Monday, January 19, 2009

Does the mission need critical care?

Our Director of Marketing and Communications, Joan Andrek, recently had a very eye-opening experience that provides great insight to how our daily work, and the choices we make, reflect on our organizational mission. I asked her if she'd be willing to share her experience in a post on my blog. I have included it in complete form here for your review.
A guest blog by Joan Andrek

I recently underwent a minor but necessary surgical procedure at a hospital. After some initial post-operative issues requiring a three-day stay, I recovered sufficiently to be sent home. However, an unforeseen complication landed me in most urgent fashion at my surgeon’s office after just 16 hours at home. He promptly ordered me to be immediately re-admitted to the same hospital, as round-the-clock care was going to be necessary to resolve the complication. My husband rushed me to the hospital’s front door – and due to their parking regulations – had to leave me there while he moved our vehicle. I knew he would be gone less than five minutes, and in my very weakened state, opted to stay seated in the outside waiting area until he returned with a wheelchair.

In that same outside waiting area was a hospital employee – out on a smoke break – standing just 15 feet from me. I don’t know what this individual did specifically at the hospital – their name badge didn’t clearly indicate their occupation. What I do know is that this person worked there, and presumably embraced the notion of care and compassion for all, as espoused by the hospital’s mission statement. My husband had probably been gone less than a minute when I realized I was going to be violently ill – a condition that I had been experiencing all day. To put this in context, I had had abdominal surgery – and as you might guess, I was in absolute agony every time I became ill. I inched closer to the edge of the sidewalk…and you can guess what happened next. Every wave brought with it my cries of anguish. The hospital employee stubbed out their cigarette, concluded their cell phone conversation…and walked away.

Foolishly, I assumed this person had gone to get help for me. After all, I was less than 20 feet from the entrance and a hospital employee could easily see how sick I was. Foolish, indeed. The next person to help me was my husband who lowered me into a wheelchair and got me inside to the Admissions desk. Once inside, a number of professional people, from the Admissions rep to the nurses, nurse technicians, and housekeeping staff all offered caring, compassionate service, as one would expect in a hospital setting. But what about that same care and compassion 20 feet from the front door? Do we have the right – no matter where we work – to disconnect from our organizational mission while still on organizational grounds? Does a smoke break, coffee break, lunch break mean we can take a break from caring about what we do and the people that we serve?

Mohawk Valley Community College is a service environment. I know many will argue with me that our students bear as much responsibility for their college experience as we do, and that may be true. But we exist to provide excellent education and service for all and that is, in their minds, a 24-7 commitment. Yes, there is always a need for structure, rules, and even mandates that we can’t control. But what we can control is how we deliver on our promises every day. What we can control is our ability to be flexible – to be compassionate – to care -- beyond normal operating hours, or even within them.

My New Year’s resolution, in addition to resolving to work for better personal health, is to renew my commitment to be the best I can be for our students. Believe it or not, I come in contact with many of them every day. Whether I’m giving them directions to a campus office, or advising them on careers in advertising or marketing, I’m going to spend just that much more time to understand what they need and how to help them. Our mission demands nothing less.