Former nurse explains powers of being positive

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
— Liz Jazwiec is a tough, no-nonsense survivor of an emergency room in one of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods.

She's also a hoot.

Jazwiec had 1,400 members of the Janesville School District's staff laughing almost nonstop for an hour Tuesday morning.

For the first 18 years of her career, she told the 1,400 school employees, customer service was not on her radar screen.

Her attitude in the ER: "I'm here to save your ass, not kiss it."

Yeah, Jazwiec still talks like the battle-hardened chief nurse of the South Side ER.

Imagine her response to a hospital administrator who told her that customer service in the ER could be just like it is at Disney World.

But Jazwiec is no longer a jaded, snarly employee. She's born again, converted to the opinion that:

-- She, not the boss, is responsible for her own morale.

-- Being nice to people turns the workplace into a place where you want to work.

-- Being positive is a life-transforming experience.

-- Negative co-workers should be told to "shut up and eat a cookie."

Preferably, one of those big sugar cookies with smiley faces on them.

Jazwiec's attitude adjustment was forced on her by her bosses. One of them was Quint Studer, who had come to Holy Cross Hospital from Janesville's Mercy Hospital in the early 1990s.

Today, Studer is the boss of his own consulting company. Studer Group is credited with turning hospitals across the country into more productive, more customer-oriented, more positive places to work.

Studer is donating his company's services—including motivational speaker Jazwiec—to the Janesville School District. The hope is that Studer's prescriptions for making good organizations better will work in public education.

School officials are saying that if this works, Janesville would become a national model.

But it's early in the process. A few of the Studer principles started to worm their way into the district last spring. Much more is in store this year.

Jazwiec's task was to warm the staff to all the changes.

Jazwiec was a hard case, resisting every effort of her bosses to get her to improve customer service. Holy Cross Hospital's customer satisfaction rating was in the fifth percentile in 1991. That means 95 percent of hospitals did a better job of satisfying patients.

Jazwiec didn't care. She had a lot of excuses. How do you satisfy drug dealers who are thrown out of cars, bleeding, at the ER doorstep? How do you satisfy homeless people? Drug addicts?

She knew her staff worked hard under difficult conditions. She couldn't bring herself to ask her staff to do one more thing—be nice to people. She saw management as the problem. Management nearly fired her. Twice.

Jazwiec eventually was won over, and Holy Cross's satisfaction index exceeded the 90th percentile in one year.

Hospital officials came from far and wide—although notably not from Chicago—to see how they did it.

Jazwiec's ER was the last department to come around. What did the trick was enforced niceness. Staff members were not pleased, but they found that people responded better to insincere kindness than to snarly and mean.

They also found that taking responsibility rather than blaming everybody else, made the job more rewarding, not more difficult, Jazwiec said.

Find ways to have fun at work, Jazwiec recommended. Even if it's just bringing in a plate of cookies.

The nearly full Craig auditorium gave Jazwiec a standing ovation.


Janesville School District employees will learn a new vocabulary and new ways of relating to their jobs this year as a result of the adoption of the Studer Group process. The idea is to improve results while increasing job satisfaction. Among the new concepts:

-- Rounding—Supervisors meet with staff members regularly, asking specific questions, such as what is going well, what is needed to do a better job and who should be commended for good work.

-- Managing up—Employees should tell their superiors about great performances on the job and what they need to improve performance.

-- Surveys—Staff and parents are asked what they think about the job their school is doing. Employees are asked to rate their superiors. Superintendent Tom Evert was the first to go through this process. He pledged Tuesday to heed the evaluations of district employees and to work hard to improve.

-- Pillars—The categories in which the district strives to improve. The district's pillars are service, quality, people, finance, growth and health & safety.

-- Leadership evaluation—Managers are evaluated based on data, including survey results and the extent to which they improve the pillars.

To learn more about Studer Group ideas, go to www.studergroup.com.

Last updated: 9:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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