A lot has changed. You don't need to know what I'm referencing to agree that is true. Everyone in the healthcare industry knows that, on some level, more change is coming.
The changes that healthcare organizations have been through the past year and a half have taken a toll on every stakeholder involved, making it critical for leaders to manage future changes carefully.
Change management is a strategy that ensures any updates rolled out within an organization are successful. Whether that change is introducing a new electronic medical record, adjusting an HR policy or moving to a different building, it is vital to be proactive.
A typical approach to change management involves a combination of communications planning, sponsor coaching, stakeholder training and resistance mitigation. According to leading change management body Prosci, projects with excellent change management were six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management.
It bears repeating that a lot has shifted. Healthcare organizations need to take existing conditions into account when considering their next change management initiative. You can no longer entirely rely on your old playbook.
Leaders should keep these considerations in mind when proceeding:
Organizational readiness looks different now.
Organizations are at a crossroads of significant challenges and opportunities. They must now reevaluate the "ways they've always done things" and adjust accordingly. A thorough and realistic organizational readiness assessment is the foundation that enables organizations to reach a desirable outcome with whatever change they introduce.
Organizational readiness assessments need to be updated for the times. In addition to the standard review an organization would conduct in the past before beginning a new project, organizations today need to assess questions, such as:
- Will sponsors of this project and the teams needed to implement this initiative have the time and energy to dedicate to this over the specified time period?
- Do we have the resources in place now, since we know we're already facing staffing shortages and hiring difficulties that will make it harder to scale up as we go?
- Can the necessary training be conducted safely in person, or will capacity limitations require it to be remote?
- If we're updating infrastructure or a system, can we allow technicians into these areas right now due to visitation restrictions?
- Do we have communications channels in place to reach any newly remote teams?
Your people are experiencing change fatigue.
Change fatigue occurs when people experience frequent or significant changes, resulting in apathy or resignation to change. Even your most resilient employees who thrive in periods of rapid transformation are likely feeling burnt out after the last year and a half.
Change fatigue is hard to quantify because it varies from person to person, but it has real consequences. For individuals, it can result in increased stress and fear. For organizations, that can mean reduced productivity, higher turnover and greater resistance to change, all of which threaten the success of the advancement you are trying to instill.
A thoughtful change management plan can overcome fatigue and mitigate risk. Organizations have strategies available to them, such as:
- Explaining not just the "why" of a change but the "why now."
- Listening to employee feedback to deliver the support employees will need.
- Being strategic when choosing a time frame and period for the new project (even if it means choosing to wait to start or extending deadlines).
- Centering the benefits of the change in messaging and discussions. Make sure every stakeholder understands "what's in it for me."
Overcome change fatigue and improve morale by using the change to serve as a catalyst for excitement and a sense of togetherness.
Stress and distrust have moved the starting line back.
Trust in the U.S. healthcare system dipped over the past year. Unfortunately, this distrust that resulted from the pandemic has affected healthcare workers, as well. Change management strategies must account for this new challenge. Trust is a component of any change management effort, and the starting line has moved back. Leaders now have further to run to get a project across the finish line successfully.
While a decline of trust poses a threat to a project - and an organization's success in general - a well-executed change can overcome and provide an opportunity to reconnect with stakeholders in a meaningful way. To build back trust:
- Start with empathy and meet resistance with compassion.
- Listen to employees and act on their feedback - address hesitancy or anxieties about the change.
- Provide clear, concise information. Transparency can be powerful.
- Choose your speaker/sender wisely - have employees learn about the change from an appropriate spokesperson. For instance, have a clinical change communicated by a respected physician or a CMO rather than a CEO or executive without clinical experience, or have a direct supervisor explain a shift in a day-to-day process.
Your people have had to make hard decisions this year. You'll know your change management efforts were successful if your employees have little trouble supporting your change. Dedicating time upfront to change management will make the process much easier in the long term.
Lane Newsom, Principal Consultant of Healthcare & Change Management for InfoWorks, has nearly 20 years of experience leading organizations of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 10 companies, through business-critical transformations. Her specialties include change management, cross-functional process redesign, organizational design and aligning business and operational units with technology. Learn more at www.infoworks-tn.com.