Refocusing after a crisis: Stabilizing your organization and re-engaging your workforce

As healthcare providers begin to look beyond the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis, recovery and stabilization will be the first steps away from the pandemic.

That means making up lost revenues, re-opening facilities and outpatient centers, rescheduling procedures and mobilizing a workforce who’s grieving, exhausted and over-worked, or burned-out from waiting for a surge that never came or still running on adrenaline in the surge that remains.

For these reasons, physician and employee engagement has never been more important. They’ve been the lifeblood of your organization at its most vulnerable moments, treating patients on the frontlines and devising innovative solutions to solve tremendously complex problems. Now it’s time to harness that problem solving, resiliency and commitment to continue doing good for the patients and communities you serve.

After all, in this uncharted time in healthcare, traditional engagement tactics simply won’t work.

Starting now and extending over at least the next 12 to 18 months, you and leading providers across the industry will be thinking about recovery efforts and stabilizing and engaging their workforce as they move out of the initial response. Key areas of focus should include:

Assessing your go-forward strategic priorities

The world won’t return to “normal.” Leadership teams will reassess key pre-COVID strategic priorities, plus new ones. These will include ensuring ongoing patient safety and maximizing volume (which may not be the same as before). How will staffing and resources need to be adjusted and realigned? How will you incentivize physicians? How will you measure and communicate your system’s performance?

Example: A large multidisciplinary medical group made temporary adjustments to physician compensation to provide added levels of protection due to decreased outpatient volumes (despite advancement of virtual care and telehealth.) At the same time, the medical group developed comprehensive COVID-19 safety standards and protocols to prepare for the eventual ‘end of surge’ and recovery. These actions were critical in reassuring physicians as they too developed recovery plans by service line, focusing first on non-emergent procedures and pediatric well-checks. Their physician and dyad leaders were then incentivized to achieve realistic performance metrics that aligned to the health system’s goals, using data and safety as their goals.

Learn from what worked and didn’t

Another valuable exercise is examining what worked well during the pandemic – whether new internal communications channels, accelerated approval chains or the use of telehealth technologies – and applying them to ongoing operations throughout the organization. Additionally, what didn’t work and how can you better prepare for a future crisis?

Example: One regional health system’s marcom department has begun assessing all of their work over the past few weeks and developing new plans to pivot to safely reopen. Last week, the chief administrative officer issued a charge to each marcom area leader – including internal communications, engagement, social media, marketing and others – asking them to determine what had worked well throughout the acute phase of the pandemic and what efforts should be retired. In addition, the executive requested each group develop plans to move forward as the reach a plateau in COVID-19 patients and begin to open back up other services. Rather than dictating a top-down plan, this gives each group – the ones with the specific insight and experience – an opportunity to shape what’s next.

Practically honor the sacrifice of your team

Now is no time to stop the “hero campaigns” you may have been running. Continue to work alongside the community, auxiliary boards, foundations and elected officials to honor the physicians and caregivers who bravely showed up to provide medical care to the community. And then go further than “feel good” campaigns. Have conversations with your caregivers where you give them an opportunity to offer honest, “kind truth” feedback about what they experienced and what they’re expecting going forward. Giving them a say in what happens next is a powerful way to honor them and give you direct insight into what needs to be done.

Example: A large academic medical system has shifted its language and focus from the broad idea of “workforce engagement” to simply, “safety.” They are asking staff how safe they feel as the system prepares to reopen. As a result, leadership has demonstrated their commitment to hearing and learning from their caregivers. At the same time, they are gaining insight into areas of practical need and also gauging the strength of their internal culture.

This due diligence can serve as the foundation for a custom, high-impact engagement strategy that takes your organization through the recovery and stabilization period over the next year and beyond.

James Cervantes