Healthcare Controversy: Leadership Absent in Infection Control

posted May 23, 2013, 8:57 PM by Todd Fox   [ updated Sep 23, 2016, 2:51 PM ]
by Todd Fox
The last infection control post by OUTFOX, "Infection Preventionists are Running Dog and Pony Shows," experienced mixed reviews. Some health professionals considered it thought provoking, some considered it a great wake up call, others really liked it... and others were offended.

Didn't catch the last post? Read "Infection Preventionists are Running Dog and Pony Shows" here.

Regardless of the different opinions, one resounding topic seemed destined to be addressed.  Namely, the infection control profession has incongruent perceptions on leadership.
To illustrate, some of the responses we received to refute the "dog and pony show" claim were just laundry lists of tasks. Stating, Infection Preventionists do this or they do that.  And other Infection Preventionists responded with "it's all about technology" claims.  However, leadership goes far beyond tasks, reports or snazzy technologies.
Leadership, defined, is the ability to inspire motivation in others to move toward a desirable vision (See source for definition here). While management is focused on tasks, leadership is focused on the person. All in all, the best leadership drives change and long lasting motivation.
In regards to leadership, there were two main issues identified from the response to the last article: preoccupation with technologies and untrained leaders in infection control.

Preoccupation with New Healthcare Technologies  

Issue one was that it was evident by the responses that many Infection Preventionists are too preoccupied with technologies, equipment, tasks, processes, systems, etc.  The focus on systems and processes is an age old problem. For, It's easier to implement new equipment and technology than it is to lead and change the behavior of staff members.   Why is it easier?
It's often easier because tasks or acquiring new equipment/technology usually give segmented success (only to likely improve the small area within it functions) and give a great sense of overall success.  A sense of success is great but the actual results are often limited to the realm of the equipment/technology and is short term until the next hot item is invented.
Effective leadership, on the other hand, blends the implementation of equipment and technology with trained and motivated staff members.  Leadership and training programs stand the winds of change and are more of a long term strategy.  When effective leadership is in place, the organization functions like a well oiled machine, and less like a race horse.  Race horses constantly need to be prodded, burn out easily and do not last long.
We're not saying that technology or new equipment isn't important. In fact, it is an essential part of a successful organization.  We are saying that your organization will be head and shoulders above the rest when you implement new equipment and technologies under the guidance of effective leadership.

Lack of Leadership Training in Infection Control

Issue number two (If you work in infection control and get offended easily then stop reading. The intention here is to create a discussion and not offend.  For, we realize that some generalizations are being made.  If you are confident in your organization's infection control status then you can read this in order to help other departments or organizations) with current healthcare organizations is that proficient healthcare professionals are being promoted into management positions without leadership training (i.e. a great nurse does not equal a great manager or leader).
Most of us can readily recall when someone was given a leadership position but they were not properly suited for management.  This seems to be especially prevalent in the infection control arena. Diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise are key to an effective Infection Preventionist. However, hiring on their knowledge of nursing/epidemiology or tenure does not bring leadership to your infection control programs. We're not saying to release infection control recruits and only hire mangers with business leadership backgrounds.  We are saying that you should address the leadership issue(s) now and going forward.  Give the Infection Preventionists the tools and training necessary to be successful.

How do you do it?

First of all, leadership needs to come from the top.  If you do not have buy in and support of the management above you, stop reading this and get your manager to read this or be convinced about getting things changed from the top down.
For those that have management buy in, lets talk about some options.  The following is a brief outline of the consulting process we undertake to help organizations improve their leadership (Note 1: The following will reference Infection Preventionists specifically, but we have used it to work with many positions and industries. Note 2: Each organization, position and employee is different. This is a general guideline and should be taken as a starting point):
  1. We interview all decisions makers. It is best to speak with all managers above and those that work directly with the Infection Preventionist.
  2. Assess organizational structure.  Who are the main influencers and who are the main offenders against leadership (rebels, stubborn employees/departments, etc.)
  3. Map out paths of authority, communication, etc.
  4. Set goals and stepping stones to achieve respect and influence.
  5. Develop an immediate leadership training schedule to get the organization up to par (see short term ideas below)
  6. Develop a long term leadership schedule for future continuity (see ideas below)
  7. Schedule a committee that meets a few times a year that will reassess your leadership strategy
The following ideas are labeled "Short Term" and/or "Long Term." Implement or integrate them into your organization's strategy to increase leadership levels.
Short Term and Long Term: 
  • Certificate Programs (Create internal certifications or find a company that offers leadership and business management courses or certificates.  These can be done to get everyone up to speed and then planned every so often to recertify).  
  • Short job rodeo (spend a day or more in each department (or each position under the leader))
  • Learn to manage by experiencing every position/angle underneath them.  Different than a job rodeo in that the leader should take the opportunity to work on developing or adding to the operations manual for the department/positions)
  • Executive appearances at meetings.  Make it mandatory for influentual leaders to help out the Infection Preventionist and add validity to their programs.
  • Leadership courses (internal and external). 
Long Term: 
  • Committee participation.  A committee will help get ideas from all around the organization.  Switch up the committee members every year to get different perspectives.
  • Modify hiring (hire for the position rather than choosing "who is next" based on longevity) practices. 
  • Do not get in a position of desperation to fill a position. Have a back up for every position available.
  • Management track/trainings for prospective leaders.  Have a plan and strategy to groom future leaders.
Short Term:
  • Trainings for current leaders.  This can be done with current management or farmed out to consulting companies.
  • Webinars
We do not sell our consulting time, but we are willing to help.  Contact us if you have questions. If your organization is ready to make a change then we can help pair you with a consulting firm that can help increase the leadership levels.
The following are consulting companies that have been identified as reliable sources of leadership training.  We do receive compensation for this referral.

Healthcare Consulting Groups:

Huron Consulting Group
PA Consulting Group

Individual Products:

Product Quick Links:

OUTFOX Mindset Items:

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