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The Power of a Checklist

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto is a book that can truly change your outlook on the world in just a few pages. The basic premise is that a simple checklist can be an incredibly powerful asset, reducing errors and improving performance across a range of industries and applications. It’s a philosophy we’ve taken to heart at Powerlink for each of our facilities and in every process we create and implement.

What I found most interesting is the fact that, as the book points out, highly skilled professionals in some complex professions already routinely use checklists to great effect (airline pilots, for example), yet there are many industries where this simple-but-effective strategy has yet to take hold. In health care, for example, a checklist approach can benefit the work done by a surgeon or hospital facilities management staff. Ensuring that processes are executed correctly every time raises everyone’s effectiveness and, in some situations, can even save lives.

Even beyond the health and safety benefits, however, it strikes me that there are valuable opportunities here for a wide range of industries and businesses to make big strides in efficiency and productivity by applying the checklist concept to their work. Reducing errors and minimizing avoidable mistakes would be an obvious plus, but the value goes far beyond procedural rigor. Just working through the process of designing a checklist in the first place can help to dig a little deeper and take an analytical look at how best to balance risk factors and conduct cost-benefit analyses. To my mind, that’s well worth checking a few boxes.

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Categories: The Industry
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A fish out of water?

“Why would you pick a hotel exec to run a hospital?”

That was the question quite a few people were asking when Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) CEO Nancy Shlichting appointed Gerard van Grinsven to be the President and CEO of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in West Bloomfield, Michigan (Mr. van Grinsven was formerly a formerly Vice President with the Ritz-Carlton Company). While van Grinsven’s appointment may have raised a few eyebrows at the time, the results have been extremely positive: HFHS was subsequently recognized as one of the four 2011 recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Should we be surprised? The connection between hospitality and hospital is closer than we think. We don’t often think of health care or education as service industries but when it comes to hospital and school staff (from doctors and nurses to teachers and janitors) and their interactions with patients and students, there is quite a lot they can learn from service industries. Healthcare could actually take elements from both manufacturing and from hospitality: the combination of better service and refined, more efficient processes lead to improved delivery and higher levels of customer/patient satisfaction.

The Ritz-Carlton philosophy is actually less about luxury and more about establishing a high level of quality—through personal interaction and well-defined processes—as an essential component of their professional culture. It is about improving customer interactions with stronger and more strategic communication. These are the same ideas behind the growing popularity of the “AIDET” acronym making inroads across the healthcare industry. AIDET (Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank You) is a valuable outline for quality engagement and communication in any industry, and a good reminder that quality and service are essential ingredients for success in any profession.

Categories: Business Success
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Powerlink, Sodexo and Detroit Public Schools

I’m excited because Powerlink has just earned a tremendous opportunity to grow and learn, as we have been chosen as a key subcontractor in Detroit Public Schools’ plan to outsource school facilities cleaning and maintenance.

As emergency fiscal manager, Robert Bobb said during the public announcement, this change will let the school district focus its efforts on students, and let experts such as Powerlink manage facilities.

Here is the link to the DPS news release: http://detroitk12.org/news/article/2182/.

I agree that this move is first and foremost about students, and we are here to support their highest achievements – by providing them clean, well-maintained buildings in which to learn. We know we can deliver because Powerlink, and our other minority partners are well-established Detroit companies, with deep roots in the city, and solid records of performance.

Our company has grown because we use continuous quality improvement processes to deliver outstanding service to its customers. We expect the students, teachers and other staff of Detroit Public Schools will notice the difference and benefit from it.

Powerlink is proud to be part of this consortium, led by Sodexo, which brings tremendous resources to the table as a global company. We have had other successful affiliations with Sodexo, we know their work well, and we are very comfortable with their management team.

This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us up here, for every Detroit Public School student, every teacher and every employee we work with. It’s a chance for all of us to grow.

Categories: Business Success, Press Releases
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Corporate Citizenship

General Motors’ charitable fund recently announced its largest donation ever – $27.1 million through United Way to improve Detroit’s lowest performing high schools and to help prepare very young children for kindergarten. That’s what I call a great investment in the community where you work.

Two of our clients, Henry Ford Health Systems and Wayne State University have also joined other local institutions and community leaders to work on a number of projects with a goal of attracting 15,000 new young professionals to live and work in Detroit by the year 2015. What a great idea!

I mention those two strong examples of corporate citizenship because they underscore one of the core values of our own organization. As we say in the Our Community section of our website, “Powerlink recognizes that companies can only be as successful as the communities that surround them and the people that work for them.”

Powerlink is a successful company, and one reason for that is the positive impact we have on our clients’ facilities. We are also creating opportunities for the people who work here. But that’s not everything. We want to make a difference in the lives of people in the cities we are in, and that means providing strong educational experiences for young people.

As someone said, “Money will stop you from being broke, but it won’t stop you from being poor.” If young people don’t have skills that are valuable to employers we are not going to break a cycle of poverty that weighs on many families.

If you look at our web page you will see that we support AIM – a summer program for minority high school students that combines business learning with science and math. We donated laptop computers for the winners of a “business pitch” event.

We also support Winning Futures and Real Life 101, both mentoring programs for young people, and Wayne State’s Biz Tech program, which includes an internship with our company. These are programs that provide a good structure for success for student participants and business people who want to help.

Leadership is developed by a combination of being tested and being taught. We are also developing our own leadership by teaching and testing others.

Categories: Corporate Social Responsibility
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Everything counts – and that’s why I’m blogging

Not too long ago a man at a networking event handed me his business card, and after one look at it, I was about ready to dismiss his company as an also-ran, not a winner. I know that was a harsh assessment – especially since I still shudder every time I think of the card I handed out for my first business. But it does underscore the message that in the business world, every detail tells your customers something about you.

We are a company that cleans and sanitizes hospital operating rooms. What would you think of Powerlink if you came into the lobby of our office and the carpet was stained, the chairs smelled a bit dusty and there were file folders stacked haphazardly in several corners? You’d be wondering, “If the people who work here can’t keep their own place looking great, why would I pay them to maintain mine?”

The connection in that example is pretty obvious, but I think the principle extends beyond the obvious. Powerlink isn’t a marketing firm, but we are very careful about the design and content of every sign in the office, every page on our web site, and yes, every business card we hand out. They all have to look clean, sound knowledgeable and be consistent, because they all reflect the core values of our company.

This is even more important when it comes to the interactions our employees have with the staff, visitors and patients at all the locations we manage. A few people a day might see how well we maintain our lobby, but several thousand may see or talk to Powerlink people at work. Knowing that, it wasn’t hard for us to decide to embrace the model of the Ritz-Carlton hotels’ world-class customer service.

So, what does all that have to do with this, my first blog entry? A lot, in fact. Powerlink distinguishes itself by the way we apply the rigorous discipline of continuous process improvement to what some might consider mundane tasks. That means we don’t consider any task mundane, and we are always drawing on our employees’ knowledge to accomplish them better and more efficiently. In short, we have knowledge to share, and a blog is one way I can share them.

Blogging is new to me, so I expect to be making continuous improvement here, as elsewhere around the company. Feel free to join the conversation.

Categories: Business Success