Leadership’s Role in Facilitating Change in Healthcare
With the amount of change going on in healthcare, organizations are looking for strong leaders who can get departments to work together in new ways. But that can be a challenge, experts say, as human resources, medical staff services and other personnel departments may have different ideas of how to guide change.
Through it all, the challenge for organizational leaders is clear. “Healthcare leaders need to be aware of these changing conditions and should be sensitive to the needs of their workforce,” says Sy Islam, Assistant Professor at Farmingdale State College and a Human Capital Consultant at Talent Metrics. “Too much change can be exhausting, so managing the change processes is extremely important for any healthcare system.”
Here’s how to get it right.
Prepare to Adapt
Having a change mindset is one of the most important things leaders can do to guide their organizations in new ways, experts say. “The biggest change facing healthcare is complexity and ambiguity,” says Josh Kuehler, Analytics Manager at FMG Leading, a human capital strategic advisory firm. “The political environment is very volatile regarding the laws, and being able to plan during times of ambiguity will require smart and strategic leadership in healthcare organizations.”
This means being aware of the changes healthcare is facing, including the political battle regarding the Affordable Care Act, the wave of retirements coming in the healthcare industry and the switch to value-based care over volume-based care. Being ready and willing to adapt can go a long way toward making leaders more effective as they promote organization-wide change initiatives, Kuehler says.
Clarify Your Vision
Organizational change can make people nervous, so leaders will need to provide a clear path toward the big goal. Ensure everyone understands the leadership’s vision for the organization, so that when people are asked to work in new ways or for different outcomes, they’ll understand why.
“Right now healthcare is incredibly volatile, and it appears there may not be substantial stability in the near future either,” Kuehler says. When the organization shares a clear a vision, not necessarily as an end state or goal but as a way of operating, employees can better understand the need for change and what they have to do to achieve that vision.
Turn to the Data
Healthcare organizations thrive on data, and can use it to help manage change. Data can support the vision set by leadership, and help employees understand why change is necessary, experts say.
The switch to value-based care is a good example, says Ted Chan, Founder and CEO of CareDash.com, an online healthcare portal. “This is incredibly difficult, and even if a proposed functional model can be put down on paper or into a spreadsheet, the change management necessary to get physicians and other staff services to adhere to the model is extremely challenging,” he says. Clear communication that relies on data is key, he says, and can help demonstrate that the changes necessary don’t affect quality of care.
Rely on HR
The human resources department has a leading role to play in change management. While leaders provide the vision and resources for change, Islam says, HR can create urgency for change because of its established processes and resources. “HCAHPS [the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems] is a good example,” he says. “The importance of patient care and survey results for reimbursements must be clearly communicated to medical staff in order to create the urgency for change within the organization, and HR has the processes to make that happen.”
Medical staff and staff services are the ones who put changes into action, Islam says. However, leadership and HR cannot force medical staff to go along with change. “HR and communications need to leverage the knowledge of medical staff to make change move forward effectively and communicate the need for change.”
Understand Everyone’s Strengths
Collaboration and open communication are vital in times of change, Kuehler says. “An easy trap for hospitals and medical organizations is to find themselves in silos,” he says. “The executive leaders can help all parties best work together by demonstrating a ‘shoulder to shoulder’ culture where ‘we are all in this together.’”
One of the best ways to do this is to take the time to learn each other’s perspectives and strengths through assessments or mediated roundtables. “Learn about each other’s motivations and fears,” Kuehler says. “It’s a very intimate and vulnerable experience, but this allows for others to pause any judgments and truly listen as opposed to waiting to talk. This type of work helps remove our protective shields and truly, deeply connect with each other. And that will do wonders for understanding each other.”
Change is rarely easy. In the current market environment, healthcare leaders must be able to rely on the strengths of various departments and assets within their organizations to forge new paths.