3 Reasons to Educate Healthcare Leaders and Employees in Performance Improvement

education employees leaders performance improvement

3 Reasons to Educate Healthcare Leaders and Employees in Performance Improvement

Question to ask: What are you doing to make your leaders and employees clinical and operational excellence champions?

The nature of healthcare is specialization and hierarchies. There are good reasons for this. We want our healthcare to be directed by the deepest expertise in a given field. Licenses govern what various professionals, practitioners, technicians, and technologists can do and who directs care. Safety calls for clarity in role delineation. Structure and boundaries provide value.


Perhaps, though, we have applied the idea of specialization in more places than necessary such as in performance improvement, systems thinking, change management, and strategy design and execution. 


As a person who is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, it might sound like heresy to say it’s time to move these capabilities into the hands of the people who comprise the system. Hear me out though. I have had the privilege of leading teams and leading leaders who were extraordinarily talented specialists. These same people were also accountable for the performance of clinical and operational outcomes. And in those instances, especially if change or improvement was needed, there was often hesitance because leading that wasn’t their expertise. 


If healthcare organizations are to join the ranks of highly reliable organizations, one of the building blocks necessary is to broadly employ the use of performance improvement (PI) methods (Chassin and Loeb, 2013). But this can’t simply be left in the hands of a few internal or external specialists. Why?

  1. There generally aren’t enough of them available to lead all the projects, changes, planning, and improvements when desired or needed.
  2. It’s expensive to maintain a full staff of PI experts or bring in full consulting services for more than the most significant initiatives.
  3. No healthcare organization has escaped turning its attention to focus on managing clinical work and operational practices related to COVID-19 influences. Those changes have had a significant impact on processes and outcomes. And the challenges that existed pre-pandemic haven’t magically disappeared either.


Those, however, aren’t the main reasons why healthcare leaders and employees should be educated in Performance Improvement methods. They just add fuel to the fire for “why”. 

The people who do the work know the work, the problems, and the ideas for interventions better than others.

Organizations spend many dollars and hours ensuring people are highly competent in their jobs. These are the people who know the work best. They know the gaps. They have ideas for changes. These are your experts and your best resources to become your performance improvement leaders and champions.


The vast majority of people working in healthcare are specialty trained, highly skilled and intelligent, and everyone works very hard. But few are trained in business practices and performance improvement methods.

At best, particularly in clinical roles, only a few have had formal training in business practices and/or performance improvement. Just like learning the language, skills, and tools of their specialized roles, educating in performance improvement methods provides structure to corral their understanding about how the system is or isn’t working and what to do about it. We know what they are capable of when given knowledge. Give them performance improvement knowledge and see what they can accomplish.


People want to be trusted to own their system and they want to trust that interventions in their system are meaningful.

Educating the people who do the work to effectively change the work through knowledge in performance improvement methods demonstrates that they are trusted to do the right thing for the patients / families / customers served and for the organization to thrive. Those leaders and employees are also far more likely to adopt new ideas and changes they recommended or were designed by trusted peers.


Education breeds engagement which produces ownership leading to an empowered culture. Use performance improvement education as a first step - a foundation - for building capability into those who are closest to the work to become experts at optimizing it.



Chassin, M. R., & Loeb, J. M. (2013). High‐reliability health care: getting there from here. The Milbank Quarterly, 91(3), 459-490.


Photo Credits:

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We start with why - Polina Zimmerman on Pexels

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