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Urgent message: The strength of an urgent care operation ultimately lies in its people; for any change initiative to be successful, your center’s staff has to be prepared and willing to embrace change.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Practice Velocity, LLC and is Practice Management Editor for The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

In the workplace, as in life, the only real constant is change. And nowhere is that truism more readily apparent than healthcare. Widespread adoption of technology platforms, shifting reimbursement and care-delivery models, and a sharpened focus on the patient experience has heightened the need for across-the-board industry change, from the executives in the boardroom to the customer-facing staff.

So, what does change in the healthcare workplace actually look like? Generally speaking, the implementation of revamped processes, reimagined workflows, new tasks, and above all, fresh attitudes and approaches. That’s easy enough to grasp in theory, but as any psychologist will tell you, people are generally loathe to change—with the workplace being no exception. After all, change and the relearning of old habits often bring with them uncertainty, tension, stress, and the fear of tenuous job security. 

Tips for Cultivating Change in the Workplace

Regardless, change is inevitable, and often a necessary agent for growth and survival. So how can hospitals, health systems, and urgent care operators help their employees thrive amid sweeping change? Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best tips from HR personnel, workplace experts, and industry leaders for helping staff, providers, and executives facilitate change—and growth—in their respective workplaces.

  • First, change beliefs. You’ve no doubt heard the old saying that you can’t change people. Science, however, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that people, under the proper circumstances, can and will change. So, the first step in implementing workplace change is shifting your own deep-seated beliefs, and understanding that people can indeed change with the right systems in place, along with nurturing and encouragement.
  • Be a cheerleader. In any change initiative, your employees will be thinking and acting in ways that feel awkward and unnatural. New roles, new tasks, and new approaches are being learned, such that staff may stumble a bit at first, and struggle to perform efficiently.

Here’s where you need to be a cheerleader, and offer positive feedback and encouragement at every opportunity. Because if communication and feedback are scarce or lacking, employees may assume the worst and eventually revert back to the very habits you’re trying to change. In short, reinforce the desired behaviors as often as possible.

  • Narrow the focus. Numerous studies have concluded that when a workplace attempts too many change initiatives at once, very little changes at all. People are notoriously poor at multitasking, and attempting to juggle too many drastic changes can short-circuit the entire project.

Instead, focus on one or two changes at a time, an approach which has shown to yield positive results. Give employees the time and opportunity to fully grasp each change initiative until it’s an ingrained habit before tackling the next one.

  • Make change targets concrete and measurable. The business axiom “If you can’t measure it, you can’t track it” certainly applies here. For example, the behavior change target “treat patients better” is vague and unfocused. “Achieve a 20% improvement in monthly patient satisfaction scores” is concrete and measurable, allowing progress to be quantified and tracked, and behavior tweaked accordingly.
  • Get your key influencers on board. Often, an organization’s key influencers aren’t necessarily their top managers and executives. Rather, they’re employees with many informal connections throughout the company, and who excel at networking. Want a change to go “viral” throughout your company? Recruit your key influencers, sell them on the benefits of the change, and let them work their magic on the rest of the staff.
  • Employ gamification. Why do people love games and contests? Because they have rules, scores, and winners. When implementing a change initiative, why not engage your employees through gamification? Create teams, scoreboards, thermometers, and, of course, rewards and prizes. Make milestones easily attainable, and frequently celebrate near-term wins toward the long-term goal or benchmark.
  • Acknowledge the emotional difficulty of change. People are creatures of habit; hence, change throws us off us balance. So, rather than just outlining the change initiative and forcing staff to comply under a cloud of uncertainty, take an empathetic approach. Acknowledge that you understand that change is difficult, and that while you expect some early struggles in implementation and execution, they have your full support. This sort of reassurance is comforting to employees, and provides them the emotional space to grow into their new demands. 

In healthcare especially, models and systems are undergoing such radical change that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The strength of an organization ultimately lies in its human capital, though, and in order for any change initiative to be successful, your staff has to be prepared and willing to embrace change. By implementing the above strategies and techniques, you can lead the way by showing your staff that change, albeit challenging, doesn’t have to be fearful, stressful, or scary. Rather, it can be an exceedingly effective vehicle for professional growth, and provide a sure pathway to organizational and operational excellence.

Cultivating Change in the Workplace

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine
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