A Good Story is Not Enough by: David Jarrard | posted May 13, 2013

A good story is not enough to transform your health system.

Of course, a compelling narrative is fundamental to making change happen rapidly and comprehensively in any large organization. A powerful story puts the “why” and “how” in context, fosters acceptance, launches conversations and ignites action. (I’ve briefly addressed the building blocks of a change management narrative here.) All important.

But a message about change is not change itself.

We work closely with leaders grappling with the hard work of transforming their healthcare organizations. The changes demanded today are sweeping and can be deeply troubling to physicians, nurses and others who have invested their professional lives in a model growing more obsolete hourly. They are right to expect resistance.

These leaders want a communications strategy that will pull their audience into a new future. A dynamic message, a new brand, website upgrades, media outreach, town hall meetings, social media engagement, a compelling slide show. Yes, yes. All good.

But never mistake these things for the change itself. Your staff doesn’t. Your physicians don’t.

Change is action. It’s about acting differently. It’s about making decisions differently with new criteria and new goals. It’s about investing differently. It’s about saying “yes” to new things and “no” to what was once common practice. It’s about using new performance metrics. It’s about expecting new and different behavior from your leaders, your managers and your staff.

If there is no new action, there is no change. Without action, a story of transformation creates cynicism and resistance. It undermines leadership and makes real change harder. Worse yet, it communicates weakness, indecision and a lack of will.

When we work with leaders to help them articulate their vision, we ask:

  • Is your spending and financial incentives aligned with the new vision? You say want your hospitals working as a “system” but that every CEO is still incentivized by his or her facility’s P&L? Are you putting your money where your mouth is?


  • Are strategic and capital investment decisions now going to be made using a new set of criteria based on the new direction?


  • Will you hire differently now? Will you judge staff performance differently?


Effective change management message reflects the new direction and new action of an organization. It is not, by itself, the action. In short, the old political language is true:

“Walk the talk. If you can’t do it, don’t say it.”

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About David Jarrard

David Jarrard, Jarrard Inc. CEO and partner, is a strategic healthcare public affairs counselor who has led communications campaigns for nearly two decades, addressing mergers and acquisitions, regulatory, crisis and leadership issues. He is a former journalist, business advisor and corporate communications executive. Contact him at 615-254-0575 or djarrard@jarrardinc.com.