Leading when it matters: Three considerations

We face a difficult reality: more often than not, healthcare is falling short of expectations.

Despite that, our customers and communities are still rooting for us because when it comes to the betterment of healthcare and its providers, a rising tide truly lifts all boats. In a sense, these folks are our biggest “fans” and with every decision we make, we should strive to earn their loyalty. In doing so, there are three tenets we cannot ignore.

1. Healthcare is local.

There is no question that the landscape of healthcare is shifting. The strategy literature is laced with terms like acquisition, consolidation, integration, centralization and standardization. While these concepts hold an important place, their implementation is often a challenge. Why? Because it is all too easy to ignore, or fail to understand, local markets and the communities we serve.

When this happens, the organization’s brand – and mission – are at risk. If we are not able to tailor our strategies to meet the most pressing needs of our communities, we become less of an asset. If our people (including physicians, advanced practitioners and nurses) and processes do not have the freedom to react and respond at the points of community or customer interaction, we pay a high price. A part of that price is inadvertently creating the space for competitors to move in and meet the needs we are not. There is a growing pool of venture capital looking for such opportunities. The adage, “think globally, but act locally” has never been more compelling.

2. Healthcare is about love.

Big data, predictive analytics, evidence-based treatments, care coordination, and case management are wonderful tools with enormous current and future potential. However, they are just that: tools. At the end of the day, we need to keep our “why” at the front of our minds – “why” we chose the healthcare profession in the first place – and remember that while these tools help us to do our jobs, they do not change what those jobs are at their core.

When we forget our customers are all unique with a mind, body, and spirit, we do so at great peril. Caring for others is about love, and if you aren’t in healthcare to care for others the way they deserve, it’s time to seek another profession. As a healthcare executive, I have listened to thousands of customers share their stories. Not once was the skill of the practitioner mentioned as the “one thing” that shaped their experience. Professional competency aside, it was the empathy, compassion and love they felt.

We should strive to show love in all patient interactions. We should hire for it. We should design our processes for it (or at least allow for it). We should especially lead for it. Yes, this is challenging and uncharted territory and not for the faint of heart. Yet, almost everything we do as humans, from healthcare to education to politics, when infused with love, results in both loyalty and better outcomes.

3. Healthcare must be sustainable.

Our healthcare system today, despite all the good it has done, has unsustainable elements. There are over 25 million people (and likely the numbers are increasing) without insurance, gross cross-subsidies between commercial and government payers, an estimated 20-25 percent waste, unexplained variations in practice by geography, lower health outcomes than many other developed nations, and the highest cost per capita, to name a few.

As healthcare leaders, we have focused most of our energy on surviving the challenges of our environment. This is right in the light of the fiduciary and financial obligations of health systems. However, if we don’t begin leading more imaginatively toward a sustainable healthcare system for the employers, governments, and individuals who pay for it, we will face an increasingly uncertain future. Our leverage will be lessened, our strategic choices constrained, and ultimately our mission will be marginalized.

If we want to give these teams their best shot at victory, we need to constantly ask ourselves the following: Are we listening to the communities we serve – both internal and external? Are we inquiring of our front-line staff, incorporating their insights as part of our action plans? Is love a core value in our design and delivery of care? Are we fully accountable for the cost and quality of our performance?

If we cannot answer a clear “yes” to these questions, we are failing our customers, and will ultimately lose what remains of their loyalty. As leaders of health systems, we must act quickly and decisively, lest our communities stop rooting for us.

Brian Paradis is a senior partner at CSuite Solutions, a strategic advisory firm serving health system leaders across the U.S. Most recently, Paradis served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Florida Hospital’s Central Region and as the Chief Financial Officer for the Florida Division of Adventist Health Systems.

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