Leading from the Top (Part I) – Transformation of the Leader

Guest post by Dennis Sergent, President, Sergent Results Group.

W. Edwards Deming said that “Quality is determined by the top management. It cannot be delegated.” In September of 2016 I had the chance to hear from Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit, who told a story that illustrates this concept beautifully, at a discussion hosted by the State of Michigan’s Office of Performance and Transformation in Lansing.

Before he became mayor, Mike was CEO of Detroit Medical Center, tasked with identifying how to solve a multi-million dollar loss the year before. He started a dialogue with the Nursing staff to identify ideas to overcome roadblocks. First among their ideas was to speed up patient discharge; it sometimes took up to three hours to get an ambulatory patient wheeled out and on their way home. Mike asked where they needed his help and was quickly told the problem was not with the Nurses but with the “Transporters.”

So off he went to the Transporters, looking for the culprit causing these delays. The Transporters told him they had higher priorities: moving people into ER and Surgery, then from Surgery to Recovery, and then to their rooms. They were dealing with sick people first; surely he must agree this should be their first priority. How could he disagree? Again, Mike asked where he could help, and they related that the lack of operable wheelchairs was the issue. A large percentage of them were always in for repairs. He asked who was the responsible culprit for this backlog, and off he went to the Wheelchair Repair shop, in the bowels of the DMC facility, to correct the guilty party.

Mike arrived at the Wheelchair Repair shop – the first time anyone there had seen the CEO – and he heard a familiar story. The problem was not here, it was with someone else. Someone in Purchasing was the hold up, and so off he went to talk to the culprit in Purchasing.

By now, you may guess that Purchasing also claimed they were not the issue. The Suppliers were not sending parts on time because Accounting was not paying the Suppliers in a timely fashion. Mike went off to Accounting, knowing he must be getting close to the root cause and the ultimate culprit at DMC. His revelation came when he asked Accounting and they confirmed that yes, they were not paying Suppliers on time, rather, they had orders to hold up payments as long as possible. When Mike inquired about who the culprit was so he could hold them personally responsible for this colossal waste of time, the Accountant pointed out that he was acting at the request of the CEO – Mike himself!

The “aha” moment for Mike as CEO and leader was that ultimately, the buck stops with the leader. Mike’s tale illustrates that the transformation of the organization begins with ourselves. We must transform as Mike has, and his approach in talking and walking through the process at DMC with his team gave him greater insights into starting his transformation, to start transforming the organization he led.

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This post was first published on Dennis Sergent’s LinkedIn page in December 2016.

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