Super Tuesday’s 10 Cautionary Lessons for Healthcare Leaders
March 03, 2016
This year’s presidential campaign is teaching the political class a new lesson.
For good or ill, the rollicking success of the Trump campaign and the surge of support for socialist Bernie Sanders has set pundits and party standard-bearers on their heels. The raucous race has defied every prediction.
What lessons can leaders of healthcare organizations take away from this twisty campaign season? After all, every leadership team is running a “political” campaign to push, pull and transform their complex systems for this century.
To be clear: We shouldn’t overlearn from these outliers but there are some insights to discern. So, for your consideration, 10 cautionary lessons from this swashbuckling presidential campaign so far.
1. Wishing won’t make it so. The GOP leadership and “establishment” candidates didn’t take Donald Trump seriously enough for a long time, assuming he would self-destruct or be rejected like a bad organ transplant. Only in the last week — too little and too late — have some candidates assertively pushed back against a fearless campaign that has had nearly a year to build momentum. Across the aisle, the DNC deeply underestimated Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist from one of the tiniest states in the country. He’s now intent on bedeviling Hillary Clinton all the way to her nomination.Both parties suffered from a lack of political imagination. They couldn’t conceive that the threat was real. It came from outside their traditional models of how campaigns were supposed to be.
Deal with your problems – and troublemakers – before they undermine you. Be open to possibilities unimagined before. Your silence and inaction can signal endorsement or weakness that others can exploit.
2. They never saw it coming. Both parties are flummoxed by the insurgency in their ranks. The parties didn’t hear, didn’t listen, didn’t respond, miscalculated and mishandled a powerful force within their constituencies and are still paying the price.
How are you engaging with the nurses, staff and physicians you need to succeed? Rounding much? Are you labor ready? How do you know? (Wrong answer: I have an encouraging employee survey…)
3. Simple messages work. According to an analysis by The Boston Globe, Trump speaks to his audiences at a 4th grade comprehension level. Bush? 8th. In today’s media saturated environment, simple, clear, unqualified statements penetrate the noise and project a passion and commitment that grab people’s attention.
Are your words sharp…or safely vague? Can your staff repeat your position and your intent when you have finished speaking? If not, have you communicated at all?
4. Emotional messages work.
Like it or not, America is in no mood for policy debates, nuanced arguments or compromise. Sanders and Trump are blunt instruments. Both have made statements that stray well beyond the electric fence of their party’s platforms. But, say the voters, who cares? Their trust in these candidate is so strong that their loyalty is impervious to facts and behavioral antics that would immolate traditional politicians. Passion, fear, boldness and strength — not policies or positions — are winning the day.
Emotions trump facts. Use that to your advantage. When you move your organization through significant change, speak first to the emotions of your staff (and have some, yourself). When they trust you emotionally, they’ll listen to your facts and stick with you through the roughest turbulence.
5. Can’t buy me love, first verse. The 14 Republican candidates who started the race but later dropped out raised approximately $464 million. Bush alone raised nearly $150 million. By comparison, Trump has reported raising $27.3 million — roughly the same amount as Ohio Gov. John Kasich — and has spent $23 million of it (though much of Trump’s race is self-funded and not subject to federal reporting rules). It’s not money fueling Trump’s success. His campaign is energized by a celebrity personality and quick-pivoting tactics that attract free attention like mosquitos to a bug light.
You can’t memo or newsletter or intranet or advertise your way to successful communications. It takes a powerful story, effective storytelling and a willingness to exploit the moment.
6. Can’t buy me love, second verse. Trump and Sanders are supported by troops of passionate, change-hungry and vocal voters who are taking it on themselves to mobilize and speak out. These supporters are leveraging untraditional channels of communications, not waiting for permission to act and are reveling in the momentum and spirit that they have created. In this case, it’s classic grassroots politics.
What are the emotional sparks around which your health system can rally? What causes and beliefs do you and your people share that that can be leveraged to take you forward? Who will carry your flag?
7. Kill a sacred cow. Then eat it. Trump and Sanders regularly say things that pundits predicted would end their campaigns. Instead, they surged. Voters appear exhausted by the hobbling limits of political correctness and have rewarded candidates who say things people feel but are afraid to say.
Every organization has its sacred subjects that are protected even when doing so threatens the success of the organization. Say the hard things and become a hero for people without a voice.
8. Buy a GPS with live updating. The old maps to success don’t work and may, in fact, direct you to drive off a cliff. Neither the tactics nor the strategies that worked for many election cycles are relevant now. We’re making up the rules as we go.
This is not news for us in the healthcare industry: The century-old model of running a hospital is fading away like Dr. Ben Carson. The winners will be those who can move to a new model quickly.
9. A reputation can get you started, but it can’t get you there. Clinton, Bush and other famous names found their strong (and well-earned) reputations and impressive records of public service to be of little help with fatigued voters starving for true change and big visions and powerful emotions.
No one is going to give you success. Don’t count on your system’s reputation and track-record to carry you to success. Your good reputation is table-stakes. Earn it all again to take your organization forward.
10. No one knows what the hell will happen next. We are 11 months away from having a new President, a new Congress and possibly even longer to have someone sitting in every chair on the Supreme Court. You can’t predict the future.
However, you can prepare yourself, your leadership team and your organization for deep and permanent change. Act now so your system is change-ready.
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