Aug 13, 2013

    Culture change for improved service

    THE good work of oral-health therapist Ang Wei Wei does not end when she leaves the clinic for the day - she makes sure that her patients are empowered to take better care of their teeth and gums after each visit.

    Ms Ang, 26, who works at Woodlands Polyclinic, does that by making the effort to understand the challenges her patients face in caring for their set of pearlies. She also tries to identify the reason why their teeth are not as healthy as they should be.

    For example, one of her patients flossed daily, but her oral hygiene remained far from ideal. So Ms Ang got the patient to show her how she flossed, and that gave her the opportunity to correct the patient's technique on the spot.

    "By seeing my patients as individuals, I became more attentive to their needs, taking time to find out what caused their problems instead of just issuing instructions on what they should do," she said.

    The change in her approach came about after she attended a Way-of-Being course conducted by her company, the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP).

    The Way-of-Being framework is one of the key facets of NHGP's corporate-culture transformation, whose wheels have been set in motion since October 2011.

    Mr Simon Tan, NHGP's director of human resource and finance, said a "fundamental rethink" was needed to engage staff, and to "unlock their convictions" to do their best for patients and co-workers.

    He explained that while the company had initiatives to improve work processes and service standards, there was no "bigger picture" that staff could appreciate.

    "After a while, it became more about chasing the target numbers for such initiatives, and we know that this is the point where organisations begin to see diminishing returns," he said.

    A Way-of-Being framework was created to encourage staff to put themselves in the shoes of others, from patients to colleagues, and even the patient's anxious family members.

    Staff are reminded to be "empowered individuals" - each capable of making a difference by being pro-active in seeking improvements at work, taking responsibility for their own actions, and fostering good working relationships, Mr Tan said.

    For NHGP, the process of corporate-culture transformation started with management staff taking the lead, and setting the example for others to follow.

    Sixteen facilitators, including the company's chief executive, Mr Leong Yew Meng, helped to conduct the Way-of-Being workshops for the NHGP staff.

    These management staff also embarked on monthly walkabouts to different clinics, to look at issues ranging from service to safety and straightening operational kinks, said Mr Tan.

    These sessions are also used to share the principles behind the company's culture transformation with staff at all levels, he said.

    NHGP's 1,600 staff have to attend three core courses as part of the culture-transformation programme - iCare, OurCare and Way-of-Being.

    iCare, which stands for "Confident, Attentive, Respectful and Empathetic", is a service-training framework, while OurCare teaches staff how to improve processes at their respective workplaces.

    Through the latter course, staff are able to initiate their own projects, such as streamlining prescription collection at their clinics.

    About 1,000 staff attend at least one of these courses every year.

    Mr Tan said that the process of cultural transformation is "a long and continuous journey", one that is ongoing and by no means complete.

    "In fact, culture does not change overnight just by getting staff to change their behaviour. The change must come from within each one of us - a change that is something deeper than just behavioural," he explained.

    "We do not expect staff to change totally overnight, but encourage them to start with just doing one kind act, one simple process change or learning how to put yourself in another's shoes," he said.

    For Ms Ang, her pro-active attitude extended beyond her immediate day-to-day responsibilities.

    She noticed that the layout of the newly-renovated Woodlands Polyclinic had resulted in some patients having to walk a distance from the waiting area to the consultation rooms.

    As some patients may not be as mobile as others, she suggested that these patients be flagged in the registration system, so that they can be allocated consultation rooms that are closer to the waiting area.

    "The corporate-culture transformation exercise inspired me to become more aware of the way I interact with others... it has also allowed me to derive greater satisfaction from my job," she said.