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The Big Story: 3 CEOs weigh in on staffing challenges

Hard choices abound: “We recently had to close one of our long-term care facilities because we couldn’t staff it. We were to the point where the staff that we did have were tired, managers were working the night shifts, and we came to a place where we realized in order to ensure safety of those residents, we would have to close that long-term care.”

What It Means for You

What does hope look like now?

How do you communicate hope to your exhausted colleagues and stressed patients as you brace for another tough quarter and prepare for the hard choices you’re making to protect your organization?

We are people of hope, after all. Our clinicians, staff and leaders are here to heal, to fix things that are broken, to offer a way forward when the path isn’t clear.

After a year of bad news all around – and not much better ahead, it seems – the questions facing providers have difficult answers. You know the list: Layoffs, compensation adjustments, reduced capital investments, closed units and even partnership searches may be the best of hard choices for many. We could have picked any one of countless articles to highlight in the Big Story.

How do you give a message of hope in this mess? How do you navigate change, adjusting course as needed while standing firm in your convictions and mission? How do you position your organization as a beacon guiding the way, not a flag changing direction with the wind?

Start here: Thoughtful acknowledgement and contained action.

Thoughtful acknowledgement

Your colleagues need to know that you see what they see in this rocky environment – that you are on the case and thoughtfully anticipating the future, however challenging.

It’s no secret times are tough.

Yet leaders can find it difficult to concede the headwinds they face and the threat to the organization. Some fear the concessions will be a distraction without a solution. Or spark conversations they’re not ready to have. Or will be seen as an indictment of management.

But there can be great hope for colleagues in knowing that an organization’s confident leadership is also aware of the rough seas, is tracking key telltales and is thoughtfully deliberating on the best course to take.

Note the balance in that message. It’s not just that the organization is aware of the tough metrics. But also that leadership is carefully considering the effects on colleagues, community and the long-term prosperity of the organization as the team evaluates its response.

This is an opportunity to lift up your mission, to put your strategic priorities in bold font as your organization’s North Star and the context upon which future decisions – difficult or easy – will be made.

Hope can come from the repeated, unspoken assurance that any actions will not be rash and reactionary but deliberate and calculated. Surgical, if you will.

This “pre-work” is more than a nice-to-have. It’s risk management.

Without this acknowledgement from leadership, colleagues may assume the C-suite is blind to the challenges and may therefore be thoughtless in its eventual reaction – too little, too late, wrong-footed, affecting innocent bystanders when the tough calls are made. And in an act of self-preservation, worried team members may conclude the best course is to direct their own future and accept that job down the street.

Establishing yourself now as the “source of truth” in a tough season – before the rumor mill spins up again and half-truths fly and fear fosters bad decisions – is well worth the culture-building investment this step requires.

Contained Action

When a hard choice is made and the action is clear, take the action as quickly, humanely and transparently as operationally possible. You know the best practices. Here are three to highlight:

  • Tell one story. Consolidate several actions – such as an RIF and a closure – into a single event. Place a wider lens on it. Show it as the thoughtful-though-difficult choice that it is. If that’s the last of the hard calls – never a promise, of course – it can be a significant relief-value that allows people to expel the breath they’ve been holding. At that point, you and your colleagues can move forward with some confidence that there’s not another batch of bad news to come. There’s hope there.
  • Time is your enemy. Similarly, avoid spreading out tough operational moves over many days or weeks. The “death by 1,000 cuts” cliché refers to a death of culture and trust. The mortar shell approach – one hit after another – will tell your stakeholders there’s no end in sight for the difficult news, no safe place. And that perception takes the rumor mill to dark places and extends fear.
  • All in context. Make all the changes in the context of your system’s story. You’re making these hard moves today so that you can fulfill the promise of your strategic direction or your mission…or your existence. It’s a budget-focused action, yes, but thoughtfully made in service to something greater.

Of course, it may be there are no dramatic hard choices for your organization today.

It may be that you’ve made the tough calls already and that your organization is prepared (as much as it can be) to weather today’s storm. Your focus is not the hard choice, but to stay the course you’ve set. To stay firm and not drift in the wind. That’s a hopeful story to tell, too.

We’re in a hard moment. It follows years of difficult moments. You and we both know it won’t be the last.

Creating hope in hard choices is your choice, really. You may think about it as risk management; it’s hope management, too.

Note: The Jarrard Team is looking closely at the environment facing healthcare providers as we move into 2023. We see the hard choices you and your team are faced with, and we are here to help.

Whether you’re considering service line closures, team reorganizations, partnerships or simply need to fortify your reputation, we’re here to help you tell your powerful story. Learn more about how Jarrard can partner with you to communicate effectively, even in the toughest times.

Learn More

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

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