October 20, 2020

Episode 36: A millennial nurse leader talks innovation and the importance of soft skills

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Podcast

Description

Over the course of this season, we’ve had several guests on the show to talk about the unique role that nurses play in spurring grassroots innovation within their organizations. Our guest for this episode is putting this into practice and has made innovation a theme of her career. 

Charlene Platon is a rising star in the nursing profession. In under ten years, she’s risen up the ranks to become the Director of Ambulatory Nursing at Stanford Health Care and was recently named as one of the inaugural recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s Nurse Innovation Fellowship. She’s passionate about using technology to transform healthcare delivery and improve patient care. 

In addition to innovation, Charlene is also passionate about leadership, particularly from a millennial point of view. In this episode, she and Dan talk about everything from gaining confidence as a new leader, the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence in managing teams and how to make time for innovation-related projects as a nurse.

Links to recommended reading: 

Podcast

Transcript

Dan:

Thanks for joining us, Charlene.


Charlene:

Thank you so much for having me, Dan. It's great to be here.


Dan:

So, what are you working on right now? Tell the listeners what your big focus is at the moment.


Charlene:

I've been working on a couple of things, especially as it relates to my role as a fellow in the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellowship. And two of the things that I really am focusing on there are number one, to really elevate nurses to innovate when it comes to ideas that they have in healthcare and really bringing those ideas to the forefront and to leadership in their healthcare organizations. So, I am working on that within Stanford right now in my current role as a director of ambulatory nursing. But I also am working on building a mobile solution to help promote the wellbeing of nurses.


Charlene:

And so, that idea really stemmed from the Nurse Hack 4 Health COVID-19 virtual hackathon that took place in May 2020. So, just a few months ago. And that is something that I'm really passionate about since it does speak to promoting nurses' health and wellbeing, especially during this challenging time. And so, I'm working with a team of nurses from the hackathon to really build that idea out and have some sort of a tool and resource to help nurses with that during this time.


Dan:

That's great. Yeah, that's something that's been top of mind for me as well. And we've been working with Ohio State Nursing College and trying to find resources and support networks for frontline nurses, especially as they went into places like New York, Michigan, California, Washington, for COVID, but it just brought to light the lack of support and the lack of tools that nurses have at their fingertips to support their personal wellness.


Charlene:

Right. Exactly. And I think that there is so much opportunity for healthcare to do wellness well. I just feel that this is something that nurses have been struggling with for decades, long before COVID was here, and it's really something that now can no longer be ignored. And so, I'm glad that there is more attention being focused to that and I'm glad to hear about the work that you and Trusted Health are doing to focus on that. And so, it's definitely a priority and I hope it continues to be a priority long after COVID is done.


Dan:

From your perspective as a leader, how do you support your team's mental health and wellness? This is something that I've been asking a lot of leaders lately and trying to get what tactics they have in their tool belt to bring up this topic that's not always top of mind. I think we go into a clinical setting, we're focused on the patients and the outcomes and the staffing and that kind of stuff, and we pass over how people are feeling that day or how their physical and mental health is doing. What are some tactics you use as a leader to bring that up with your team?


Charlene:

It's funny because right before the first COVID surge came to the Bay Area, I was working in a different role and I was actually practicing as a manager of advanced practice in the Center for Advanced Practice at Stanford Healthcare. And so, in that role, I was directly supervising nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and really had to be supportive for them, especially as COVID was surging. And so, there were a lot of different things that I had done to try to support them. And overall, even in my new role as director of ambulatory nursing, I don't have the same direct reports. So, I don't have nurses reporting to me at this moment, but I do collaborate still with a lot of different people and a lot of different stakeholders. And I think one of the things that can really help with being supportive is to create a safe space for people.


Charlene:

And you don't have to be really formal to do anything, to create a safe space, but really building an environment that allows the employees to feel that they could talk openly about what's happening now and not having to always have a really strong face or always having to have a really strong outer shell in terms of how they're feeling. When people ask me for example, how I'm doing, I don't automatically always say, "I'm good," because I know that that's a response that can become pretty automatic. And so, I am really open about how I am feeling that day. And then, often when I do that, it does invite the employees to actually tell about their story and actually tell a little bit more about how they really are feeling for that day.


Charlene:

And I think just really being accessible, I always invite different employees to talk to me if there's anything I can help with and really just embodying more of those soft skills that in leadership and healthcare I feel is not emphasized nearly enough. We do have a lot of emphasis on hard skills, but I think really leaning into those soft skills, really leaning into the emotional intelligence aspect of healthcare leadership is what invites the employees to feel more of a trust and more of that safety for them to open themselves up and feel a little bit more supported.


