While competition and recognition are great motivators for health facilities teams, sometimes they can overshadow the true meaning of performance improvement and the lessons such improvements can teach partners and colleagues.

Take our Environmental Services (ES) Department of the Year awards, which are presented by Health Facilities Management in cooperation with the Association for the Healthcare Environment.

The awards recognize top-performing departments that are focused on continuous improvement, but that doesn't necessarily mean that one department is better than another. In fact, some finalists or certificate of merit recipients may be performing at a higher level than the winner in some of the 14 areas measured in the application.

Rather, the competition showcases many of the innovative and systematic ways that successful ES departments are solving their toughest challenges, whether reducing staff turnover, increasing efficiency, earning higher patient satisfaction scores or reducing health care-associated infections.

Judges place great emphasis on the degree to which the ES department collaborates with other departments, most notably infection prevention, but also nursing, surgery and others. This is because collaborative solutions are needed to handle the many challenges facing hospitals today. Likewise, benchmarking data and performance monitoring are very important. Applications that don't include sufficient baseline numbers and post-baseline results are downgraded sharply.

So, look back on how your ES department has improved — and how it will improve still further in the coming year — and think about the lessons you'd like to share by entering next year's ES Department of the Year competition.