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5 Best Practices for Cultural Changes Following a Transaction

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Hospital transactions can be transformative periods for hospitals due to the potential cultural and operational shifts that could result. Hospital staff and physicians may find it difficult to adjust to enterprise wide cultural changes. The following five best practices will help hospital executives and administrators guide their hospital staff and physicians through these cultural transitions.

1. Listen to the perspectives of the staff. When hospitals merge or are integrated into hospital systems, the staff may have both positive and negative feelings about the cultural consequences. For this reason, a good first step in managing the integration process is to assess the staff's beliefs about its own culture and its perceptions of the beneficial and problematic elements of the other organization's culture. "People should be given private channels for presenting both their hopes and concerns to management, as worried individuals may be less willing to speak up if only given the opportunity to communicate in a group setting," says Adam Powell, PhD, a healthcare economist and president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, a healthcare consulting firm. Listening to the perspectives of the staff makes them feel that they are playing an active role in the integration process and that the resulting change is not being imposed on them without consideration of their needs. "It also provides management with insights into staffing concerns that will need to be addressed," Dr. Powell says.

2. Allow a grieving process.
According to Doug Fenstermaker, managing director and vice president of healthcare for Warbird Consulting Partners, mergers and acquisitions impact hospital staff greatly from an emotional and psychological standpoint. As a result, administrators need to prepare the staff for a pseudo grieving process. "Healthcare for most of these employees is a lifelong passion. I have seen these situations not only impact the employees greatly, but the independent physicians and the community at large. In effect, healthcare institutions need to prepare everyone for the grieving process — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Most healthcare executives do not understand this very well and neglect to prepare their organizations and communities for the coming storm," says Mr. Fenstermaker.

Virginia Tyler, vice president with The Camden Group, a healthcare consulting firm, agrees. "Above all, do not expect that staff will 'just get over it' without your help. They may be struggling to adapt. Have a plan, take it slowly, be consistent and reward success," Ms. Tyler says.

3. Set an example.
According to Ms. Tyler, cultures are reinforced and/or changed by the behaviors of hospital executives. For this reason, it is imperative that the leadership articulate and support any culture changes. "Take time to think about what you want to retain and what you would be willing to give up. Get out in front of the staff at all levels and support the integration or acquisition. Be explicit about your expectations for future performance and the goals, measures and timeframes of the transition period," says Ms. Tyler.

"A CEO who embraces and models the new culture shows employees that change is everyone's responsibility. New processes only become a way of a life when a leader, infused with vision and enthusiasm, helps individuals understand how the proposed change will bring benefit both on an individual and organizational level," says Justin Holland, managing principle of strategy and leadership for GE Healthcare Performance Solutions.

4. Commit appropriate resources and attention.
According to Mr. Holland, appropriate resources and attention should be given to adjusting culture after a transaction to demonstrate the importance of the transaction. "Devoting your time, passion, and focus to a desired change sends a powerful message to employees, and this commitment should flow throughout the organization — from the C-suite to the front-line staff. Otherwise, there's risk of returning to 'the way we've always done it,'" says Mr. Holland.

5. Communicate throughout the process.
Communication is the critical link for keeping all the hospital staff and physicians connected and engaged. "Beyond reiterating the vision, executives should share the progress of the transaction, detail challenges and establish mid-course corrections for any issues that arise," says Mr. Holland. Ms. Tyler agrees. Since communication is a key element to an organization's culture, clear expectations for communication styles should be set. Communication Breakdowns can cause operational issues. "For example, people who have communicated primarily through email will struggle if you move to a meeting-rich environment," says Ms. Tyler.

More Articles on Cultural Change After Transactions:

3 Tips for Implementing Strategic Changes During Hospital Transactions
6 Necessities for Deliberate Culture Change in a Hospital

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