Dan:

Yeah. And ultimately that leads to better conversations, more information sharing, better decision-making ,and ultimately just a more engaged team that feels like they can bring up issues and not hide them. And you brought up a great point, which is healthcare team members especially just have an outer shell that is hard to break sometimes. And so, you have to work over time as a leader to allow that shell to come down and get to the meat of what's actually bothering people, I think.


Charlene:

And it can be really hard sometimes to do that, especially when you do have a lot of expectations and pressure, especially as a clinician to perform and to constantly seem unfazed by anything that comes at you. But we all know that there's so much happening right now that it would be more concerning if I didn't see that need for support.


Dan:

How do you develop those skills as a leader? Sometimes there's not a lot of emphasis, like you said, on the soft skills of things, the emotional intelligence piece. While they talk about it, those trainings aren't always like that, it's always around the finance, or the staffing, or the financial skills, the business skills, and we leave out the emotional intelligence side. Where have you found great resources to develop that skill set as a leader?


Charlene:

You're right. A lot of the training sessions that I've been to personally haven't really focused on the soft skills or haven't really focused on the more emotional aspect of leadership and building that great rapport with your team members and your direct reports. And so, a lot of the skills that I've built when it comes to having more emotional intelligence or more soft skills has really come from my own personal experience. And it does come from trial and error, but I have found that something that's been really successful for me is really going to each and every single one of the people who I directly work with and asking them what matters to them most, what their why is, and really understanding who they are as a person.


Charlene:

And I think that when you do understand what motivates each and every one of the people that you work with, it really helps you to understand how to adapt and how to collaborate with them and how to work with them, because you do understand more of what it is that they are interested in, where their strengths are, in general just focusing on their strengths and just focusing on their interests has been really successful for me.


Dan:

Yeah, it's really building that relationship. I had one of my mentors, Tim Porter-O'Grady used to say, "Leadership is 90% relationships and 10% everything else." And I think the successful leaders and mentors I've had in my life have built that relationship first. And so, that's a great tip for leaders to take home.


Charlene:

Right. Exactly. I 100% agree. It is 90% building relationships and I think that that's where a lot of healthcare leaders can stumble a bit because I do still see that there is a lot of emphasis on not building the relationships, even if you've had a lot of years of experience as a leader, if you don't lean into the relationships of who you're working with, it will be hard to really gain the support and the respect of your colleagues and your peers who you have to work with. There is a lot more to people management than just the outcomes of what it is that your teams are working on. And I feel like this way of thinking could be a by-product of just how we've done healthcare for a long time and focusing so much on productivity and having incentives for productivity. But if we really did have more incentives for the emotional aspect and those soft skills, I really do think that the healthcare industry would look a little different.


Dan:

Yeah, that's a great point. I think, healthcare has grew up in the industrial age and so it's been very focused on transactions in the past, and that's what we've held our teams to, the number of patients, the number of hours, the number of tasks, the amount of throughput you can have. And now it's switching to that value equation, which there's a piece of it where you have to meet certain metrics to be in business, but linking to the behaviors and the expectations of those actions, I think is the future of how we should evaluate our teams and evaluate each other, especially as leaders, I think we don't often do enough around evaluating leaders on their behaviors, simply their outcomes.


Dan:

And I've written a lot about toxic leadership and that kind of stuff and that's a by-product of it. If you just focus on getting the work done and not on the behaviors people are using to motivate people and move the ball along, you can get some dysfunctional behaviors and that ultimately leads to poor organizations and poor teams. So, I think we need a lot more on that leadership piece. What are some tips you have for emerging leaders? We have a lot of listeners that are right at the cusp of their leadership journey, whether that's at a bedside level or a charge nurse, or in some other weird non-traditional route, like I've taken, what's some advice that you would give to a new leader on how to build their skillsets, to just be amazing?


Charlene:

I do love to connect with new nurse leaders and emerging leaders, and I think it's wonderful that there's still so much interest in becoming a nurse leader. And I think that I can't emphasize enough the importance of joining professional nursing organizations. And right now I am a member or I'm actually the co-chair of the Communication Voice of Nursing Committee within the Association of California Nurse Leaders or ACNL. And being a part of this professional organization, as well as so many other nursing organizations throughout my career, has really helped me since that really connects me with like-minded nurses, other nurse leaders, other nurses who have gone through this path and this journey and people who I could feel safer and more comfortable with because they are going through that journey or they've done that before. And so, I really think that there is so much value in going to those professional organizations.


