What’s the Speed Limit?

April 20, 2017
Denise Hyde

Spending time with leaders who are open to new ideas and challenging their assumptions can be very inspiring. I recently had the privilege of spending two days with such a group of leaders. We were talking about the challenges of leading a group of care partners to a new way of caring for the Elders they serve. Part of the conversation included dealing with the natural conflicts that can arise when good people work together in service of the Elders.

One of the issues that came up was the complaint by a few team members that other team members were not moving fast enough in providing assistance to the Elders causing these team members to “pick up the slack.” It is a very real issue that leaders try to resolve almost daily in order to keep harmony in the team so the Elders have a good quality of life in their home.

While we didn’t come up with the definitive answer to the issue, the challenge has stuck with me. The leaders’ focus was on coaching the slower team members to improve their skills so they can “pick up the pace.” My thought was, “what is the right speed?” and “who makes that call?”

When we are in a task-focused mindset, it is all about tasks and not about relationships. So speed and efficiency is our friend and ally in the effort to meet the needs of the Elders. So the effort to coach up the skills of someone who is moving slower in supporting the Elders makes perfect sense. And, if they cannot keep up the pace then perhaps they are in the’ wrong seat on the bus or the wrong bus’ as we often say in the institutional environment.

When we are in a relationship-focused mindset, it is all about the relationships and the tasks become secondary. Slowing down, really connecting with the Elder, opening up a meaningful dialogue and moving at a speed that enables them to be their best (and builds on their strengths) is critically important. A leader in this environment might focus on two things: looking at systems and processes the are driving the employee care partners to see time as their enemy and provide coaching to those who are moving faster than the Elder needs.

Is there one right speed? If we are focused on creating a caring, Elder-centered community, the tasks becomes secondary and collaboration with the Elder is the primary goal. You can’t really define the optimal support for each Elder in terms of time (minutes or seconds). Isn’t the real question, “What is the right speed for each individual Elder?” and “Have we matched the pace of the Elder with the pace of their care partner?” The Eden Alternative would caution all care partners that learned helplessness is a real issue for Elders, especially when speed is of the essence in the support they receive. You can change that by asking the right questions are really trying to find the “right speed” for each individual. Then get busy busting the barriers that are getting in the way of true, care partnerships.

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I see this all the time: patients at nursing home infantilized so staff can hurry along. One example is scheduling bathroom visits and diaper changes instead of doing them as needed.

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Spending time with the Elders, sitting on their bed and discussing joys, dreams and fears-true connection- takes time. I encourage other staff members to see this as a strength; that it should be viewed just as important and the bed making, shower giving and dish washing.

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