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Posted May 15, 2018

COACHING MINUTE: Get Ahead of the Curve with Change Management Teams

By Thomas Norris, MD, FAAFP, CPE, FACPE

Change is everywhere in healthcare, and it is coming faster than ever. Think of the changes underway in your institution, but there are also massive national changes like the transformation from a volume-based to a value-based payment system.

John Kotter, a Harvard professor who focuses on change, says that the single most important leadership task in healthcare is the management of change. To manage change in a way that puts you ahead of the curve, healthcare professionals must lead through it.

Leaders must be aware of not only the changes that are underway in their institutions, but also those that are coming. Changes that can be anticipated offer both a leadership and management opportunity. By getting ahead of projected transformations, leaders can assemble a team to strategically manage it in a measured and customized fashion.

These change management teams, created on an as-needed basis, are typically composed of a cross-section of professionals from throughout your organization. But keep in mind that these committees need balance between those who are gung-ho and those who are cautious. To be effective, these teams will need regular access to and support from leadership and may require resources — at the very least, they need time to do their work.

Organizations that successfully negotiate major change need the full buy-in of their employees. In many cases, their work and jobs will change — sometimes in ways that are very uncomfortable. They must understand the “why” behind the change and be prepared to adjust. Change management teams can help to champion this adoption throughout the organization.

The two primary responsibilities for any change management team are to help aid communication about the change and to help senior leadership execute on the strategy. In terms of communication, these teams will have the responsibility for communicating the why for the change, the strategy for the change and the progress being made along the way. This could be done via town hall meetings, regular newsletters or individual rounding on stakeholders.

In addition to the communications responsibility, the change management team will also help to develop a strategy to execute on the change in question. Often, this will begin by creating a pilot group consisting of one department or unit on which to test the viability of a new initiative. Then, the team will work to scale the project to the rest of the organization.

Considering when and where change management teams might work in your organization? Here are a few examples of situations in which these teams could be useful, along with suggestions for team membership.

  • Implementation of a new electronic health record (EHR)
    • Possible team members may include: CMO, CIO, CNO, frontline primary care and specialty physicians, frontline nurses
  • Creation of a multidisciplinary rounding program for hospitalized patients
    • Possible team members include: CMO, CNO, hospitalists, hospital nurses, clinical pharmacists, clinical social workers
  • Development of a new patient flow program in a clinic
    • Possible team members include: clinic manager, clinic physicians, medical assistants, receptionists, clinic lab technicians

Change management is complex. Healthcare leaders must become trailblazers and employ their teams to disseminate change initiatives to the front lines. The very survival of our organizations depends on the ability to be agile and forward-looking and to use our change management teams as transformation agents.

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Norris has over 40 years of healthcare experience as a clinician, physician executive and academician/medical educator. His varied experiences in operations and director roles include long-term knowledge gained from teaching leadership and change management.

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