Charlene:

One of the benefits too, of joining the different organizations is many times they already have mentorship programs in place, and I've done several mentorship programs, one through ACNL and another through the American College of Healthcare Executives. So, that's still a valuable tool, even if it's not a nursing-specific organization, it is healthcare-specific, which is also still valuable, and you also get to learn from other healthcare leaders who are not in nursing. So, I was part of a mentorship program for that as well. And I still to this day connect with all of the members and still keep in contact pretty frequently with the mentors who I had in those different organizations. And if you're in those teams and you grow in those organizations, there's so much room to even practice leadership by being on the board, being on the committee, being on a task force.


Charlene:

And I think that that's where you learn a lot of valuable skills that you may not get in your organization, depending on what your opportunities are there, but it's a great ground for practicing and for learning from other people who have those skill sets. And really, if you already have the vision in mind for where you see your career in the future, and you see a nurse who you admire or who you're inspired by and they're in that organization, I would try to connect with them. And LinkedIn has been extremely helpful for that too.


Dan:

Yeah, I've found LinkedIn has been amazing, and I've found that professional organizations do have a lot of resources. And also, the network that you build at the conferences or now the virtual conferences is invaluable to advancing your skill set and also your career. So, that's awesome. I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your innovation work. I mean, you're one of the first Johnson & Johnson Innovation Fellows. And so, I'd love to hear more about that and what you're up to in that program.


Charlene:

Yes. Thank you so much. And it's truly an honor to be one of the inaugural Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellows. And it was almost by chance that I found out about it and found out about Rebecca Love and her work in nurse-led innovation. And as soon as I heard about the program and I applied for it, reading through the description and what it entailed really spoke to me, and I feel like I'm someone who's always been so interested in creativity and innovation and entrepreneurship and those different types of areas. And so, that really particularly spoke to me after I applied. And so, in the program, it is a two-year program and each fellow is tasked with pursuing an innovation project. And so for me, the two projects are really building a platform to help nurses bring their ideas to the front and really bringing their ideas to healthcare leadership so that they feel heard. So, that they're part of the decision making table.


Charlene:

Currently, I'm a member of the Innovation Tech Governance Steering Committee at Stanford, and that is really a platform for me to help bring this platform to life for the nurses. And I am there to represent ambulatory nursing. So, it's the first time that we've had this type of council built to really include nursing in the conversation, but also connect us with our other healthcare partners. We have physicians as part of that group. We have other members in innovation as part of that group. Historically, we haven't had that collaboration in the past, so it's really exciting, and I really think that nursing innovation has taken a huge step forward. So, that's one of the projects I'm working on. And another project that I'm working on is for Wellnurse, which is the innovation that my team and I had developed from the Nurse Hack 4 Health COVID-19 Virtual Hackathon.


Charlene:

So, ever since the hackathon ended in May, we have been working on that week after week, and we are in the process of developing our minimum viable product or our MVP, so we could have a mobile application to have out in the market and have nurses use and tests. Those are the two major focuses that I have right now as part of the fellowship. And we're making a lot of progress despite everything going on. So, it's been really wonderful and I've been still connecting with the J&J fellows every month. And we have virtual meetings every month to still connect and meet other innovators and have great presentations from prominent nurse leaders. So, it's been an awesome, awesome program.


Dan:

I'm so impressed by the work that you're up to and just that cohort of nurse innovators is top notch. I've spoken to almost every single one of them now, and they're leading the future of the profession and it's great to have Johnson & Johnson support it, to have SONSIEL support it, and then make those connections between interprofessional partners, because that's the only way this is all going to get done, I think.


Charlene:

Right, exactly. It's been wonderful to have the collaboration from Johnson & Johnson and also the support from the Center for Creative Leadership and Nurse Approved. There are really three powerhouse organizations and we couldn't be more fortunate to be in this program, so truly honored to be part of it.


Dan:

So, one of the things that comes up for nurses, and I hear this a lot at a lot of the things I go and meet people at is, where do I find time for innovation? And it seems like you've found time for innovation. You've found time to be in this fellowship. You're working on a current app related to innovation. Where do you find the resources and time to do that in such a busy schedule?


Charlene:

Especially right now, a lot of nurses are working overtime. A lot of nurses are spending a lot of time clinically or even in leadership doing what they can to support pandemic response. And so, even when you come home, you could feel really fatigued and really exhausted. So, it's definitely a great question. And for me, I've really found, with being at home just like everyone else in the world, and really having the time to ... I guess, more time to think about where I want to prioritize my time. So, I've actually started to track where I do spend my time. I would recommend if anyone is really interested in spending time to an innovation, that one of the things they could first do is an assessment of where the time is at the moment. Because when you're at home, it really is interesting to evaluate how much time do I spend on my phone? How much time do I spend on the computer or watching TV?


