Responsibility – Joe, Sherry and The Corps …

Responsibility seems like a fairly straightforward topic. Yep, the Excellent Organization will display the trait, “Responsibility.”

But what does that mean?

Does it mean that the people who work for the organization are “responsible”? Does it mean that the department you work in is “responsible?” Does it mean that the entire organization is “responsible?”

All of the above.

Responsible people create responsible departments. An aggregation of responsible departments creates the responsible organization.

But what does “responsibility” mean? In its purest sense, it means “making it yours.” That is, taking a situation and making the resolution of that situation something that people put upon themselves – to identify options, find the necessary resources, bring those resources to bear and see the issue through to completion.

As I write this, I am realizing how difficult it is to define a word where the word itself is the best definition for it.

So let’s start from the bottom to create a multi-layered understanding of the concept:

Which brings us to Joe and Sherry – specifically, Joe Powers and Sherry Weiner of Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa. Finley is a member of the Unity Point Health System (formerly known as the Iowa Health System). Joe is a buyer, and I never really knew what Sherry’s formal title was, but if I had to relate anybody to the old joke, “When you look up ‘responsibility’ in the dictionary, there is a picture of …”

The pictures I would see would be of Joe and Sherry.

Finley is a relatively small hospital. The staff in Materials is less than 20 FTEs. In smaller hospitals, it is often necessary for staff members to learn many functions. Your job description may say that you are supposed to do “X”, but you had better learn how to do “Y” and “Z” and a few other letters, because whether you like it or not, the situation is going to arise when you will have to. Joe and Sherry are the people who keep things running smoothly. They know their own jobs and do them perfectly.

But then they go beyond that. I cannot tell you how many times in the few short years I was the Director of Materials at Finley that Joe and Sherry had seen something that needed to be done, and then did it … before anyone else even knew about it. If someone were sick, Sherry would do that person’s job, along with her own. No big deal; that’s just the way it was.

Joe was the same. I like to get to work early, but with the exception of the nights I stayed overnight due to a labor dispute, I never got to work before Joe.

These folks brought their personal sense of responsibility to the job, every day. They still do, and their organization should be proud of the work they do.

The next step up is the Responsible Supply Chain. Getting the right product to the right place in the right amounts at the right time is a 1980s’ representation of the Responsible Materials Management operation (the term “Supply Chain” had yet to be coined). While those elements of operational performance remain essential, today’s world is much more complicated, and simply getting people what they want when they want it no longer suffices. External forces such as the Affordable Care Act, the changing landscape of the healthcare delivery system and an ever-increasing paucity of financial resources has made it necessary for the Supply Chain to invest itself into the total operation of the enterprise. It must become knowledgeable of how things work, which means it must reach out to the departments it serves and learn what they are about, what challenges they face and become a resource as well as a support function.

The responsible supply chain demonstrates its role by gathering information from all the sources available to it, bringing that information to the various departments and the C-suite, and becoming an active participant in the enterprise itself. To do this, it must be able to understand what the world looks like beyond the doors of the warehouse or the Purchasing Office.

It must learn to ask questions other than, “What’s your price?”

Now for the final step: the Responsible Organization. What does that look like? The answer to this came to me recently while walking my dogs. I kept asking myself, “Have you ever worked for a Responsible Organization, and what does that look like?” I thought about every healthcare organization I had ever worked for throughout the years, many of which were truly outstanding.

But were they responsible, and if so, what characteristics would they display? First, each person would be responsible for his or her actions. He would know his role within the bigger unit and the bigger unit’s role within the outside world. He would know the jobs of his teammates and jump in as needed. Each functioning unit within the organization would know how it fit in with the others. It would function collaboratively and respectfully. It would embody the essential philosophy that, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” At the corporate level, the organization would display this functionality in two directions – to the world beyond its gates as well as to its individual members, realizing that sometimes sometime the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few or the many.

It would be faithful, ever faithful to its members. It would leave no one behind – from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli to the sands of Iwo Jima to the boonies of Vietnam, where I served as a medic in 1966-67.

It would be the few, the proud, the responsible, the Marines.

Semper Fi.

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