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How to stimulate creative ideas in your lab.

Form a one-idea club and at every opportunity

encourage staff members to suggest an

improvement in the


Tom Peters of "In Search of Excellence" fame frequently re

ports on the doings of his friend and mentor, Stew Leonard. Stew owns the world's largest dairy store and, according to Peters, has achieved excellence in leadership and customer satisfaction.

One of Stew's creations is the one-idea club.' When he hears about an establishment that offers a special service, he loads a group of employees into a bus to go study the other outfit. Each employee must bring back at least one new idea to share, this being the essence of the one-idea club.

If I were still a laboratory director, I would form a one-idea club to elicit a steady flow of suggestions from the laboratory staff. A club of this sort could be activated more easily than a quality circle, and membership would be open to everyone.

We would have a slogan, such as "Everyone is an expert,"

"Your ideas make us winners," "You can contribute," or to use one of Stew's favorite expressions, "We can do it better." In large labs, each section could have its own charter to introduce healthy competition.

The closest thing to Stew's bus trips that we had was our College of American Pathologists' laboratory inspection trips. On the ride back from these visits, I and other members of the team would talk about what had impressed us. We learned by serving as inspectors, and our own laboratory benefited from the ideas we brought back. The purchase of some of our instruments resulted from our having seen the same instruments in operation elsewhere. We also modeled many of our printed forms after the best of those we had examined.

Another application of the bus trip method is to send staff members to visit reference laboratories . These labs are pleased to arrange for such visits, and the trips are invariably worthwhile.

Other sources of ideas abound:

* Students and trainees. Forms that learners fill out to evaluate the educational program could have a section captioned: "We value your opinion. Please record at least one suggestion for improving the training program or the operation of our laboratory." Productive one-idea clubs would not be satisfied with such a small yield of ideas from students and trainees, however. Suggestions would be solicited on a daily or weekly basis.

For this to be effective, some trainers would have to change their approach to newcomers. Many training programs are show-and-tell affairs with little feedback from the recipients, and creativity is often snuffed out in favor of conformity.

Encourage laboratory trainees to talk about their previous experiences, share their observations, and offer constructive criticism. At the completion of the probationary period, new hires could be presented with certificates of

membership in the one-idea club.

*Staff meeting participants. A brief session of the one-idea club could open or close every staff meeting. After submitted ideas are read by their contributors and discussed by attendees, additional ideas would be solicited from the group. The minutes of the meeting would describe each proposal and document the name of the contributor.

Another approach would be to hold periodic club meetings devoted entirely to the presentation of new ideas. Ideally, brainstorming techniques would be used, and the chair would be rotated. Topics could be selected from an accumu lation of non-urgent problems or complaints. Complaints previously regarded as annoyances would become opportunities or challenges.

*Members of task forces and committees. Great ideas surface at committee meetings. For example, after a hospital safety committee meeting, Alice returns to the laboratory with a reprint of an article on storing hazardous chemicals. John's participation in a trauma service task force meeting leads him to think up a new system to deliver blood products to the emergency room.

All that is needed is a conduit for these ideas to get to the right destination. They could be presented initially to the lab manag, er, a lab committee, or the section supervisor.

* Attendees at professional meetings. Laboratorians often return from professional meetings and workshops with new skills that could be converted into operational changes. Why not make approval to attend such meetings contingent on the attendee afterward submitting at least one good proposal'? The proposal could be briefly presented and evaluated at a staff meeting.

*Lecturers, authors, researchers. Staff members who make educational presentations, publish papers, or engage in research commonly must search the literature. Their studies often turn up ideas that can lead to improved laboratory service.

Don't settle for a trickle of ideas. I've heard that Toyota gets 90,000 proposals a year from 'its employees. This amounts to 20 proposals per employee.

Laboratories and those they serve benefit in obvious ways from the generation of ideas. Increased knowledge and skill developed when one thinks creatively about the job make for better qualified workers. When ideas are accepted, the contributing employees develop a sense of ownership and will be more supportive of the changes.

