The Trouble with Tool Kits

Empty toolkit

For some strange reason, despite having tools and approaches that represent best practice, teams often struggle with using someone else’s tool.

I recently started taking what I think is a great program for entrepreneurs.  It focuses on helping small business leaders to grow their business while supporting them to have a balanced life. I quite like the program. It is expensive and weirdly simple, but it has really helped me think through how to best support my goals. In fact, I kind of think that all small business owners would benefit from a program like this. I have told others about the program and why I like it and so far, a total of zero other colleagues have signed up. I thought this was odd — why would someone not want the benefits of a program that from my perspective represents a best practice?

This relates to a question that comes up a lot in our work.  Teams across the healthcare system are in a continuous process of improving care and services. Through our many years of working in healthcare, we have been struck by the consistent level of passion and commitment our clients have to improve the care and experience that patients and families have. Many of these teams have discovered new ways of approaching care and through their own small ‘r’ research they have developed and evaluated new tool kits that can support others in the system to apply their learning. The interesting thing that we have noted is that while tool kit creation is growing, tool kit use may not be.

So why is that?   How is it that best evidence and best approaches often struggle to translate into practice more generally across multiple settings?

The answer might rest in the missing pieces of the puzzle: ownership!

For some strange reason, despite having tools and approaches that represent best practice, teams often struggle with using someone else’s tool. Almost every setting we come across has a profound story of uniqueness. “We have a unique culture here!”  Or – “this might work elsewhere but I am not sure this will fit for our clients.” It seems that if something is not our own, we have a tendency to dismiss part or all of it.

So, what is the answer?  “Making it your own!”

The secret to adoption of an existing practice is to always assume that the practice will need to be adopted / adapted in some way for a new setting.  All we can share with others is the framework for a new way that will be adapted in small or large ways. If it is too prescribed, it is much more difficult for others to gain a sense of ownership over the process or tool.

If we really think our great idea is worth spreading, maybe our job is to inspire a dialogue where other interested parties can talk about what they need and want and are encouraged to look at a framework, idea or tool through their unique lens. In the end, they may adopt it outright or with enough customization that it truly feels like they own it.

The Potential Group

The Potential Group has orchestrated more than 200 change and strategic planning initiatives in organizations across the academic health sector, most within the complex network of academic hospitals and the University of Toronto in the Toronto region.