Charlene:

So, when I was able to reflect on that, I did find that there were opportunities for me to spend time on the other things that I was more passionate about. I really think about what's the purpose and what's my why? And in terms of Wellnurse, for example, I really want to do what I can to help promote the wellbeing of nurses, especially because I was a nurse who was burnt out in the past. And I see so many nurses who are burnt out or who have been burnt out. And so for me, that really motivates me to spend the time, even if it's on my personal time outside of office hours, it's something that I want to do. And so, I think if you have something that you're really passionate about for innovation, and you could see where the opportunity is just looking at the times that you might be available, if it's something that you're truly passionate about, it won't really feel like work.


Charlene:

So, it will actually be easier to spend time doing that. And that's what I've been doing, but also just focusing on how can I optimize my time with the schedule that I have? Everyone has 24 hours in a day, how can I really optimize that to accomplish what's best for me at this point in time? And so for me, that really looks like devoting the time to the innovation and devoting the time to nurse-led innovation and building a platform for nurses. It does take some soul searching and really trying to find out what gets me out of bed every morning, and using that energy to pursue that project that you want to do.


Dan:

It's really about that energy management, I think. Like you said, you have 24 hours in a day and it's where are you willing to spend your energy? And if you're passionate about creating a change, you'll find the energy to do that, and the time will follow. One of the other challenges I hear a lot from nurse innovators is, "I have this great idea. I have the evidence behind it. I've gotten people excited about it and then I take it to my manager and they shoot it down."


Charlene:

Right.


Dan:

And so, do you have any advice for advocating for your solution and finding your voice and pushing against some of those, we've always done it this way? I know Stanford's brought Bern Melnyk out many, many times, Bern's very dear to my heart, and that's the one thing she hates is, we've always done it this way. How do you push against that culture in healthcare, as a nurse innovator?


Charlene:

I really, really resonate with that, Dan, because when I was a nurse working inpatient at the bedside, I experienced that so much. Personally, I would talk to my colleagues and my nursing colleagues would have amazing ideas, but they wouldn't pursue it because they actually wouldn't even try to talk to the manager because they would already think that it's pointless or it's futile, and there's no reason why I should try this. For that I would just say, if you don't try it, you're already failing. Right? If you don't give it a chance, then you actually never know ... You would never know what the outcome would be. I would first actually just give it a chance and first talk to your manager about it. And if you were in a situation like I was where I actually had a very supportive manager, it really worked out because I did present my idea to them and then they gave me ideas for who to talk to next. And then, before I knew it, my idea was elevated to the chief nursing officer at my hospital at the time.


Charlene:

But I wouldn't have known that, or I wouldn't have known that the opportunity would have gone through had I not talked to my manager first. But if you are in the situation where you do bring an idea to a manager and they do immediately shoot it down, there could be a couple of reasons for that. It might be how the idea was presented. Because before I presented my idea to the manager, I really made sure I had all my ducks in a row, had evidence-based articles ready, had different things to support why I was building what I was building or what I wanted to build. And I think that if you are prepared in that sense, and if you can anticipate what it is that your manager might want to hear or what it is that they might be thinking about when you're telling them about a new idea, I think that could be really helpful just in terms of the actual proposal.


Charlene:

I would just say it's like pitching a startup idea to a VC. You really have to be prepared. You can't just propose a new idea to someone for the first time without being prepared and really doing your research. Those would be my recommendations. And if your manager is still really adamant to not support the idea from there, I wouldn't stop it there. I would either try to see if there's other organizations that I could lean into that might be open to that, or trying to see if there are other avenues for submitting ideas in the hospital that might be open to those ideas, because you never know, a lot of hospitals now are creating these platforms for nurses to submit ideas. And there are things like the hackathons that are going out now, so you could also pursue those events.


Charlene:

So, I would just say, don't give up and try to find like-minded individuals who would think about that idea or have the same pain points that you have. And I think the more that you find those people who really understand that what you're trying to target has a problem, a really solid problem that needs a really solid solution, having all of that data is incredibly helpful for moving it forward.


Dan:

Yeah. Those are all amazing tips and they overcome a lot of the barriers that I've heard. And then, ultimately it comes down to what we talked about. It's the relationships, it's building the trust with the person that you're trying to pitch to, that goes a long way for getting your foot in the door. And I don't think we can emphasize that enough is blind pitches to people you don't know are probably going to fail more times than if you've had a cocktail with them, or even just said, "Hey," and stopped in their office and introduced yourself even. Even that small little thing always adds a little bit extra oomph to whatever you're trying to pitch.


