Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Healthcare System Mission and Vision Statements Sound a Lot Alike. One was Once Different.

20180628_140629 (2)Take a look at the mission and vision statements of healthcare systems. One once stood out among them, and I spent a few years as an internal communicator buoyed by the power of it. I’ll roll it back out in a moment.

First, the landscape. Mission and vision statements are meant to motivate both internal and external audiences. You’ll find that the new touch point for healthcare is “community” as in “healthier.”  Of the large hospital-based systems, CHI, Trinity Health, Kaiser Permanente and others have the words “healthier communities” or similar in the mission or vision statements. No surprise. The assumption is that this resonates with everybody – employees, other stakeholders, and customers.

Pragmatically, the “community” aspect in many cases goes beyond making everyone feel good about their neighbors being taken care of – it’s aimed at building internal awareness of performance-based contracts that have incentives to keep given populations healthy (ACOs). Hospital caregivers and staff are focused day-to-day on one patient at a time, however, and the patient is mostly concerned with getting a good outcome for themselves or a family member.

The other words you’ll find often (Dignity Health, Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, others) are “high-quality” and “affordable.” This is a reminder to internal audiences and a supposed selling point to potential patients. But saying that our services should be “high quality” is kind of like a restaurant chain claiming that their mission is to “serve food that tastes good.” It’s a given. In the customer’s mind, if the hospital or doctor’s care isn’t high quality it might kill them – the patient is not necessarily equating “quality” to a good patient experience ensured throughout every encounter.

So, the mission and vision statements tend to blend together. Which brings me back to an organization I proudly served for six years, Providence Health & Services, now Providence St. Joseph Health. Their vision statement used to contain words that were unique because they were in the voice of the patient: “know me, care for me, ease my way.” It is what the patient seeks, and it elicits factors ranging from time-saving digital health records, to the healing touch, to a hassle-free and proactive experience all the way.

At industry conferences a few years ago, I witnessed smaller health systems who mimicked this approach in their mission or vision statements – they knew it was powerful and they envied Providence.

Now, these very personal words that we were asked to heed, “know me, care for me, ease my way,” are no longer the vision – they have been moved over to the Providence “Promise,” an added category. My concern is that once anyone absorbs the mission, vision and core values, there isn’t much mindshare left for a Promise.

My opinion: the personal statement will always be more memorable than one that is over-arching. The current Providence vision statement is “Health for a Better World.” Pretty generic and safe. It’s only five words – but I’d challenge communicators there to test it and see if anyone remembers it.

Addendum: A conversation earlier this week with leadership of the Providence Foundations confirmed that “know me, care for me, ease my way,” the Providence promise, is still considered the most potent branding of the organization for external stakeholders. 

July 12, 2018 Posted by | Content-Inspired Conversations, Corporate Communications, health care communications, Mission and Vision Statements | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Look at the Load

The list of Top 10 types of resistance in the post below is missing one big, fat factor that can squash the whole change-management equation.  The Load.  Major implementations occur in the context of all other organizational priorities competing for resources and people’s attention.  Change is also more fragile and risky if there is a history of bad implementation experiences with lingering memories of all the stress caused by poor planning and execution.

In the health care industry, doctors, nurses and other clinicians have faced a relentless onslaught of change.  Caring for patients every single day is their primary focus, but every time they turn around from the bedside or the exam room, they are confronted with another expectation. Among them, learning new documentation technology (electronic health record, ICD-10, computerized order entry), on top of time-consuming quality, safety and patient satisfaction initiatives, revised workflows and processes – it goes on and on.

Defining the climate for change is essential.  It determines organizational readiness and strategies for multi-layered sponsorship for the change.  And of course it guides the communication strategy – timing, messaging (regarding critical needs and priorities) and frequency.

elephant sits

July 24, 2015 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top 10 List: Resistance to Organizational or Process Change

Two lists here. First, the top five for implementation of major technology change in a healthcare setting, for physicians and other clinicians.

