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Vol. 23, No. 8, AUGUST 2006

President's Note
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Reimagine the Golden Rule

By Mary Fran Tracy, RN, PhD, CCNS, CCRN, FAAN
President, AACN

Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.
—George Bernard Shaw

How does Shaw’s reworking of the Golden Rule strike you? I find it both mischievous and insightful because it challenges me to consider carefully what makes recognition meaningful. Each year after Nurses Week, I hear nurses bemoaning the fact that the recognition they received was meaningless and trivial. This year was no exception.

AACN’s meaningful recognition standard for a healthy work environment is that “nurses must be recognized and recognize others for the value each brings to the organization.” If we’re to achieve this standard—a rather enjoyable one, wouldn’t you say?—what would we do unto others knowing that tastes may differ?

Acknowledging that differing tastes are likely to occur means radically shifting how we approach our goal of meaningful recognition. This realization may seem inconvenient and inefficient at first because it’s much easier to assume that everyone can be recognized in the same way. But mass recognition often comes across as mass devaluation, a toxic byproduct of meaningless recognition.

Try this. Jot down some notes about a time when you felt meaningfully recognized. What were you recognized for? By whom? How were you recognized? How did it make you feel? You may not remember all the details. But I suspect you’ll remember the high points and, above all, how you felt. Next time you have a chance, ask five of your colleagues the same questions. Look for patterns of similarities and differences.

Recently, I peeked at preliminary results of a national survey evaluating RNs’ work environments. The 4,000 critical care nurses who participated were less likely to say that RNs are recognized for the value they bring to their employing organization, yet more likely to say that RNs recognize others for the value they bring. Nearly half of the participants noted that recognition from patients and families was most meaningful and one in four said recognition from other RNs was most meaningful.

Those results parallel the experience of one of my colleagues during an unannounced Joint Commission visit. When the reviewer came to her unit, staff from many departments—housekeeping, nursing, pharmacy, respiratory therapy—offered inspiring examples about their individual roles in caring for patients. Although nursing leadership witnessed the interactions firsthand, many managers of these employees didn’t. So my colleague e-mailed each staff member’s manager, highlighting the person’s contribution to a successful review and value as a unit team member.

This 10-minute investment yielded far-reaching dividends because each manager used the message in a different way. One supervisor sent it to the entire department. Another distributed it to the unit staff. Another chose to acknowledge the individual privately. The approaches may have been different, but each person who was recognized returned to thank my colleague, who in turn felt valued. Clearly, this was an example of meaningful recognition. Not extensive, not expensive, but distinctly personal and memorable.

In the book and movie Pay It Forward, a teacher challenges his students to look around at the world they live in and do something to fix what they don’t like. One boy performs three random acts of kindness, asking each recipient to pay it forward to someone else, instead of paying it back to him. Revisiting this simple story, I recognized that random acts of kindness can easily translate into purposeful acts of meaningful recognition that also can be paid forward.

“I’m standing here only because my AACN colleagues chose to recognize me,” were Dean Ellen Rudy’s humble words when she received this year’s Marguerite Rodgers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career. “There are people right around you who so deserve to be recognized in even the simplest way. It’s up to you to do it.”

I’ve accepted Ellen’s challenge and have started doing this where I work. Will you join me by meaningfully recognizing deserving people around you—colleagues, team members, leaders, educators—for the simple and great gifts of kindness, teamwork, generosity and critical thinking they contribute daily? Your acknowledgement may be just the renewal that person needs. And I know that you will be renewed as well.

I’d love to hear your insights about meaningful recognition and what you’ve done because of those insights. Please write to me at insights@aacn.org.

What Do You See?

See something a new way and you’ll never see it the old way again.

For example, what do you see in picture 1? Do you see a vase like the profiles outlined in picture 2? Or do you see two faces like the profiles outlined in picture 3? Once you identify both images, try making one go away. Tough to do, isn’t it?

Each of my columns this year will feature a different graphic so we can share a different dimension of seeking insights.—MFT

Please note: Figure 1 is the traditional image found in Rubin E. Hidden Faces and Goblet. In: Seckel A. Masters of Deception. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.; 2004:15. Figures 2 and 3 were adapted by Mike Ballew from Figure 1.
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