Of tightropes and treading water: Winning strategies of today’s successful healthcare leaders

You’re still performing a high wire act of balancing the needs of your patients, doctors, nurses and staff.

You’re likely feeling deep fatigue and yet, because of your sense of purpose and mission, wanting to do more. That’s a challenging spot to be in. Yet the reality is, you and your teams have done so much.

You’ve saved lives. Many of them.

We know focusing on that daily tightrope of operational demands can make it hard to look forward to tomorrow’s strategies just paces ahead. Or to acknowledge and celebrate the victorious small steps along the way. Or to provide the physical and emotional support your team craves.

It’s no secret that fatigue and stress can lead to tension, even in the best relationships. That’s something we’ve observed at Jarrard Inc. through our client work and our recent national survey. Fact is, healthcare workers and those living with healthcare workers are a bit less trusting of hospitals than the general public, and even feel slightly less safe in healthcare settings. Surprisingly, a notable number (40 percent) is reluctant to get vaccinated when one becomes available.

Sounds concerning. And it is, especially knowing that the fall likely brings a flu/Covid-19 combo. But what this information really points to is a clear, compelling opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your incredible doctors and nurses. Because they need the attention.

Here are four suggestions – two tactical and two philosophical – for doing just that.

Double down on listening.

Ensuring your team feels supported means talking with them about the things they care about most. If you’re trying to decide exactly what’s on folks minds, ask. Bring together your C-suite to lead listening sessions with groups of 10 to 15 people. Ask, “What’s really on your mind? What could help you feel safer at work? What could we do to better support you?”

Those questions move the needle, and systems asking them are seeing a return. You’ll feel better, too. Knowing what people think and having the ability to respond is so much better than speculating.

But you can’t stop with listening. You have to then slow down and tell people what you heard. Once you’ve collected the feedback, process it and come back to people with, “Here’s what we heard you say, and we’re making this change because of it.” Or, if it’s simply not feasible, explain why.

Reconsider your messengers.

One of the most revealing pieces of data from our survey was the continued trust people place in doctors and nurses for healthcare information. The public expects and desires for clinicians to be involved in conversations around healthcare.

But the conversation must be authentic and start internally. Though trust in doctors and nurses is a bit lower for healthcare workers, they still hold clinicians in high esteem. Therefore, you’d be wise to use them for internal communications. Make sure you have respected, well-spoken clinicians as messengers. If you’re not a physician-led system with a physician in the CEO role, there’s real opportunity in featuring your chief medical and nursing officers as you deliver messages about safety or protocols employees need to follow.

With the right messengers offering the right – authentic – messaging, you can convey that you have your team’s back.

Consider what could have been.

Consider that data around the feelings of healthcare workers as a bright spot. The survey’s “scores” on trust and safety for providers have held steady through the roller coaster ride of the past several months – even while there has been so much working against healthcare providers. But you, your team and your organization have hung on. That goes to show you that temporarily treading water is sometimes enough. Even if it’s not the most satisfying activity.

Remember also that in so many critical areas, you’re making a difference. So many lives have been saved. How many people have you discharged from your COVID ICU? Celebrate the caregivers and the administrative teams that made those discharges possible. Some clients are celebrating milestone discharge numbers – 100, 200, 500 patients back home and recovering.  Could your team name with pride how many are recovering? Help them do so.

Imagine what could be.

There’s a lot of work yet to be done—but it’s work that matters. Imagine what it would look like to strengthen the financial position of your organization through additional federal funding and more favorable payer contracts? Imagine what it would look like to allay fear and move the needle on people feeling safer, to provide them an even better experience both in the midst of and after the pandemic. Imagine what it would look like to gain traction on vaccination rates for the first time in decades. Any of those things would be a big achievement…and you can do this. Take that message to your teams, remind them of your shared purpose. Check in and listen to their fears.

And celebrate the work they’ve done and will continue doing.

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Lauren McConville
lmcconville@jarrardinc.com