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Dislike time commitment to get training, practice, become proficient
  3. Fear of looking incompetent amidst peers
  4. Concern about disruption to operations (patient care)
  5. Resistance to standardization (workflows, clinical content, order sets, etc.)

All of these reasons (above) relate to other industries also. Next, five other reasons for resistance that can round out my all-industry “Top 10.” (Thanks to Robert Tanner’s blog for input on this.)

  1. Loss of status or job security within the organization (believe they will be harmed by change)
  2. Non-reinforcing reward systems
  3. Peer pressure (protect the department or group)
  4. Climate of mistrust (bad history with implementations and other change)
  5. Organization politics (some have personal motives)

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pushing Out Email Communications: Definitely an INTERRUPTION Tactic.

Let’s call it what it is – an interruption. In a corporate setting, sending announcements and other general communications to large groups via email adds to the oad of email traffic flying around in thick torrents every day, especially for mid-level managers.

When these are sent, the goal is to get the email with this important corporate news or “action item” into a queue along with one-to-one (and one-to-few) emails in the manager’s inbox and vie for her/his attention.  Most managers reluctantly allow this distraction and check their email several to many times per day, because they also need to engage in team email conversations and requests via email, amidst the general info blasts that they may or may not read.

Update scrren capture Our once-a-week roll-up of action items, need-to-know items, etc. replaces a constant barrage of single-item emailed memos.

Here at Providence, a 5-state health care system, we’re beginning to train core leaders to rely on a once-a week roll-up of key information, an emailed update with short summaries that include links to the full announcement and other informational resources.  They know they can get all news and action items from the regional and system offices in a single weekly newsletter, with notices divided into three sections:  “Take Action!” (when they have to do something), “Need to Know,” and “Other Updates.”

That’s how it works today. The wave of the future: Have managers and staff take responsibility for selecting non-interruptive channels (RSS feeds, for instance) to receive segmented-by-category information. Instead of randomly-arriving as interruptive email, information is accumulated in folders (not in the inbox) or via a browser

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Corporate Communications | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Employee Integration After Acquisition – the Communications Factor

Underestimate the impact of an acquisition on the employees of the acquired organization at your own risk and peril. Just because an employee will continue to do their same job after integration, doesn’t mean that things don’t change in their work world. Often it’s dozens of things – their health & welfare benefits, retirement savings, life insurance, pay date and other HR services (or HR self-service). Their email, information and collaboration networks probably change also. Angst festers due to uncertainty, as employees wonder if their role will continue long-term within the new organization, especially if it’s a larger, more complex organization.

As your people move from being an employee of Company A to an employee of Conglomerate ABC, well-strategized communications are needed to avoid confusion, skepticism and negative perceptions about the change. This series of blog posts will explain what worked for us during the integration of 1,280 clinicians and support staff, plus about 900 affiliated physicians, at a prestigious hospital that became a part of our 33 hospital, 5-state health care system.    

The Kick-Off Strategy – Spell Out What’s Changing, and What’s Not

It is imperative to kick off the integration with a substantive communication from executive leadership that spells out what’s changing, and what’s not changing for the employee. Do this before the integration begins impacting everyone. Effective sponsorship of the change requires multiple levels of management to be actively supportive and involved, but the process starts with executive leaders. They need to not only endorse the change initiative, but also communicate its importance and the resources they have ensured are behind it.

Allow as much lead time as possible to prepare this communication. Timing is tricky – it’s a balance between getting it out early enough to alleviate staff angst and confusion, and late enough that most change factors and go-live timeframes have been solidified to make it as meaningful and helpful as possible.

The emphasis in all communications to managers and staff groups should be on the positive outcome and future for both organizations, but there should be acknowledgement of the challenges and short-term inconvenience during the change. Transparency is key.

