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While times of challenge and change are not new, none of us can confidently or reliably predict when the hurricane we’ve been living through for more than six months will end or the exact toll it will take on our personal and professional lives. Without that crystal ball, we plan as well as we can and then hope for the best.

A few years back, I had to laugh when a colleague declared that “Hope is not a strategy” after a thoughtful, proactive crisis plan we put together was killed by a “Let’s just hope, wait and see” leader.

As healthcare providers, we understand the power of hope even as we practice the science of medicine. When hope takes root, our strategies take flight as they are no longer just words on a page, but deep-seated ideas that are lived out in the minds, hearts and actions of our people and organizations. It’s that emotional connection that makes strategies and tactics effective. Facing today’s uncertainty, hope should be a catalyzing element of the strategies we create to keep people positive, resilient and moving forward together.

Consider these seven ways you may be inadvertently signaling that your organization’s strategy and future are hopeless—plus some smart countermeasures to combat the perception.

  1. You stop listening and start assuming. Your patients and employees desire for you to genuinely listen to them. Open the door to dialogue through pulse surveys, virtual town halls and focus groups. Reinvigorate your Patient and Family Advisory Council virtually and encourage managers to conduct one-on-ones with employees using a defined set of questions. Ensure the plans you’ve made align with the needs of your stakeholders.
  2. You lay aside your mission and undermine your values. While hope is necessary, it alone is not a strategy. Before announcing change, ensure your leadership team can articulate how the change will help fulfill your mission long-term. If a decision seems to conflict with your values, lean into the tension and discuss why it’s the right course. Proactively addressing tension helps people respect your reasoning and willingness to make tough decisions, even if they disagree with it.
  3. You underestimate the impact of change. This is a common mistake that can have severe consequences as people in our organizations concurrently face unprecedented (yes, I said it) challenges at home and at work. It’s more important than ever that leaders emphasize partnership over power and demonstrate they genuinely care about employee well-being. By listening, collaborating, making change more manageable and tying it to your mission, you will strengthen resilience and ensure your team has the bandwidth to make change happen. Be upfront about challenges you are facing, ask departments to come up with solutions and remain supportive by following up with a check in on how things are going.
  4. You create a steady drip of negative news. We all know the only thing worse than ripping off a bandage is removing it slowly. Organizations often get too clever in an effort to minimize negative perception and mitigate the impact of tough news. “We’ll announce layoffs next week, benefits changes in two weeks, service-line closures in October, cancellation of our expansion by Halloween…” Drip, drip, drip… Before long, employees come to believe that every communication from leadership will contain negative news. They’ll dread coming to work. When possible, consolidate tough changes into one announcement tied to a compelling strategy and vision – despite the unpleasant process. You don’t have to have all the details to do this. In fact, this type of announcement is the perfect moment to say, “We will partner with our employees, providers and leaders over the coming weeks to implement these changes in a thoughtful way.”
  5. You fuel speculation. Vague or infrequent communication leaves room for anxiety and rumor to grow. If employees or the community sense a scurry of activity among top leadership, chances are they will invent a reason that is likely worse than reality. Instead of pretending that all is well or avoiding communication, be responsibly transparent. It’s usually better to say what you do and don’t know than to let rumors and fear take over. If you can’t answer or don’t know, share what you can answer and do know, as well as what won’t change.
  6. You emphasize money and ignore the recognition gap. Money is usually not the primary reason people want to work in healthcare. The majority want to make a difference and also care for their families. Change challenges morale, so one of the best ways to protect it and foster resilience, trust and pride is by focusing on the recognition gap. Research shows that leaders believe they give recognition far more than employees perceive receiving it. Recognition has to start at the top, and it has to be a priority. Focusing on wins and encouraging those you lead won’t eliminate the sting of no bonus or annual pay raise, but it will help.
  7. You take the community’s support and trust for granted. Beyond your employees, your community is your best asset in solving challenges. And trust is the key to your relationship with the community. If you blindside people with tough news, make decisions that seem in conflict with your values or have a workforce that is actively speaking out in a negative tone, you very well may lose trust and find yourself worse off. Maintain community support by sharing regular updates, talking openly about the implications of external factors like COVID-19 and change in the industry. And, ensure your employees have the information they need to be ambassadors in the community.

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