Help wanted, butt wiper needed.

Help wanted, butt wiper needed.

In our last blog I touched on identity and respect and how they drive great outcomes, or the opposite, how they drive disengagement and resignations when they’re missing. 

One of my favorite stories about identity comes from Texas, where apparently there used to be a whole lotta’ littering going on on the roads. It was getting so out of hand that Texas decided to create a campaign around ending it. To do that they had to figure out who was doing all this littering. 

Well, researchers found that most often the litter culprit was a young male. As a mother of twenty-one-year-old twin boys this does not surprise me. I could open up a recycling center with the number of water bottles I find in their wake! But I guess at least they are not throwing the bottles out their car windows!  

What did researchers find that all of these young males had in common? An absolute devotion to their home state of Texas!

So how did they get these fine young men to stop littering? They appealed to their identity of being a Texan, and the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign was born!

Sounds pretty silly, right? But the impact was a 72% decrease in littering! All by playing to a young man’s identity: Proud Texans don’t litter!

Identity matters

How can you apply this lesson to your staff? What’s their “identity” and how can you play to it in order to get a different outcome than the one you are getting right now?

Identity helps define us and, as shown by the litter story, it directly impacts our actions. I’ve heard nursing assistants refer to themselves as “butt wipers” and cooks that say they “sling food.” Are these people going to step outside their job to enhance a patient’s or resident’s life? Probably not. More likely they will be a taskmaster and do just what’s required of them and no more.

If my identity is one of a taskmaster only and a patient wants to sleep in, but it’s a hassle to support that choice, most likely I’m going to do the task at hand: wake him or her up for his or her breakfast.

But luckily, the opposite is also true. If my identity is one of life-enhancer or advocate, I’m going to be more apt to support the patient’s or resident’s choice.

One part of our identity at work is our job title. In one of the presentations that I do for groups, I share how job titles are just one piece of the puzzle that forms our work identity.

After my presentation for the Illinois Pioneer Coalition, Leslie Pedkte, who at the time was an Administrator at Country Manor Home, shared with me that she was so inspired by this concept of identity that she changed all of her staff’s titles to more accurately reflect what they do.

Now a bit of caution here, changing a job title merely for show is just a waste of time and will be an initiation for staff to spend a lot of time snickering about it in the break room! This is not about changing titles for the sake of changing them. Leslie’s home is a leader in person-centered care. The title of “life enhancer” was not incongruent with her team’s identity.

Leslie encouraged an identity of problem solver and resident supporter by choosing titles such as “advocate” and “life enhancer.” If I’m connected with the identity of “life enhancer” and I’m standing by the bedside of a resident who wants to sleep in, chances are I’m going to support that person’s choice to sleep in!

What’s the identity you have been consciously or unconsciously supporting for your team? Want it to more accurately reflect the outcomes you are looking for? Try one of these suggestions:

  1. Consider job titles, job descriptions, evaluations, and any other tools that have the ability to support an identity of team members. Are they pointing to the identity that you want?
  2. Ask staff why they do the work they do. Most likely they came into this work with the identity of someone wanting to make a difference. Remind them of that original passion!
  3. Be mindful of the words that you speak. Not only formal, but also informal reinforcers should point to the new identity you want to create: that of making another person’s life better. “Thank you for supporting that resident’s choice and enhancing her life.”

Remember, it’s about people identifying with the fact that their job first and foremost is to make a patient’s or resident’s life better. It’s not about having a fancy new title!

I love connecting with you on issues that matter to your team members, and I LOVE when I hear back from you what you’ve done with the inspiration you get from these blogs. Please write to me and tell me if this blog has inspired you to strengthen your team members’ identities. You never know, I may even feature you in an upcoming blog!



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