Change Management Through a Healthcare HR Lens: 5 Best Practices
The challenges that healthcare organizations face will mean significant changes in the coming years, such as how care is provided and paid for, and the kinds of people needed to fill roles. As healthcare leaders implement changes to help their organizations respond to those challenges, they’ll need guidance and support.
Whether HR is leading the initiative or supporting another department’s efforts, it’s in a prime position in the organization to ensure that the change sticks. Also, HR has the skills, strengths and processes to help change cascade throughout the organization. “Many times HR professionals have expertise in change-management methodology and processes, and can guide leaders through the stages to enhance buy-in from employees,” says Lisa Barrington, a workplace and employee engagement strategist who has a healthcare background.
Here are some of the ways HR can use its strengths to help facilitate change in healthcare organizations.
Analyze the Big Picture
HR touches every other department, so its perspective can encompass the whole organization in the face of any proposed change. “HR is well-equipped to do a thorough stakeholder analysis, as they often have a bigger broader view of the dynamics and groups within the healthcare organization,” says Lisa Sansom, Founder of LVS Consulting, which provides business consulting services.
Look for ways to serve as a “bridge” between the chatter on the floor and the leaders in their offices, Sansom says. Because employees go to HR with grievances, complaints and other issues before senior leadership is aware of them, the department can serve as a “canary in the coal mine” as change is communicated and implemented throughout the organization, Sansom says.
Build ‘Change Teams’
The HR department can also use its cross-disciplinary connections to build teams that help facilitate change, Sansom says. These teams should be composed of representatives of the various stakeholder groups that will be most affected by the change. HR leaders can then facilitate these teams as an impartial party that helps guide and influence change, rather than letting it be dominated by departments that are for or against change.
Lead Communications Around Change
Communicating with employees is one of HR’s specialties, and during times of change, it can truly shine. Once the leadership has determined the timeline for implementation and completion of the change, HR should lead the timeline, channels and messaging around change, Barrington says.
HR’s access to all employees can help keep communication open between employees, senior leadership and change leaders, whether they’re inside or outside the organization, Sansom says. “HR, therefore, can help ensure alignment and help people move forward to succeed at the change.”
Remain Firm but Flexible
HR’s familiarity with procedures and processes can help it set timelines for change management, while still respecting the day-to-day work that needs to be done. “The timetable for change needs to be flexible because patient care will come first,” Sansom says. Flexibility is especially relevant in a hospital setting, where emergencies happen all the time, and individual stakeholders aren’t always available for change meetings or able to give their full attention to change-management initiatives.
Ensure Operations Support Change
Old policies can undo efforts for change, or can be used as an excuse not to change. HR should dig deep to see whether existing policies reinforce the old way of doing things and what needs to evolve to reflect a new reality, says Emily Howe, a Change Manager with Portola Advisors, which provides business consulting services.
“A change is all talk unless it's woven into HR policies and performance reviews,” Howe says. “For a change to stick, HR should build into the performance-review cycle adherence to any changes.” Doing so will help ensure the change is taken seriously across the organization, she says.
While change can be a challenge, it represents a tremendous opportunity for healthcare HR. HR’s skills, connections and deep knowledge of how to get things done will help it play a strong role in change initiatives at any healthcare organization.