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Acquisition Communications, Change Management, Corporate Communications, Employee Integration | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Communication Tactics and Tools as Employee Integration Begins

To get employees on board during integration into a new organization, equip managers with information on the integration steps and ask them to discuss it with their staff/team. This is typically a very effective way to build awareness, depending on the organization’s culture. We prepare FAQs, Talking Points, and Timeline Overview tools to assist these core leaders.

There’s one communication, however, that you’ll want to send directly to all staff levels, without relying solely on mangers. It’s an initial “what’s changing, what’s not” roll-up communication from an executive leader that previews what happens during the integration.

Due to the structure of teams working on the integration, the tendency is to generate one memo from HR and one from Information Services (a.k.a. “IT”) explaining the changes and when they will occur. Resist the temptation to produce separate “welcomes” and combine them. An employee cares about what changes, both personally (for them and their family) and within their immediate work environment, not what department is sponsoring the change. Certain employees also will be looped into other arenas that change, such as supply chain or finance.

Another tool is an “at a glance” overview of milestones and dates (via a checklist or other vehicle) for quick reference by managers and staff. Here’s an example – part of a checklist from a recent integration I anchored.

Pathways to Providence piece

This series of blog posts explains what worked well (or didn’t) during the integration of about 2,000 clinicians, support staff and affiliated physician, at a prestigious hospital that became a part of our 33 hospital, 5-state health care system.


November 17, 2014 Posted by | Acquisition Communications, Change Management, Corporate Communications | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maintain a Reliable Channel for Updating Core Leaders (Managers and Above)

During the whirlwind of changes that impact employees during integration (after an acquisition), it’s important to establish and promote a primary channel/vehicle for regular updates to core leaders, i.e. managers and above.

My colleagues and I found that a common complaint is that there are too many discrete memo-announcements on individual HR and IT subjects during an integration, and managers and staff get overwhelmed as they accumulate the various information.

After the initial overview-of-the-integration communication is released early in the integration, move quickly to a weekly roll-up update for core managers. Keep each item brief with links to more information or related resources. This should greatly reduce one-off memos. Reminders should be a balance of verbal communications (from managers during staff meetings, for instance), posted notices, and reinforcement on the organization’s intranet . Minimize the repeated “push” communications via email; instead, tune managers into reading the weekly roll-up update.

A great way to format the weekly update is to divide the notices and information under three headings: “Take Action” or “Action Needed”  (when the reader needs to do something), “Need to Know” (for information the reader should pay close attention to), and “Other Updates.”   A fourth section often is a calendar of upcoming milestones and go-lives.

Our Transition screenshot-cropped

A weekly e-newsletter “roll up” update to managers helps to keep everyone on the same page during integration, and minimizes excess email traffic. Here’s two (above and below) I developed for recent integrations.

Integration Update screenshot

This series of blog posts explains what worked well (or didn’t) during the integration of about 2,000 clinicians, support staff and affiliated physician, at a prestigious hospital that became a part of our 33 hospital, 5-state health care system.

November 11, 2014 Posted by | Acquisition Communications, Change Management, Corporate Communications, Employee Integration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the change initiative changes

About our Epic Implementation at Providence Health & Services: 27 hospitals (ranging from small rural hospitals to 700-plus-bed medical centers) and 350 clinics across five state are moving to a single-build Epic Electronic Health Record system (2012-2014).

A seismic change to an organization or to its core operations is hard enough to accomplish, but from a communications standpoint, it’s even more challenging when the change initiative itself changes along the way. After going live on Epic at six hospitals and dozens of clinics within four months last year, our leadership realized that the initial, highly aggressive go-live schedule could not be maintained. Problematic areas included: building unique lab interfaces for every hospital and clinic group; getting revenue cycle processes up and running (ex: charge capture); and getting physicians across the system to agree to standardized order sets.

After having trumpeted “full steam ahead” for many months, we suddenly needed to explain the need for a 6-month pause in hospital go-lives so that the Epic team could fix, complete, or improve a whole bunch of things. Ambulatory go-live waves of clinics, however, continued during this period.

