Thereʼs a big problem in hospitals: patients are dying when they donʼt have to. According to Dr. Richard Pascale, Associate Fellow at Oxford University, “Twenty thousand Americans die every year because they are in a hospital and are exposed to a bacteria immune to antibiotics.” Thatʼs like a plane crash every week—and it doesnʼt have to happen. The culprit is called MERA; itʼs a type of multi-resistant Staph which spreads when health care givers forget to wash their hands. Interestingly, men and women at the top of the medical hierarchy—doctors—forget more often than nurses, EMT or orderlies.

Many hospitals have tried posting stats in hallways; others actually levy fines. But neither approach has helped. (Whatʼs next? Maybe a picture of Lady Macbeth?)

Dr. Pascaleʼs approach was simple. First, he discovered a small VA hospital where there had been a 60% reduction in MERA. Then, he didnʼt talk to the administrators or doctors, but gathered stories from the people below—the orderlies, the patients. One patient said, “When I hears that squish sound”—someone using the disinfectant pump —“I sigh with relief.”

This and other stories led to two changes in hospital procedures. First, the hospital moved the dispensers from behind the bed to in front, so patients could see who was disinfecting before touching them. Next, administrators encouraged both patients and family members to speak up—a friendly, “Hey doc, please wash your hands.” This bottom-up approach has done wonders.

Who in your company has the least power? Perhaps itʼs your customers or assembly operators or your maintenance people. It might surprise and inspire you to spend some time asking them how they see the world and what steps can be taken to make your organization more vital and productive. The results might make you sigh with relief.