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By Tony Thurmond, CRCST, CIS, CHL

Every sterile processing (SP) professional should strive for greater transparency in their roles within the department and in how they engage with other departments within the health care organization — and other departments should aim for the same.

The ability for individuals to clearly see what is expected of themselves (and their SP teammates) contributes to inter- and intradepartmental success because it affords an opportunity to share challenges, roadblocks and ideas in a way that can drive process and performance improvement. Unfortunately, such transparency is not always sought or practiced in a meaningful way. Some who clamor for greater transparency seemingly only want it to pertain to others. They may want others to share fully and openly, but then they don’t personally take similar actions.

Generally speaking, transparency in the workplace can be defined as operating in a way that creates openness between managers and employees, or between departments. When transparency is attained, better trust, communication and employee participation results. Reaching a high level of transparency in the workplace can be challenging but the rewards of doing so far outweigh the efforts. This column addresses what is necessary for transparency to occur fully and effectively in the workplace, and how promoting transparency can benefit the department, its employees, customers and patients.

Setting the stage, securing buy-in

It is important to determine the level of transparency being sought in the workplace and with whom engaging in such transparency will be most beneficial. Once these questions have been answered, all parties involved must be willing to commit to the open exchange. Getting to a place of success requires an understanding that transparency is a day-by-day process that involves ongoing commitment, buy-in and an enduring willingness to share, regardless of the issue or circumstance.

The way a person or organization defines and pursues transparency may differ slightly, however the underlying goal remains the same: to bring teams together to openly discuss concerns, issues or ideas. As a manager of a busy department, I pride myself on having an open-door policy. I encourage anyone to drop by my office and share what’s on their mind. It’s a terrific first step in building and fostering a healthy, honest (transparent) department.

The following are some key “Transparency Buckets/Categories” I strive for in our quest for workplace transparency:

  • Set The Scope: SP leaders know there is information that should be shared with all employees. Key examples include short- and long-term goals and expectations for the department; needs for the day to meet procedure schedules/customer demands; improvements to be made; updates on processes, policies and procedures; and upcoming events. There will be times, however, where certain information may be shared with mid-level management to help prepare them for an upcoming change or a plan of action that has not been finalized – but sharing that information with all employees won’t be necessary or beneficial. Such instances do not diminish departmental transparency; it’s simply that it’s not necessary to bog employees down with details and information that don’t directly affect them. Each manager should determine the level of transparency/communication for each circumstance and then filter information to employees when more details can be shared. If questions arise and managers don’t have all the details or are otherwise unable to share more at that time, they should be honest and explain that more details will be given at a more appropriate time. Sharing information too early in the process can actually be detrimental to the team’s success.
  • Prioritize Honesty and Integrity: Although there are many definitions for integrity, it can be summed up by doing the right thing at all times, even when no one is around to witness it. Given the critically important, challenging roles and responsibilities of SP professionals, it’s understandable that integrity is a most essential characteristic. SP professionals expect leaders and employees from other departments to demonstrate integrity and they, understandably, expect the same of with each task and service performed in the SPD. Being honest about shortcomings and taking responsibility for an error will always draw more respect from colleagues, customers and managers. SP professionals often feel they are wrongly blamed for delays and errors and there are times when that might be the case; however, when they consistently act with integrity, honesty and professionalism, fewer of those issues will occur and they will be better able to educate others on the real cause and then work together toward an effective resolution. It’s important that all SP team members demonstrate integrity with all their actions and also encourage it with their co-workers. If someone takes a shortcut, for example, they should be politely reminded (and taught, if necessary) about the proper way.
  • Share The Story: The SPD is one of the most productive departments in the hospital and it’s important that SP professionals share their story and educate others about their roles, responsibilities, successes and challenges. They should share some of their brightest moments and outline some challenging situations and how they were effectively addressed. All professionals are most transparent when they share their struggles and ask for suggestions and support. All employees in the department should be asked what they feel is the department’s story. When they seek information from different perspectives and are willing to share the collective story, transparency greatly improves.

Conclusion

Instilling and maintaining transparency is vital in all health care environments where patient lives are at stake, including areas where sterile processing functions take place. Trust and respect are gained when information is shared openly and honestly, and when the SP team takes ownership of its mistakes and shortcomings.

Tony Thurmond, is an IAHCSMM past-president who serves as sterile processing manager for Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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