Adapting to Disruptive Change: Key Survival Skills
Editor's note: This blog was written by Ron Wince, president/CEO of Guidon Performance Solutions. He has advised hospitals, healthcare institutions and world-class organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, the American Red Cross, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.
The specter of wholesale disruption in healthcare is no longer a storm cloud gathering on a distant horizon. That swirl is directly overhead and hospitals and other providers are struggling to cope with gale force winds that may threaten some institutions very survival.
No industry has had to deal with the scale and pace of change facing healthcare today since the Industrial Revolution, and few payers or providers are prepared to deal with it.
The advantage will swing to those healthcare companies that achieve agility and develop new skills for dealing with disruption. The challenge is to find ways to adapt your organization while still conducting daily business. Following are some key survival skills that you may find useful:
Create a cadre of adaptive managers. Decisions formerly dependent on long-term strategic planning skills are no longer valid. Ambiguity reigns supreme in a disruptive world, and you need an adaptable workforce to help your organization adjust to constant "audibles" at the line of scrimmage. The key is learning to watch upcoming trade winds, then interpreting and reacting quickly. Set guidelines that allow flexibility and entrepreneurship but reinforce consistency and execution.
Align your organizational structure to a common purpose. Leadership teams in healthcare organizations have gotten increasingly disconnected from a common purpose as the chaos in the world has driven them to short-term solutions based on tunnel vision. Incorporate awareness of that common purpose into everything, particularly how you interact with patients and customers. Reinforcing alignment around a common purpose is not just an academic exercise. It gives people who will never set foot in your boardroom the knowledge that will help them do the right things at the right time on the front lines of delivering care. And if you want to be adaptable and agile, you have to accept the fact that more and more decisions will be made farther and farther away from that boardroom.
Match your social architecture to your business needs. When asked why GE was so successful despite having such diverse businesses under the same corporate roof, Jack Welch attributed it to two factors: a common operating system and a common social architecture. Anyone who worked for GE in those years knows what he meant by the latter ingredient: there were very powerful norms of behavior around issues like how people and groups learned from each other and how they interacted in ways that drove continuous improvement and business excellence. You need to make sure that your social architecture is aligned and synchronous as business conditions in healthcare get even more chaotic.
Benchmark outside your industry (or at least market niche). There are so many new things that healthcare organizations have to master quickly that leaders are constantly asking "Who is already good at this? Who can we learn from?" The answer is that there probably are solutions to many of your challenges, but it's unlikely they exist in your specific sector. For example, one company that was building a new hospital benchmarked its patient services against the quality of customer service delivered at the Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Learn from the disruptors. No matter what kind of healthcare organization you are, your primary competition tomorrow may be the same as today's. It's more likely to be the mini-clinics that can be found in some drug stores, or online virtual services like Stat Doctors, or mobile health services like White Glove. Your choice is to either cede the challenged segments of your market to the "disruptors", or be aggressive in learning from what they are doing and incorporating it into your organization.
Despite the major changes in healthcare, it's surprising how many organizations seem to be trapped by inertia. Becoming more adaptable is a big challenge, but the pursuit of agility and adaptability can re-ignite passion and creativity in your workforce. It may also be the only way you can survive the storm.