After more than two long years of fighting COVID-19 and its impact, it is natural for healthcare leaders to wonder when the business of healthcare will return to “normal.” In fact, some imperatives within the industry have already returned to normal—like the demand for strategic growth, the challenges of margin compression, or the pace of clinical innovation—each driving a level of change that will stretch the industry and its people. But what might be even more impactful are the industry imperatives that have arrived since the pandemic—deeper coordination with public health entities, moving value-based care from an organizational initiative to a core competency, and addressing a workforce that is both fragile and dwindling.
Each of these imperatives brings significant change and new behaviors that will challenge the adaptive nature of our industry—calling on a higher level of change agility. In the face of both the old and new normal, healthcare leaders are thoughtfully assessing their strategic options, experimenting with growth and value initiatives, and deploying strategies and tactics aimed at muting the impact of this steady stream of change in their organizations. Because as our industry research demonstrates, healthcare leaders know that greater change agility will be required as we look forward.
As we established in The Biology Behind Resistance to Change, our brains are wired to resist change and, as individuals, our resistance tends to follow a consistent path. In resisting change, we feel exhausted, and when our resistance doesn’t change the outcome, we feel ineffective. Eventually, we become unengaged and even cynical toward the larger system.
The surge of burnout, as recently cited by then U.S. Surgeon General in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), is meaningfully driven by the significant and sustained amount of change experienced by those within the healthcare industry. That burnout is a catalyst for:
- Unprecedented turnover,
- Significant departures from the profession, and
- Employee environments that challenge the delivery of quality of care.
To make the situation more complicated, this burnout is occurring when provider leaders need their workforces at their very best. Leaders are straddling the task of creatively attacking the challenges of tomorrow, while meaningfully improving performance today, all while the competition for talent becomes more and more intense.
Since the pandemic began, our client work has demonstrated that the tide of change saturation and burnout can be turned when organizations and their leaders follow three steps.
- Step 1: Build Intelligence – Building a human capital data set empowers leaders to understand the state of their workforce at a granular level. And, with that clarity, leaders will be able to deploy strategies and tactics tied to the symptoms unique to their workforce and its distinctive sub-groups to fight burnout.
- Step 2: Manage Impact – Individuals approach change differently, and understanding these different response styles is critical to reaching team members on a deeper level. When leaders better understand how they, and their team members, respond to change, this knowledge prepares them more effectively to manage themselves and their reactions to the change that surrounds them.
- Step 3: Communicate Insight – With these inputs, leaders gain deep insight into their change culture and take action to enhance that culture. Leaders should not let those insights and actions die as just words in a PowerPoint deck; they should communicate them clearly, loudly, and visibly across the organization.
By taking these steps, leaders gain a level of understanding of how their people feel about change, what they are looking for from their leaders during this time, and what may drive back the challenges of burnout and change saturation.
This three-pronged approach has driven meaningful results in large organizations. It’s with this type of awareness that a leading regional health system was able to utilize the deployment of an enterprise strategic plan as a catalyst for true system thinking. By matching market data with a deep human capital data set, they were able to holistically understand their organizational strengths and opportunities, both inside and outside the organization. With that understanding, they built a strategic plan that served as a meaningful first step in an informed journey toward true system thinking.
Those types of results are not limited to the acute care setting. It’s with this same approach that a frontline community health center was able to assess the impact of a unique culture development program. This research-based development program was designed to build positivity within the organization and drive associated improvement in agility and confidence as well as achieve decreases in burnout. Using the intelligence they developed, they were able to pinpoint opportunity spots within their organization and clearly demonstrate the program’s effectiveness over the long term—most notably driving burnout down by nearly 10%.
Burnout is not new, and its impact will not diminish as the pandemic fades, as the U.S. Surgeon General echoed. The amount, pace, and magnitude of change in the healthcare industry is a meaningful contributor to the change saturation that can lead to burnout. But it is not a lost cause. Leaders and organizations can turn the tide against burnout and change saturation, but it takes dedicated leadership informed by a rich human capital data set. It is when dedication and data are combined that leaders can achieve the Change Clari3ty that the fight against burnout and change saturation demands.
Our Clari3ty change analytics platform is designed to take the guesswork out of change for leaders. Clair3ty provides leaders the perspective they need to develop unique strategies and unlock the well-being and potential of their organization.