Health care organizations in 2017: Building the right boat to navigate the rapids

One politician says 36,000 people will die without the ACA. Another says the ACA is collapsing while we speak. No, they won’t, and no, it isn’t. Rhetoric, hyperbole and outright fabrications flow freely from both sides. Health care industry leaders would like an MRI that could cut through it all to see what is really happening and what will change in the coming months and years. I would like a unicorn to ride to work. We’ll be disappointed on both fronts.

So business leaders in the $3 trillion health care industry are left trying plan strategies to run their businesses through the unpredictable Class 5 rapids of “Repeal and Replace.”

photo of whitewater raft tipping over

There is a lot of good analysis of likely or possible outcomes. I regularly read thought pieces from Deloitte, McKinsey, and Manatt Health (Manatt did a great webinar about this on January 12. It’s available for review and well worth the hour). None of them, wisely, are placing their bets on what WILL happen, and frankly state that “we just don’t know.”

As the CEOs of providers, insurers and pharma are planning strategies for uncertain times, their employees are facing uncertain futures while being bombarded by public and social media warnings about all the horrible things that are about to happen. Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: Employee fears and confusion will affect productivity. So productivity falls at a time when efficiency needs to be at its best.

Even in times of stability, companies struggle to get their people aligned with their strategy. How should companies work to align their teams to company strategy when the strategic target is unclear? The organizations that will successfully navigate the coming rapids will be the ones most able to adapt quickly to change.

No one knows what changes will come under the new administration, but leaders don’t need to wait to act. Companies can reduce their employees’ uncertainty and fear and improve productivity by making them ready for change. There are three things leaders can be doing now:

  1. Communicate. Let the team know that your core strategy is solid, and will apply to any likely scenario. Let them know that you do not buy into the rhetoric and fear. Discuss, at a high level, how the company will react to opportunities and threats presented by potential scenarios. Communicate specifically how each role or department will support and execute change and how their work will drive success (this is not “Rah, Rah, hold-hands-around-a-campfire” crap, this means being specific about how each person contributes to the success or failure of the organization). How often to communicate? Think about being on a delayed flight…in the middle seat. How often do you want the captain to give you updates on the delay? My preference is anytime there is a change, and just before we start to feel they’ve forgotten about us.
  2. Develop change management capabilities. Most players in the industry are known for having strong, sturdy cultures developed over decades. This is not a bad thing, but it’s also not often a culture that can change quickly. Help your leaders understand the psychology of change and how to drive change through all phases of executing a new strategy WHILE still forming the new strategy. Identify bottlenecks to change before the change begins. What are the entrenched areas of likely resistance? Where are the capability and leadership gaps in the organization? Providers, insurers and pharma companies can address these gaps without knowing what will happen in Washington, and become more nimble organizations, ready to care for patients and customers in new ways when change comes.
  3. Incite Innovation. I tried a lot of words here: support, inspire, nurture, push, etc. They all seemed kind of weak or mushy. “Incite” implies a passionate encouragement toward action. It often refers to violent action, such as “To incite a riot.” I’m not trying to start a riot, but “incite” also draws a picture of starting with a small core of believers, and growing to include everyone who were formerly just spectators. So, incite innovation. Start with a passionate core of trained innovation leaders, and build outward. Launch ideas with exit ramps at clear points so you have frequent options to fail quickly and cheaply, or justify moving to the next exit. Reward ideas, large and small, whether they are minor process innovations, or ideas for new patient services. Don’t punish failure, but reward the lessons that come from failure, and the next idea will be better.

This focus on people will make the organization stronger, more nimble, and more productive, both by reducing fear and uncertainty, and by building the capabilities of a change-ready organization.

photo of whitewater rafting team in control

Nick Holt

Senior Facilitator at BTS
A skilled facilitator and consultant in strategy and business acumen, Nick has expertise across numerous industries but has a special focus on health care. He is particularly effective in making complex topics accessible to people who are new to them, such as financial and accounting concepts and strategies, and navigating the confusing minefield of the health care ecosystem and the changes happening today.

"I believe that serious learning can and should be fun, that laughter causes ideas to stick, and that fun dialog can drive serious results."

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