Hospital Impact: 5 ways to get your team to love change

Andrea Simon

My firm does a lot of work with healthcare clients, and lately out in the field, what we are noticing more and more is that the fast-changing times are very challenging for them. They feel great pressure to reduce costs, improve quality, change care delivery, reduce readmissions, focus on the population’s health, concentrate on the individual’s utilization, and on and on.

Is that you?

Are you wondering how you can get your team to survive the new demands? Maybe you are being told that you need to be their leader, not just their manager. But then you are held accountable for managing them to the new, desired results. Perplexed?

Not surprisingly, many executives and managers we are working with are frustrated, saying things like: “I am supposed to be managing them, leading them, helping them become more innovative, change their operations. I am expected to help them know where we are going.”

It doesn’t matter if it is a hospital or a multi-specialty group of doctors joining a new healthcare system. The demands upon leaders and staff to change is proving overwhelming.

One CEO expressed her dilemma so well: How can she “lead change” when it is coming from so many stakeholders? Everyone is expecting her to “do it better” so that the organization, the doctors, the patients and even the employees themselves all thrive. It is a lot to expect from those in management, especially when they feel they used to be quite capable of running operations (that was in a more stable environment).

What my firm has learned over our years of experience and what the neurosciences are confirming through recent research is that our brains hate to change. Since the brain already uses 25% of the body’s energy, learning new things is just more work. So how does the brain cope? By allowing habits to take over, meaning that the old ideas and ways of doing things survive long past the time when they make any sense or add much value. Indeed, humans have survived and evolved because we disregarded new threats to established norms and habits.

But the times they are a-changin’. What to do?

Below, I will detail ways you can help your team, and yourself, love the novelty and pace of change and successfully implement new ways of working involving new policies and procedures.

But first, did you know that men and women prefer a “clan” culture and work better when their workplace emphasizes individual development with a premium on teamwork, participation and consensus? We found that out through business culture research we conducted last year. Keep that in mind as you start your change process. Do not think that this is about top-down telling others what to do. It is about engagement, personal development and collaboration.

Here are five steps to help start your process and keep it going:

  1. Rewrite the story. People’s brains, and the cultures they are a part of, build a perceptual model of reality that they learn, trust and fall back on when they have to get something done. These models are what we call a perceptual map of their personal and shared reality. If you are going to implement a change process that your team will actually embrace and put into practice, you need to rethink that core story. Step 1 then is to have your staff write down today’s story and read it out loud. Then they need to write a second story about how the company is going to change and what it will mean for them if the new story (about a new, changed culture) succeeds in two years. Have them share their second (future) stories, too. Why? Each story will reveal to you the major obstacles your people are anticipating, i.e. their worst nightmares.
  2. Anticipate the hurdles. Step 2 is to expect barriers coming out of their stories. Identify who is going to be essential to help the team mobilize for change. Make them key leaders in the transformation. What is important here is that in the new story, everyone on your team needs to become new players, performers and heroes. Hopefully, they will love being performers in the play they are writing.
  3. Build in small wins. Step 3 revolves around creating small wins. Success breeds success. It also allows you to develop new metrics to better evaluate whether the changes are delivering the desired results. Celebrate each small win with the team. Then set forth an action plan for maximum engagement. You want everyone to be learning a new role and playing it at the same time.
  4. Encourage skill development. Step 4 is all about skill development, which is essential. Over-train and over-communicate. Change programs often fail because people are told what to do or are directed to change. That might sound good. But change requires new skills, and your team members need time to learn how to perform their new jobs using these new skills.
  5. Hold off changing your compensation structure. The lesson of Step 5 is not to focus on the financial rewards and salaries too soon. Yes, people do rank money as a necessary motivation, and there is excellent research that suggests that pay is much more important in people’s actual choices and behaviors than it is in their self-reporting of what motivates them. Having said that, money alone is not a great motivator for change. What does motivate people the most? A feeling of camaraderie, shared effort, teamwork and celebrating shared success—far more than if they had done something alone.

Final thoughts to start the process

Business leaders are not always clear about how to use a consultant to help the change process, but our experience has shown us that consultants can be indispensable to a change process, particularly as key advisers. Since they are outsiders, consultant specialists play important roles in changing organizations. As well as the expertise and experience they bring, they can motivate your team in ways that you perhaps cannot. Often workers need a thorn in their side to move them forward. Better that thorn be an outside voice rather than yours, their manager.

However, the idea is not to let consultants come and do it for you. They should facilitate the process with you. Otherwise, it is far too easy to blame the consultants when changes don’t take place.

A successful change process ought to be about you and your team learning how to bring new solutions to life for your organization. When you plan it, manage it and put it into practice, you team will champion your leadership.

Andrea Simon, Ph.D., is the principal and founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants. She has more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive with financial services and healthcare institutions.