Healthcare Change Management: Think Bigger than Fear

Cigarette smoking leads to cancer. Texting while driving is the number one killer of teens.  One in ten people without a high school diploma is unemployed.

Fear is a powerful motivator for the human psyche to change behavior – sometimes drastically.  In fact, in some cases, it takes truly personal tragedies to make hard choices, to break patterns, to find a new path.

But fear is not the only – nor in many cases the most effective – motivator for accepting and adopting change.

If you are a health system leader in today’s transformational environment, you are making hard (sometimes seemingly conflicting) choices that lead to significant changes for your organization. I’m working with a health system now that is pursuing an aggressive ambulatory growth strategy, rolling out a compensation redesign house wide, closing an in-patient facility, pursuing a $200m expansion on another campus, implementing an EHR, forming multiple affiliations to grow organically and into markets across the region they serve… and the list goes on.

For the clinicians and employees in the house, gone are the days of predictability and status quo.  Change is the new normal, and these are the very people who are expected to implement all of this change.

So, how do you motivate your physicians and employees to help transform your organization?  Through fear?  Fear of financial distress for the system.  Fear of benefits cuts and job loss.  Fear of not being able to navigate healthcare challenges on their own.

The answer is a very clear no.  If you choose this path, sure you may get short-term buy in, but you risk damaging your culture, heightening anxiety, inviting labor unions to organize, and losing great people to likely (and unlikely) competitors.

Instead, think bigger.  Educate about where healthcare is headed, the untenable past and need for evolution. Paint a clear vision for the future and their critical role in it.  Acknowledge change is hard… but don’t dwell there.  Then, find ways to invite their engagement in the evolution of your organization.  How can they shape the future?  How can they help creatively implement important initiatives?  Are there new avenues you need to put in place to allow for their voices to be heard?

Smart change management is a critical, albeit delicate, dance toward tomorrow.  Choose your song carefully.


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