Dealing With Resistance to Change Through Questions, Not Demands

In a recent post on athenahealth's Leadership Forum, Amy Edmondson, PhD, a faculty member at Harvard Business School, explains how inquiry, rather than demands, can be used by leaders to bring about effective change.

The post discusses a change management initiative to develop a patient safety culture at Children's Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1999. Julie Morath, the hospital's COO then, led the change. Initially, hospital staff resisted the initiative. Ms. Morath responded to the resistance in an interesting way: She used inquiry rather than demands. She responded by asking staff if everything in the hospital was truly as safe as possible, and began focus groups to discuss safety concerns and ideas for improving safety. By allowing staff to understand the 'why' behind the change initiative, Ms. Morath began to build support for the change.

The post also illustrates how inquiry can be used to improve a health system's operations. When Gary Kaplan, MD, was named CEO of then-struggling Virginia Mason Medical Center in 2000, he used inquiry to identify the areas most ripe for improvement and brought in the Toyota Production System to formalize continuous improvement efforts.

According to the post, the most effective leadership questions should do one of three things:

  • Connect people to an inspirational goal;
  • Help people understand their role in bringing about change; and/or
  • Identify and produce solutions to anticipated obstacles.

Athenahealth's Leadership Forum, offered in partnership with the Harvard Business Review, features articles and other content on healthcare leadership issues for healthcare leaders.


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