Charlene:

I agree. And I do want to add to that, the building relationships piece is so important. When I was at the bedside before I would pitch a really big idea to my manager, I would definitely establish myself as someone that my manager could trust first. And I did that by showing that through my clinical skills, building my reputation where I was at, in the unit I was at, joining other currently existing opportunities that the hospital had for shared leadership. I participated in our shared governance. I was part of our unit-based councils. I really showed and demonstrated who I was and how motivated I was to complete projects and deliver quality work.


Charlene:

And I really built all that before I went ahead and went to my manager to propose an idea. Because if you're not involved in these different opportunities and if there's no other ways or no other means for your manager to understand what you are capable of or what you can deliver in an arena that's directly outside of your clinical practice, it will be hard for them to connect the dots and to understand if giving you the opportunity is the right move, because that is a risk for them as well. So, I think that's important to note.


Dan:

Yeah. I think that's a great point as well, which is the manager has some risk in the game here too. They're not simply saying yes or no, and either supporting your dreams or destroying them in some fashion, but they're thinking and balancing a lot of things on their shoulders too, resources, time, does this fit with other pieces that are going on that you may not know about? And so, it's really about that dialogue to find all those pieces and connect it. And I think that's half the fun, I think, I like to say my spirit animal is MacGyver and it is taking these really weird pieces of the system and trying to piece them together to make and support a solution that you want to move forward. It literally all comes down to the relationship. In a big organization, in a small startup, it's really all about building that trust and that relationship.


Charlene:

Right. And that's a great point you brought up too. You could also step up and show your manager your potential by doing things. It doesn't always have to be leadership positions, but if you're working in the clinic or at the bedside and you identify problems and you find solutions for them, then you're going to be a go-to person for being the problem solver. And I think that was what happened with me as well. You become really good at identifying issues and challenges and if you do show that you're passionate about finding those solutions, oftentimes managers will be open to that. Number one, I have identified this challenge and it's really impacting so-and-so, X, Y, Z. And then, number two, this is my solution and my proposal for how to overcome these challenges and how can we make this happen?


Dan:

That's 100%, right. So, Charlene, this has been awesome. I think we hit on a lot of things. Leadership, nurse, wellness, innovation, tips for getting your innovation into practice. What we like to do on the show is talk about that one thing that we want to hand off to the listeners, that one nugget that'll stick with them, they can take to practice tomorrow. What would you like to hand off to our listeners?


Charlene:

One of the mantras that I have, especially in nursing leadership, that I've taken with me through all of my leadership positions is really the idea of the fact that my employees don't work for me, I work for my employees. And I feel that in healthcare, it's very easy to think of it in reverse, where everyone should listen to me because of my position or because of my title. But I really found that that's not the case. If you're someone who is truly supportive of the staff, you will understand that you are in service to your employees, and that is really encompassed in the relationships that you build and the way that you support them.


Charlene:

And so, to any current or future nurse leaders, I would really emphasize that you will go much farther if you do think of your employees as people that you are collaborating with, and that you are also in service of, rather than these are all the people working for me and they should listen to me because I have XYZ title.


Dan:

I love that advice. Charlene, where can we find more about what you're up to? LinkedIn, Twitter, Stanford? Where are the places you live online?


Charlene:

Yeah. All those places. I'm definitely most active on LinkedIn and you can just find me Charlene. And then also, my Twitter handle is Charlene. So, I'm definitely active on both. And I'm also on the Stanford website under ambulatory nursing, but yeah, definitely happy to chat with nurses who are interested in innovation, interested in leadership. And I would also just want to emphasize too, for anyone who thinks that they can't be a leader or for anyone who thinks that they don't look like a leader, I would just really ask them to come talk to me because I've felt all those experiences and anyone can be a nursing leader and anyone can be a healthcare leader. So, really open to helping people change their mindsets around that.


Dan:

Yep. That's great advice. And you're right, everyone can be a leader and is, and especially nurses who influence patient decisions, provider decisions, every single day, it's taking that skill set to the next level if you want to do some formal leadership positions. And ultimately, innovation is happening daily in your practice. And so, taking and recognize those skillsets and bringing them to the surface as you do new things is essential. Charlene, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate it, and we'll put all of those places to find you on the show notes. And we hope that nurse innovators reach out and connect with us so that you can lead the future of healthcare. Thanks, Charlene.


Charlene:

Great. Thank you so much for having me, Dan.


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