Posted September 17, 2018

Healthcare Leaders: Are you a Change Agent?

By Pam Beitlich, DNP, ARNP, RN, NEA-BC

In my travels to different healthcare organizations over the years, I have been continually struck by one common theme. In healthcare today, there is a clear line between those that are ready, willing and even energized to change and those that are resistant to anything new or different. If you are a leader in healthcare, one of your primary roles is to recognize resistance to change in your teams and push past it to get things done. Sometimes, however, leaders can be the worst culprits when it comes to change resistance.

Are you resistant to change? Do you immediately dismiss new initiatives at your organization? Are you openly negative about the prospect of doing things differently?

Are you resistant to change? Do you immediately dismiss new initiatives at your organization? Are you openly negative about the prospect of doing things differently?

As someone who has worked in traditional healthcare delivery for more than 35 years, I applaud innovative collaborations like the one between Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to reduce healthcare costs for their employees. To quote Warren Buffett: "The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy. Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable."

Meanwhile, the public and consumers have lost their patience with us because despite our best efforts, we have yet to succeed in providing consistently accessible, high-quality, low-cost care. Organizations like Amazon, CVS, Aetna and Walmart continue to disrupt our thinking and our business models by offering what consumers want. The change this brings to the marketplace may be what we need to force healthcare leaders to stop making excuses and start embracing change. Leaders who fail to act risk losing patients to those who are willing to deliver care in a way that consumers want to receive it.

Below are five primary ways that leaders can begin to shift their mindsets to not only stop resisting change, but also manage change with their teams and execute quickly to get ahead of the curve.

  • Focus on performance. When you get the right people in the right spot, it's amazing what can get done. But first you must have the courage to deal with performance issues. How can we move forward to provide quality care if we are not holding everyone accountable for their performance? No one ever said being a leader was easy, but the benefits of having the right team in place are worth it.
  • Be relentless. Relentless leaders are always questioning, strategizing and planning. No challenge is too big to accomplish for a leader who is committed to achieving the goals of the organization.
  • Take strategic risks. The best CEOs I know are not afraid to take calculated risks. I have seen many healthcare organizations realize drastic improvements with a change in leadership because fresh eyes are able to bring fresh ideas. When we get out of the ruts we are in, that is often when we break through to the results we all want. Do your homework and then take a leap.
  • Keep moving forward. Don't be paralyzed by lack of buy-in. If it must be done, then your job is to move the needle toward that change with a sense of urgency. Lee Iacocca, the legendary Ford Motor Company Executive, said, "The speed of the boss is the speed of the team." How fast is your team? Progress over perfection.
  • Don't accept excuses. Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you've always done something one way doesn't mean that process will work in today's everchanging healthcare environment. Determine what the excuses are and quash them, starting with your own. Find a way, not an excuse.

There's no question healthcare is being disrupted. The status quo is no longer acceptable. If we want to continue to make a difference in our communities, we must think critically about how we have traditionally delivered care. Our patients/consumers are demanding higher quality at a lower cost. We won't be able to accomplish that without upending our current processes.

SELF-ASSESSMENT: Are you a change agent?

It's not just frontline employees who are hesitant to try something different. Leaders can also fall into the quagmire of resistance and doubt. Answer the questions below to determine if you are a change agent or if your resistance to change is impeding progress in your organization.

  • Do you offer solutions rather than excuses?
  • Do you start by communicating the "why" to your team any time you must make a change, including the right stakeholders, including physician champions?
  • Do you give leaders and staff the tools they need to make changes with ongoing support until the change is hardwired?
  • Do you act as a coach to your team first, providing direction and feedback when it's needed?
  • Do you celebrate the wins your team achieves, even if they are only incremental?
  • Do you love being a leader -- inspiring others to be the best they can be, pushing them to get results and raising the standard of care for your organization?

If you answered "yes" to the questions above, congratulations, you are an agile leader who is energized by positive change. Your team is lucky to have you.

If you answered "no" to any of the questions above, hold up the mirror and do some self-reflection. What changes can you make today to ensure you are not the roadblock to change in your organization?


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