A staggering number of exciting innovations are happening in healthcare. Most will fail.
They will fail because, so far, the conversations regarding the change current occurring in healthcare have largely ignored the human element.
The healthcare system is made of people, and people change because of how they feel, not facts they know. Therefore, healthcare leaders looking to change their organizations must convey new tools and processes within the context of human reality. New technologies entering our field are exciting, but no tactical or digital solution will solve a cultural problem.
Our job as healthcare communicators, more than ever, is to be the translator. We must help leaders frame cutting-edge innovation within the boundaries of what’s doable. We must build language around the digital revolution that speaks to the heart. Simply put, we are the guardians of the art of change.
What is the art of change?
The science of change is already part of the industry’s discourse. The science of the future will be AI, blockchain, machine learning. Now, we’re seeing data that makes the case for change: declining inpatient admissions, overuse of emergency departments at hospitals and a cost structure that has gotten out of control. To make the changes necessary, science will be vital, but nothing happens without the art.
The danger of a less-than-artful approach to change is clear. Doctors, angered at a compensation redesign, have ousted CEOs. Nurses frequently band together to block initiatives. And while they may not be at the top of the food chain, clinicians are the most trusted people within healthcare institutions. Every year Gallup polls show nurses among the most trusted professionals in America. In other words, it’s critical to have the people who’ll make health systems run — and represent them to the public — on board for transformative work.
But these core employees will reject a recommended pivot if they can’t see how it impacts their lives, or they feel like the leader doesn’t account for the reality of their jobs.
Here’s an example: leaders making the case for a merger don’t win the hearts and minds of employees by citing cost efficiencies. Instead, they must explain how the merger enables the system to complete its mission. People back change based on how they feel; they use facts to support the conclusion directed by their feelings.
How to start with the art of change
Communicators guiding healthcare leaders through the art of change can start by walking them through the following high-level steps:
Be emotional. Care about the change; connect the change to your emotions and the emotions of those whose behavior you need to change. If you fail to do so, the emotional part of change still exists. Others will fill in gaps you leave with their own stories, and that will not help your cause.
Emphasize what will stay the same. People have a fundamental emotional need for stability. Even though your proposed change may be sweeping, as you communicate it, include information about what won’t change. Even though there’s a merger, will your employees keep their jobs? Though you’re introducing new technology, will you make sure it won’t disrupt the workflow? Do your values remain solid even though there’s a leadership shift? If so, say it.
Do more listening than talking. Being heard is often more important than any action that comes from being heard. So, when you’re rolling out a major change for your people, set aside time to listen to them. Schedule time for the right stakeholders to talk to you about how they feel.
David Jarrard is president and CEO of Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, Inc.