What's in it for members of the one-idea club'? Possible external rewards include recognition through such means as rewards, plaques, higher performance ratings, and increased promotability. Patches or special pins for the most productive members of the one-idea club may be regarded as juvenile, but mature football players seem to welcome the helmet stickers received for outstanding performance.

Then there are the more subtle internal rewards when participants receive the right kind of encouragement and feedback. Their enhanced creativity and expertise provide a sense of accomplishment, more job satisfaction, and greater self-esteem. These can be much more powerful motivators since they satisfy ego needs.

Several factors determine whether ideas blossom or die. One determinant is the reaction of others. If supervisors and coworkers respond like Stew Leonard does with "Wow" or other enthusiastic exclamations, and if the idea donors receive the full public praise they deserve, then creativity flourishes.

When supervisors demand, however, that everyone spend every second getting the day's work out, when they assign busywork to employees who pause to catch their breath, when they discourage employees from trying something new, when they take credit for others' ideas, when they ridicule suggestions, or when they resent criticism, then idea generation falters.

Mistakes must be tolerated and regarded as educational experiences. Praise, to be meaningful, must be accompanied by support. If Gladys comes back from a workshop with an idea for a new diagnostic method and can't get the time or materials needed to set up the procedure, any praise she receives is empty.

Another factor that determines the success of an idea is the availability of information. When creative people hear or see what others are doing, they immediately try to improve on those ideas. Club members, therefore, should be exposed to multiple information sources. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

Rotate and crosstrain. Doing the same monotonous job everyday relegates creativity to afterwork activities or to devising schemes to torment supervisors. Rotation of technologists through multiple workstations, laboratory sections, and shifts helps to identify problem areas. This also leads to updating procedure manuals and promotes better understanding of what fellow workers do and what problems they encounter.

Present in-house educational programs. Use in-house experts and guest speakers. Then copy or improve on their methods.

Encourage contacts in and outside the lab. Tending to eat and socialize in the same little groups, employees may have little contact with personnel in lab sections other than their own. These communication barriers must be breached.

Provide assignments and encourage social and educational activities that increase interaction and networking. Assignments to committees, representing one's supervisor at meetings, and discussing lab services with physician and nurse groups help to accomplish this.

Input from customers. If a laboratory has an active outpatient service, it should arrange periodic meetings with the staffs of physicians' offices, health maintenance organizations, and other clients. Wine and cheese get-togethers provide excellent, well-received opportunities to solve problems and explain new services.

Lab personnel can attend meetings of other departments or accompany physicians on hospital rounds. They then may see firsthand how laboratory service can be improved.

The quality of laboratory service is viewed differently by physicians, nurses, and patients than it is by laboratory scientists who rely on computer printouts and statistical analysis. If we want ideas for improving service, we must use other methods. For example, the courtesy of phlebotomists and employees who work in the outpatient stations is best evaluated by direct observation or from patient surveys.

If laboratory managers reported to me, a key question I would ask during performance reviews would be: "How do you evaluate the interpersonal skills of your employees who have direct patient or physician contacts'?" I would not accept the answer, "We record all complaints." It is a well-known fact that fewer than 5 per cent of dissatisfied consumers register complaints. Most just stop using your service and tell others why.

Contacts with sales and service reps. Company representatives who call on laboratories are loaded with good ideas. Encourage your personnel to watch the service representatives in action and to ask questions of them and the sales reps.

Increase exposure to publications. It is not enough to have an up-to-date library. Employees must be persuaded to use it, and they must have enough time to do so. Pose challenging questions, and delegate such tasks as lecturing or teaching benchwork that require the study of documents or reports. Circulate journals to interested parties, and call attention to articles of special interest. Show sincere enthusiasm when an employee comes to you with an idea gleaned from a journal article, advertisement, or textbook.

In summary, the generation of ideas can be stimulated in many unstructured ways. The essential ingredient is an environment that is conducive to creativity. Stew Leonard's one-idea club can be a helpful concept in the design of a program that will not only improve your laboratory's service but also enhance the quality of work life.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:form a one-idea club
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1988
Previous Article:Upgrading phlebotomy to cut employee turnover.
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