In Praise of Impeccable Training

This week, I will have a heart-valve-replacement surgery.

It’s a significant surgery, but it is also a rather routine surgery these days and not high-risk.

It will be performed by Dr. Jose Navia, the Director of the Heart and Vascular Center and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. Cleveland Clinic is the top hospital in South Florida. Cleveland Clinic’s mother campus is ranked the best cardiology hospital in the world on Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals 2023 list. Their Weston Hospital, as well, is ranked among the Top 250 hospitals in the world.

I am in good hands.

Here’s what I am re-learning as I go through my pre-op visits and testing: It takes more than hiring skilled talent. It’s training, stupid.

My first contact with the clinic is with a telephone operator on the hospital’s general phone line to book an appointment with their top surgeon. I have no history with Cleveland Clinic. Don’t know anyone there.

The individual speaks with clear diction and authority. Conveys competence. Is efficient without rushing me. I am in the presence of a skilled communicator.

I have had numerous calls with other operators since that first call. Different people, but each experience very much matches that first call: Clear communication. No mumbling. Complete sentences. No robotic recitation of a learned script. Simply an efficient and unforced sense of competence conveyed by the operator.

I didn’t just get lucky. My experience transcends hiring great people. No - everyone has clearly been trained to a certain communication standard. They embody and execute this standard.

That’s the power of impeccable training.

What Good Training Does.

My first appointment with Dr. Navia is scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm.

At exactly 4 pm, Michelle, a nurse, opens the door to the waiting room, calls my name and ushers me into a patient room. Within the span of an hour, I interact with 4 individuals. Michelle, Lauren, a Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Navia, and Anthony, the care coordinator.

I don’t go to their offices, they come to the patient room to engage with me.

They come in a carefully orchestrated sequence. But here’s what really stands out for me:

  • Each individual sits down and is fully present as s/he engages with me.
  • No one seems rushed, hurried or distracted.
  • No one is checking cell phones or dashes off mid-conversation to deal with an emergency.
  • Each person impresses me with clear and easily followed communication skills.
  • Each individual conveys an easy sense of competence.
  • I experience each person in a similar way, regardless of age or rank.

Did I simply get lucky? Heck no. Each person – individually gifted, no doubt – has been trained to a certain performance standard. This standard is embodied and lived.

Within an hour, I have met with 4 very busy people and never felt rushed. That’s what happens when there is a process that works. That’s the outcome of impeccable training.

When I go back to Cleveland Clinic to have an angiogram done, my partner, who is accompanying me, notes: Nobody here is rushing. I actually feel myself relaxing.

That is by design.

The wide check-in desks in each lobby and hospital department are fully open, without partitions of any sort, much like registration desks in an upscale hotel.

That is by design.

The hallways in the buildings are extra wide and spacious. Visitors and staff can move about with ease, and without worry of bumping into others.

That is by design.

Lobbies are super-sized, with ample, modern, individual beige-and-chrome lounge chairs, a variety of seating areas, ample wall outlets for getting some work done, and tastefully bold, modern wall art. Like what you would find in the lobby of an upscale hotel.

Yup, by design.

“Empathy by design” is a Cleveland Clinic motto. It’s a culture choice. It is tangible. I feel it while I am there.

Here’s why I take pains to describe my experience at Cleveland Clinic for you. If Cleveland Clinic can do it, so can you and I.

I know you don’t run a hospital. You, perhaps, do not actually have a staff or team that you need to train. But what sort of experiences are you creating, on your own, by design, by choice?

  • You and I can train ourselves to a Cleveland Clinic communication standard.
  • If you have folks who work for you, you can train yourself and your team to an explicit behavioral standard. A standard about how you conduct meetings. About your written communications. About the rituals with which you engage with each other. The sort of experiences you seek to create for each other and for those you serve through your work. And you can hold each other to those standards.
  • The moment a standard is clear and explicit, it’s easy to train to it. Why not train to a higher standard?

When we create experiences by design, enhanced experiences are the outcome. Impeccable training is a key success differentiator. It brings a standard to life.

I have had some moments of anxiety leading up to my surgery on Wednesday. There have been loads of tests to get done and preparations to make. I have, however, no anxiety about the surgery itself. Absolutely none. And I’m not in denial. I simply have full and unwavering confidence.

That is the power of well-trained professional excellence.