Yellow Sticky Notes – Three Reasons…

by | Aug 11, 2011

Next time you are in a hospital (hopefully just visiting!), swing by a nurse’s station that is not on the main floor or in a heavily trafficked area. Glance around at the desks with computers and charts lying around. One thing you are just about guaranteed to see there: Yellow sticky notes. Maybe you’ll see other colors instead but the point is, the little commonplace sticky note that 3M gave the world 30 years ago is still a primary tool in hospitals.

Do you think that is a good or bad thing? We live in a world with all of this technology and systems but there is one place that we go where, in extreme situations, the only thing that is between us and actually dying is a yellow sticky note. Another blogger wrote about this last month from the perspective of a patient who discovers a sticky note standing in as the primary communication tool in his medication.

Well, in case you were curious, let me assure you that sticky notes play just as prominent a role in workforce management as they do in patient care. The nurse’s station I mentioned before: It’s going to have sticky notes with special staff requests (“I need to go home early on Thurs – kid’s recital”) and reminders of system tasks that must be edited (“review & post schedule by noon Monday”) and other very critical system information (“manager password: snowcrash92”).

The funny thing about sticky notes is that they are very low level communication – write it down on paper and stick it somewhere where it can be read. No system required whatsoever. And it is precisely because of that ease of use that they continue to flourish.

So, in the nature of all good blogs that give you lists, I’m going to talk about sticky notes and their relationship to healthcare workforce management by giving you:

Three Reasons Sticky Notes Will NEVER Die

    1. Workforce management systems are not perfect nor do they have a place for every possible communication that needs to happen between a manager and an employee. We do still rely heavily on “real-time close-proximity auditory exchanges” – also known as talking face-to-face. Sticky notes are a natural extension of talking – only without one person being there. It’s unrealistic to think that a WFM system like scheduling will replace the communication between people
    2. Sticky notes provide a system-agnostic copy & paste. Need to copy info from an email on an employee’s vacation request while you go digging through scheduling calendars and assignment sheets, all while dealing with 10 interruptions during the course of 5 minutes? Copy & paste with a pen to the sticky note keeps the info you need right by your side.
    3. PC haters. Let’s face it – we all know people who just don’t like computers or feel comfortable with them. Guess what?! They work in hospitals too. And just like all of those people that you know, they want to avoid using a computer as much as they possibly can. Voila! – The sticky note becomes the method for communicating outside of the PC to the other users.

So that’s it. We are stuck until the end of time with notes and little bits of communication that help us manage our staff by being sticky. And visible. And convenient. End of story? Not at all!  Because now I want to give you:

Three Reasons Sticky Notes NEED to Die

    1. They don’t always stick. And sticky notes that don’t stick don’t stay visible – they drop on the floor and suddenly become sticky again to the first shoe that makes a close encounter. And suddenly that vital piece of communication is gone forever. Very very bad if that was a doctor’s prescription order. Not quite as bad if it was just an employee’s vacation request. Except try telling that to the employee three weeks later when they are leaving to go on a cruise but you are short-staffed already and are counting on them to be at work like you scheduled
    2. Paper-based communication is non-reportable. One of the great things about data that is in systems is that you can query it back out in reports, aggregate it, audit it, and use it to prove your compliance with regulatory requirements. Using the system to deny an employee’s vacation request gives you a documented, auditable trail of communication that shows your great workforce management processes are being followed, in defense of the union grievance that came your way when the employee got mad about it afterwards. If you had used a sticky note…? Well let’s just hope it got filed somewhere other than the trashcan.
    3. Bad handwriting. Killing trees. Ink on hands. Whatever justification you need! Technology does bring changes that make our lives easier. But only if we take advantage of them. Your workforce management system can’t totally replace the ad hoc communication that happens between people but it probably can handle the rudimentary communication that needs to occur. So adapt to the change and use it! And if you want to live in the past, get rid of your smart phone and go back dialing a rotary phone on a land line.

What do you think? Did I sway you one way or the other? Does your desk look like this? Post a comment below with your feelings on sticky notes or send me an email. And if you have a real picture of a nurse’s station with sticky notes gone bad, send me a picture and I’ll get you something cool (probably a packet of Post-Its…).

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