After her father spent eight days at a Sharp HealthCare hospital in San Diego, Sandra Rhodes was profoundly grateful to the doctors and nurses who had saved his life.  

His experience as a patient?  

Not so much.

Her dad shared a small room with another patient. Hospital staff entered and exited without saying who they were or what they did. They rarely introduced themselves and seemed to lack basic human warmth.  “They treated my dad like this old feeble person,” Sandra said.  “I wanted to tell them, ‘He’s a physicist and runs a company that makes satellites.”

The experience had a profound impact on Sandra – and not only because she was the daughter of the patient. She was also an executive at Sharp Healthcare.

Over the course of the following year, Sandra became an evangelist for improving the patient experience.  

She persuaded the CEO and other Sharp leaders to take on the challenge of dramatically improving the patient experience. They began by putting forth a new vision for how Sharp would treat patients.

But, how would they get the 12,000 Sharp doctors, nurses, and staff to take it seriously?

Someone suggested they bring everyone together.

And that’s what they did. They rented out the San Diego Convention Center and held three separate sessions over two days which allowed them to maintain core staff to ensure patients were cared for.

“This is our vision, and we want you to be part of it, to be able to get where we want to go,” said the CEO.  After his speech, people were given the opportunity to volunteer for one of 100 “action teams” to improve the patient and associate experience.  

Over 1,600 people volunteered to participate, to take on extra work in support of the new vision.  

The kickoff event sparked a series of improvements.  Over the course of the next five years, patient satisfaction scores increased from the low teens to the 90s.

Did this transformation occur during the kickoff meeting? Of course not. But, the kickoff event was the defining moment for the change.

So far this week, we’ve looked at cultivating purpose by connecting our work to a larger meaning.

But how can we design moments that bring people together to create or strengthen a sense of shared purpose?

The Sharp Healthcare story from Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments is a great example of two key strategies to create shared purpose: (1) a synchronized moment and (2) a shared struggle.  

A synchronized moment works best live and in-person – which isn’t possible currently with the reality of COVID-19.  So, this strategy is one to file away for the post-COVID era. 

“Reasonable” people inside our organizations will often argue against synchronized moments:  “It’s too expensive to get everyone together.”  Or, “It’s too complicated.  Why can’t we just get on a zoom meeting?”  Or, “What if we just send the highlights via email?”

Don’t listen to these voices.

Bringing everyone together in-person sends a powerful message:  This is important.  This is real.  We’re in this together.   And, what we’re doing matters.

Chip and Dan remind us that shared moments are memorable whether they are weddings, birthdays, retirement celebrations, baptisms, festivals, graduations, rites of passage, concerts, competitions, or political rallies.  As human beings, we crave personal contact and social reinforcement – even with strangers.

The second strategy to create a shared purpose is a shared struggle: taking on a really challenging task we find deeply meaningful. We will choose – even volunteer – to join a struggle if the conditions are right: when it means something to us, when we have the autonomy to act, and when we are free to participate, or not.


Reflection:  Is there a shared struggle we can articulate to create a greater sense of purpose in my organization?

Action:  Post-COVID, look for an opportunity to create an event to bring people together to create a shared purpose.

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