Our intention was not only committing to getting it right, but also to reinforce that we are a “learning” organization that expects mistakes, and expects to learn from them.

What didn’t change: the executive sponsors’ involvement and commitment to the objective and the program. Strategically we remained consistent; tactically we were flexible. During the inpatient go-live pause, twelve high-priority workgroups hammered out specific deliverables. Communications were open, transparent, positive, and frequent.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | B2B messaging, Change Management, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IT Change Management Requires Good Communications

Information Technology swells and recedes as a separate business entity with changing corporate structures.  A number of Fortune 500 companies are eliminating their overarching CIO positions and moving IT to the Business Unit level.  In some cases,  an “IT Leadership Group” is ordained to create standards, allocate resources, etc. The fear when doing this is that Business Unit level IT silos will be controlled by people who lack overall corporate perspective and have limited accountability.

Sounds like a corporate communications opportunity for folks like me who have been involved in IT process change.  I was recently part of the opposite situation: the large corporation I was working with had centralized IT after years of Business Unit IT autonomy.  The upside was that IT was being treated as a strategic bottom-line-enhancer.  The new penalty, however, was that the Business Units felt that they weren’t being listened to – that IT crammed canned solutions down their throat without regard to their individual B.U. needs and requirements.

And so it goes.  Clarifying IT missions and getting employees on board to make it all work is a fascinating endeavor, and I’ve had the pleasure of working on this equation both internally and externally.

It’s true during process change (effecting staff) as well as organizational change that impacts management: it can be difficult for IT managers to fully embrace the communication part of the equation. As Management Leadership guru Jim Clemmer puts it: “A direct and positive correlation exists between the results obtained and the amount of time spent upfront helping everyone understand the need for the change and training to help them deal with the changes.”

Terse content (i.e. messaging), convincing and to the point, is a key element.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | B2B messaging, Change Management, Content-Inspired Conversations, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Print Media is Alive and Thriving

In an environment where oceans of websites claw for audiences and compete with traditional media, the Association of Magazine Media has rolled out a major campaign to remind everyone how vital print is. I love this headline on a recent 2-page spread ad:

“Will the Internet kill magazines?  Did instant coffee kill coffee?”

They certainly picked a poignant example; one that relates to the “instant gratification” aspect of the internet in terms of convenience.  The difference is that the internet is vast and sensory-rich, whereas instant coffee is bland, predictable and boring.  But history does indeed verify that very few communication technologies have died at the hands of a new one. And their logo is cool: you quickly recognize the “g” from Rolling Stone and the “Es” from Esquire mastheads.

The association offers a Magazine Handbook – Engagement to Action that cites reams of research from various sources showing that magazine readership is going up, not down.  One of the findings: 87% of those interested in reading magazines on a digital device also want a printed copy.  Interesting. The campaign does not make it clear whether its other statistics are referring to just the print versions of magazines, or reflect the print, digital and on-line versions.

Personally, I don’t think print will die; most professionals are spending most of the day staring at a computer screen, then staring at the glare for hours more in the evening for social media, hobbies, etc.  So relaxing with print is a relief.  I enjoy magazines during air travel, especially when cramped in.

I predicted years ago that the business and industrial product-review potpourri publications (fueled by product news releases) would drop their print editions since searching on the web for compressors, for instance, is so much more efficient than thumbing through a random round-up of various types of products.  Some have gone, some haven’t.  Witness IEN (Industrial Equipment News).

My belief is that the higher level, thought-provoking journals will indefinitely remain in print – they are meant to be absorbed and pondered in a comfortable chair, not scrolled through on a laptop.  if inspired, the reader can quickly jump back onto the stream-of-consciousness info superhighway and join (or start) the conversation on the subject.  It’s all good. Content that drives conversations should come from diverse media, including video, audio, holograms, whatever works.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | B2B Media, Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment