6 Ways to Better Manage Change in Healthcare

6 Ways to Better Manage Change inBy: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

Did I leave the topic of change hanging?  A few weeks ago I blogged about why change is so hard (10 Reasons Why Healthcare Resists Change).  Since then I’ve had some of you ask, “Well, are you going to give us some ideas to make it easier?”

Fair question. If I had the magic answer, I promise, you’d be the first to know! The reality is there is no simple recipe to make change easier.  Managing change requires that you take an introspective look at the underlying dynamics and adjust accordingly. As I shared in my earlier post, many physician relations programs are under pressure to function more strategically, demonstrate higher ROI and achieve more referral growth and physician engagement. For many leaders that means changing their field approach, and for team members it means changing comfortable patterns of field behavior.  Ugh, change is painful.

For most people, the pain stems from a deeper concern (which varies in every group or program).  The key to facilitating change is to address that deeper concern.  I’ll start with some of my ideas about how to make change easier.  I’d welcome your thoughts on the subject too.

  1. Understand the why: For many health systems, the challenge of reform — shrinking payments and a shift to outpatient — has left them scrambling to stay profitable. When the leaders feel the financial pinch, the growth team sure feels the pressure.  Look around, ask questions and articulate the “why” in a way that doesn’t negate your team’s past value but instead promotes their viability moving forward.
  2. Ratchet up the communication: As a leader, you need to communicate more than ever during times of change; you just can’t over-communicate.  I get that you, like most leaders today, are buried, but now is not the time to cancel meetings or to show up without an agenda. Likewise, you need to encourage your team members to thoughtfully prepare and ask questions. It is important for them to give feedback and for you to listen. Everyone’s voice counts (assuming the questions are designed to clarify and not derail).  The passive-aggressive stuff is really a bad-play in a change environment.  I call it out because I see it a lot. Typically, the undercut starts with a statement like, “Our market is different…” or “They expect this, but we don’t have that…” To keep the people-side of change moving, keep the line of communication open and positive.
  3. Celebrate the little stuff: Some leaders want change overnight.  Okay, all leaders want instant results, but changing relationship models is about influencing people, behavior and the human elements of relationships – and that takes time. Leaders who commit to small steps and reward those who try new things are the ones who shine in the long run.  Set an incremental plan and reward progress at each juncture.  Embrace your “Pollyanna” and find those things that are positive and celebrate the little wins.
  4. Manage the pot-stirrer: You know who they are… teams often have a pot-stirrer, the person who keeps turning the team’s attention to all that’s “wrong, bad or unfair” about the new approach.  You have an obligation to manage that person, as well as persuade the team members to do the same.  Guess who’s most effective?  Yes, pot-stirrers tend to lose their steam when team members refuse to let the bad stuff simmer.  The change has to occur, so do your part, don’t let anyone stir the pot and move on.
  5. Involve service lines and other stakeholders:  Gather the support you need, because trying to change your role in a vacuum really makes it hard.  For example, if you’ve been asked to do more visits with doctors, but the internal stakeholders still expect you to deliver all the OB packets, speak up.  It’s fair to say, “We’re willing to take this on, but we need your help with the other internal stakeholders…” Ask for what you need because it’s the only way you’ll be able to deliver the results that the change model expects. Change is not about loading more work on; it’s about setting priorities, clarifying roles and building internal support.
  6. Acknowledge the journey will have bumps: Any road that leads to change will have a few potholes.  Typically, when people hit that bump they tend to react in one of two ways: “See! I told you this was a bad idea!” Or “Back to the drawing board; was it a failure in planning or execution?” Even though your first inclination may be to throw the new model away, don’t do it until you re-look at what went wrong, re-assess what’s needed and then re-define the plan.

Real change happens with people who can make it happen.  Are you a change leader? Do you want to be a part of innovation in healthcare?  Do you have other ideas that support change in your role or your organization?  Change is a big topic and one that likely will not go away!

  1. Nancy Pontius

    Hi Kriss,

    This is a great reflection on our changing dynamic world we live in. I also look to the tools to manage my own role of change and how I can adapt to the new world of health care. Having been in healthcare for a long time as many of us have, the tools of technology, can bring efficiency and organization to an ever changing career. Use of tablets in the field, definitely the hard copy tools of what your are suppose to be promoting, utizing social media, and other applications to really get the communication to yourself as a liaison when you are in the field.

    The other tools that I can think of are self management tools; de-stress tools, and balance solving skill tools. Having new tools to improve these areas will also help the individual better manage the stress of the changes.

    Thank you. Have a great day. Nancy Pontius, physician liaison at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee.