers would nod in agreement with his sublime insight, even if they disagreed with it. After all, who are they to question the king?

King Arthur broke this mold. Instead of sitting on his throne, he built a table. He realized that the combined intelligence of his knights was far greater than his own. His table was round, and all gathered were on the same level, encouraging discourse. No one person held a point of focus. No one person was “in charge” merely because of where they sat. This enabled Arthur and his knights to have open and frank discussions in a period where kings were more likely to hang you for treason than to listen to your brilliant new idea.

Physical Tasks are Easy, Thinking Tasks are Hard

Let’s say that the senior living community that you manage has a lush and beautiful lawn that surrounds it. The sweet smell of the grass is perfect in the summer, adding to the relaxing and bucolic nature of your campus. But, that grass needs to be mowed from time to time. So, your grounds crew teams up and mows the grass. Each person takes their section and mows it, all under the watchful eye of the head groundskeeper. Mowing grass like this is easy. People see how one person completes the task and then they perform said task in a similar fashion.
Now, let’s say that instead of mowing the lawn, you’ve asked them to build a better lawn mower. Each person is going to bring to the table different ideas and perspectives. The oldest groundskeeper might be interested in making the device lighter and easier to push. Meanwhile, a former machinist might be concentrating on the angling and sharpness of the blade. And, let’s not forget the importance of a well maintained engine! Each individual brings their expertise and insight to the table. Yet, we can all agree, it’s much harder to manage the project of designing a better lawn mower than it is to manage the mowing of a patch of grass. Processing knowledge is more difficult than performing a task.

Understanding how your organization processes knowledge, and applies it your business, is foundational to your operation.

Stockpiling Resources

A skill nursing facility completed a business intelligence study whereby they took an in-depth look into their operational costs, trying to find areas to improve. One obvious opportunity was the rising cost of basic care supplies, such as gloves, bandages, creams, etc. The company put together a cross functional task force that included managers from the nursing, purchasing, and operations teams. They huddled once a week for two months and created a plan of action. The purchasing agents managed to negotiate a better deal, while the operations and nursing teams worked to build the best possible system for the efficient distribution of supplies. They created checkpoints where supplies could be picked up, ensuring items were easily accessible, but with an eye on decreasing waste.

The cost of medical supplies rose steadily for the next six months.

What was happening?!?

They put in hundreds of man hours to come up with this perfect system!

What they failed to understand was their own culture. Up to this point, direct care staff had been empowered to use whatever supplies they felt were necessary to provide the best possible experience to their residents. By restricting the supplies, to cut costs, the care team had to find other ways to deliver their services. Ingeniously, they created a work around. Team members began to stockpile important supplies, keeping their own private stashes in case of an “emergency.” Soon, these hidden stashes outnumbered the goods in central supply.

This organization failed when it came to understanding their own Organizational Intelligence. The culture of the organization wasn’t built on cutting costs. It was centered on providing great care. While these two ideas are not mutually exclusive, a company cannot implement one and hope that it has no impact on the other. People don’t operate in a vacuum. Neither should your business decisions.

The next part of this series will discuss the intersection of culture, information processing, and how providers need to manage institutional knowledge.

LW Consulting, Inc. (LWCI) offers a comprehensive range of services that can assist your organization in maintaining compliance, identifying trends, providing education and training,  or conducting documentation and coding audits. For more information, contact LWCI to connect with one of our experts!