I am a skeptic of professional conferences. They can be time-consuming, expensive, and full of underwhelming “buzz-word” presentations. The annual Vizient Connections Summit held in Las Vegas is different. While it certainly propagates its fair share of buzz words, the Vizient conference stands out by motivating teams towards a common purpose: to improve and remain competitive among peers. Edwards Deming calls this key ingredient for high performing teams “constancy of purpose”.
The first time I felt constancy of purpose was as an instructor for one of Stanford Medicine’s in-house improvement training programs called Realizing Improvement Through Team Empowerment (RITE). I could tell my participants felt it too as demonstrated by the highly motivated nature of their teams. At first, it was hard for me to determine why projects in the RITE program fared so much better than those not in the program. I once asked a RITE project team leader for their perspective on this phenomenon and they replied,
“Graduation. I’m not going to be embarrassed by presenting an inferior project in front of my peers… and every week I can check my progress against theirs. Most other projects don’t have the cohort dynamic and there’s no graduation that I need to push myself towards. As a result, those projects tend to drag on”
The RITE program endows teams with constancy of purpose by gathering peers and allowing them to work alongside one another and celebrate their successes together.
After gathering with our peer academic medical centers in Las Vegas to do the same thing, I felt it again. It was the call to improve and be competitive. At my team’s first meeting upon returning from the conference, one of our newest team members said,
“I am completely inspired by my experience at Vizient. Why are we not leading more national conversations about healthcare improvement? We should make it a goal this year to submit more abstracts. Also, how can we be in the top ten?”
She spoke of what we all felt. We don’t want to be mere attendees at a fancy conference. We want to be thought leaders amongst our peers, we want to share our innovative improvement techniques, and we want to propel Stanford Medicine into the top decile of our peer group. We not only want to improve, we want to compete with the best.
Skeptics may point out that Vizient is an imperfect benchmark that hardly makes us “the best” at anything. In addition, it does not capture everything that our organization strives to be in research, education, population health, and other areas. They would also say that the conference itself is too focused on vendors and other revenue generators for its own sake. I would agree. AND… As a team leader, I also see a conference that is helping my team connect the work they do every day to a grander vision. I see a team that is motivated to make Stanford Medicine the best.
Peer accountability, when used for good vs evil, can be a powerful force to drive teams towards moonshot goals. Consider attending the Vizient Connections Summit with your team. Not only will it deliver constancy of purpose, but it might not cost you or your institution anything. That’s right. Vizient will pay for your air, hotel, and most of your meals if you present on a topic. Please take the time to write up the amazing work you’re already doing and try something new with your team. Go to a magic show in the evening to blow off steam. Don’t accept any handouts if you venture out onto the strip. And of course, especially in Las Vegas, always be discerning.