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How to rally your staff in uncertain times

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you’ll likely agree: these are tumultuous times to be operating a hospital in America.

But at NRC Health we posit that, no matter what Congress passes in the coming months, a hospital’s fundamental goals will not change. The political climate should not derail your relentless pursuit of high-quality, affordable, and efficient care.

In fact, under the stresses of uncertainty, a focused approach to improving your hospital’s operations becomes even more important. There’s less margin for error, and no room for false starts. And how you engage your clinical staff will determine whether you succeed or fail.

In these changing times, what are some reasons clinicians might resist new initiatives, and—perhaps more importantly—how can you bring them back into the fold?

Obstacles to engagement

Over half of hospital physicians report symptoms of burnout, as well as 49% of hospital nurses. Broader trends in healthcare—such as provider consolidation and stricter regulatory mandates—contribute to this, leaving clinicians feeling less respected and less autonomous in their work.

But small-scale workplace disagreements add to the problem, too. 23% of physicians cite conflicts with executive management as a major source of their dissatisfaction, as do a large proportion of nurses.

Disgruntled clinicians won’t pull for adopting major changes, nor seek out opportunities to get involved. So ask yourself: do your new initiatives stave off the burnout, or make it worse?

Here are some ways your initiatives may be alienating your clinical staff.

Too many initiatives happening at once

We mentioned in a previous post that it’s essential for executives to focus. Too many initiatives can send confusing signals about your priorities. Staff may not know where to concentrate their efforts.

Change initiatives can also add to administrative workload. Clinicians rightly fear that each new initiative will bog them down with additional meetings, working sessions, and documentation requirements. This all takes time away from direct care.

Too much of that, and you’ll reinforce the ugly stereotype of the executive who doesn’t “get” patient care. That can seriously damage your relationship with clinical employees.

No follow-through from leadership

Your staff will always hear what you say, but they’ll pay far more attention to your actions.

If you announce a new goal for your facility, but your clinical staff doesn’t see any follow-through from their leaders—or understand how your goal relates to their roles—you shouldn’t expect them to keep chasing your goal on their own.

NRC Health’s vice president of program development, Jen Volland, DHA, RN, says, “It’s important that executives don’t just talk the talk. You want to be visible; you want to make sure your staff knows that your goals actually matter to you.”

Don’t let your initiatives lose momentum. Discuss them in meetings, remind your staff why you’re pursuing them, and give recognition to staff members who make progress. Even something as simple as a well-timed thank-you note can make all the difference.

Your goals don’t connect with their concerns

New initiatives emerging from the C-suite often contain broad directives for the hospital: “We want to become a regional oncology leader,” or “We will be an employer of choice for talented nurses in our city.”

That’s sensible. Executives bring an essential big-picture perspective to a facility’s needs. However, the people you depend on to enact your vision—clinical staff and managers—have much more prosaic problems on their mind. They’re worrying about staffing issues, about overtime, or even about a specific patient.

Jeffrey Brickman, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, ran into this conflict when he tried to drum up enthusiasm for changes the executive team wanted to make in the hospital.

He told the Harvard Business Review that he’d “learned that people didn’t feel connected to our vision or the changes we were working to make[…] Our employees’ concerns were far more basic” than the sweeping vision leadership had in mind.

That was a major challenge for Central Maine Healthcare, and it’s an instructive example for healthcare executives everywhere. If clinicians don’t see their needs reflected in the goals you set, it can seriously damage your credibility with them.

How to build partners, not just employees

But Jeffrey also offers a simple, powerful solution: “Rounding and listening.” That’s what it took to gain trust from his employees.

Make the rounds in your building. Listen to frontline workers. Get a true gut-level understanding for what they do. They’ll reveal what they struggle with, and what they wish they could get done. And if you ask, they’ll tell you what they want to see from you.

Jeffrey’s advice is especially important in times of uncertainty. The entire healthcare landscape may be about to change. Right now, your workforce is likely preoccupied with the question, “What’s going to happen next?”

This represents an enormous opportunity for healthcare executives. If you demonstrate a clear vision and a resolute purpose to your staff, you can make the future feel less frightening.

And imagine the emotional impact when your plans carefully incorporate your employees’ needs, concerns, and ambitions. You’ll earn fierce loyalty from them.

NRC Health can help you start the conversation. We offer ways to get candid feedback from the people you rely on, so you can build an authentic case for their support. Learn more about NRC Workforce Engagement

You’ll have true partners in your hospital, not just employees. And with your staff rallied around your goals, the future becomes a lot less ambiguous.