Taking stock of 2019’s successes, roadblocks and goals

Oct. 23, 2019

Another year is about to draw to a close, which invites a perfect opportunity to pause for personal and professional reflection. What follows are some key questions to help Sterile Processing (SP) professionals navigate this important annual review process (along with organizational metrics that will also need to be reviewed). SP professionals will also likely be asked to set new objectives for the coming year, and the following will highlight some best practices for that, along with potential pitfalls to avoid.

Questions for end-of-year review

What went well? Review the last 12 months and think about all the things that went well. It is natural and all too easy to focus on the negative. Starting out with some positive reinforcement will make addressing some of the negative a little easier.

Who should be acknowledged? Think about all the things that went well and the people who played a part in that. Let them know you appreciate their important role in those successes.

What is not working well? It’s important to take time to fully revisit and evaluate past mistakes or obstacles. We learn more from failure and difficulty than we do from success and ease -- and glossing over our challenges can easily lead to stagnation. Try to approach this as objectively as possible, without the need to assign a cause or blame. Just acknowledging what isn’t working is a powerful first step that will help lead to correction and improvement.

 Compiling a list of things that are not working well is an excellent place to start when considering goals for the new year. The new year is an opportunity to refocus and realign on the important components in our departments. While there will always be core tenants to the job (e.g., sterility and function), other areas of focus will come and go. SP professionals have likely heard of the goal setting process and may even use it at their organizations [at General Electric (GE), these are called SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timeline]. Breaking goals into these SMART components can be the difference between hoping something happens and finding a way to make it happen. Still, merely focusing on these goals may be insufficient because it is possible to follow the process without focusing on critical areas of success. Because of this, GE added “stretch goals” that identify areas that were both challenging and important. The key to a stretch goal is for it to be difficult, but not so far out of reach that it crushes morale.

Common pitfalls to avoid

Be careful what you measure. It can be as much art as it is science when selecting metrics to associate with objectives for the year. A personally favorite story that highlights how this can go badly comes from the world of sports. Vasili Alexeyev, a super-heavyweight weight lifter, was offered an incentive for every world record he broke. The result of this contingent was that he kept breaking world records by only a gram or two at a time, often his own world records, to maximize his reward payout. It is easy to imagine how measurement in one area can drive poor results in another.

Avoid measuring the wrong things. Dysfunctional measurement is often caused by organizations doing the wrong things for the right reasons. To reduce customer wait time, an insurance company (known for its customer focus) invested in a device to measure average customer wait time for each call center team. The company mounted a digital scoreboard above the office cubicles for all to see; this caused employees to get their customers off the phone quickly, even if their issues had not been completely resolved, just so the customers in the queue wouldn’t have to wait. It also compromised customer service behaviors (like empathy for a customer who had recently experienced a death in the family). To the CEO’s credit, when he realized the problem, he immediately acknowledged it and replaced the “wait time” measure with one that measured the percentage of customers who completed their business on the first call, with no need for follow-up.

Discuss and share goals and metrics before finalizing. The goal setting process has a powerful effect on motivation. I encourage all in leadership positions to involve their team, peers and customers in their process. Consider this example of measurement gone wrong: An automobile industry executive explained that to receive his quarterly bonuses “all that mattered was meeting production quotas and getting the cars out of the factory.” What happened after that was somebody else’s problem. That is certainly not a good way to work.

 It is easy to imagine the results if something like that were implemented between SP and the Operating Room (OR). What objectives and metrics could be set that would support both OR and SP goals? It is important to ask how those objectives align with the overall organizational goals and whether they align with the vision and values of the organization.


Performing an end-of-year review to understand how the department, team and organization performed over the past year is essential for ensuring all stay on the correct course. These reviews also provide valuable information to help set goals and change initiatives for the future. We must continue to question the processes and metrics around us, and we must realize that just because something used to be a valuable measure does not always mean it still is.         

About the Author

Nicholas Schmitz | President

Nicholas Schmitz is President of Schmitz Consulting LLC. He holds two Master degrees in organization development and change management, and project management, and is a certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. 

Photo 77197506 © Korn Vitthayanukarun | Dreamstime.com
Image courtesy of Kat Velez, LeeSar Regional Service Center, Fort Myers, FL, HPN’s 2017 SPD of the Year
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