Three Ways to Achieve Organizational Change in Healthcare

(Guest blogger Craig Deao is a senior leader at Studer Group, a healthcare consulting firm, and a managing director at Huron.)

Pop quiz: If five frogs are on a lily pad and one decides to jump, how many frogs are left on the lily pad?

The correct answer is five, because deciding and jumping are two different things. Healthcare organizations often declare their decision to deliver better care or improve value, but when it comes to executing, they have difficulty taking the leap.

Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton studied this disconnect closely and documented their learnings in the book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap.” After studying dozens of organizations that publicly declared intentions to improve, they learned how some overcame the knowing-doing gap, while others did not—even though their declared strategies outlined exactly what they needed to do. Although the professors published their findings almost two decades ago, the same problem exists today, especially in healthcare.

Healthcare organizations need more than a good strategy to deliver results. To enable execution, healthcare leaders must help their employees find meaning in their work, provide them with usable and effective tools, and standardize best practices.

Connect People with a Purpose

When leaders set out to improve their organizations, they ask their teams to work in specific ways using explicit processes, resources, and technologies. While their decisions are well-intended and thoroughly evaluated, employees are rarely able to reiterate the reasons their leaders decided to implement something new. They may be thinking, “Because my boss said to do it,” or “To improve our patient satisfaction scores,” or even “That’s how leadership is going to get their bonus.” Ultimately, they don’t understand the implications of the work they’re doing.

To help employees connect the dots between what they’re doing and why it’s important, figure out what drives each person.

While the reasons for organizational change often stem from extrinsic forces, there needs to be intrinsic motivation for the practices to be sustainable. To help employees connect the dots between what they’re doing and why it’s important, figure out what drives each person—beyond common assumptions. For some people, it’ll be emphasizing the human connection or benefit, while for others, it might be about how a new initiative improves their work schedules for better work-life balance.

Rather than simply telling somebody what to do, I always encourage leaders to follow a framework that walks through three levels of “why”:

  1. Demonstrate why something works by using data and evidence to appeal to the rational side of a person’s thinking.
  2. Engage someone’s emotions and explain why this change matters in his or her life, in someone else’s life, or for a greater cause.
  3. Explain how a new initiative or tool can make someone’s life better, easier, or more productive. In other words, explain what’s in it for that person.

Of course, these suggestions all need to be customized to the key drivers that motivate each person.

Enable Desired Behaviors

Improving clinical outcomes and financial results isn’t just about hiring and retaining the best talent. If healthcare leaders put a top performing employee in a negative culture, the contagion effect will inevitably impact the employee’s experience. The same applies to giving employees inefficient tools that waste their time on trivial duties that don’t bring them any joy or meaning. When thinking about a career in healthcare, employees likely didn’t choose the profession for the tedious processes and painful systems.

Healthcare organizations should find a solution that will meet their current needs and extend its value into the future

That’s why it’s important to deploy technologies, processes, and systems that engage your workforce. Only then can you enable employees to do their best work, collaborate and share with others, continually improve and perform at the top of their abilities, and discover opportunities to grow their own careers.

Healthcare organizations often bring in new technologies to solve a specific pain point. However, they typically stop short of optimizing these tools, even when they’re capable of solving additional pain points. Then, leaders end up cobbling together different systems, technologies, and processes with overlapping features and siloed data. Instead, healthcare organizations should find a solution that will meet their current needs and extend its value into the future. Case in point, they should consider the value of having a unified system for both finance and HR.

Standardize Best Practices

Too often, we look at negative variations—financial reports that miss a target, performance of underperforming talent, or technology downtime. While that’s important, sustainable positive changes come from looking into positive outliers, understanding why they happen, and figuring out how to replicate success. This is where modern tools and technology can make the difference by providing insight into factors such as financial performance and continuity across the relevant data points.

There’s only a finite amount of new practices that providers can use, and they need to be standardized in order to be sustained. The best way to standardize a practice is for leaders to retrain their organizations to focus on positive deviations. What differentiates organizations that succeed from those that don’t is their ability to ensure that employees have the right tools and processes to succeed in delivering on the organizational strategies.

Learn more about how healthcare leaders can enable their employees to provide the best care in the webinar replay, “Equipped to Care: How Highly Engaged Healthcare Providers Are Transforming the Patient Experience.”