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How to Gain Stakeholder Support for Transactions

Hospitals do not operate in a vacuum; they affect everyone in the community. Without the buy-in of employees, staff, community members and elected officials, an otherwise well-planned transaction may fail. But how can hospital leaders gain the support of so many disparate groups? Read on to find the answers.

Clear, frequent communication is critical to gaining stakeholder support. Establishing an open dialogue from the beginning of a transaction and continuing to communicate even after a transaction is complete helps build support among key stakeholders in hospitals.

Molly Cate, of the healthcare public affairs firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, says, "First and foremost hospitals have to start internally, because if they don't they lose the opportunity to create messengers to speak for [them]." Building support among staff, employees and board members provides a base from which support of the community and political leaders can grow. "When in transition, people's appetite [for communication] increases; people absorb it and talk about it at work, at the grocery store, at church on Sunday," she says.

Marc Halley, president and CEO of Halley Consulting Group, suggests a similar tactic for building support among staff members when a hospital acquires a medical practice. Mr. Halley says leaders should be "clear [to staff] about why they're in the business [of acquiring a medical practice] and why it's going to be successful." He says explaining the reasons for their decision can increase understanding and prevent staff from feeling threatened. Leaders should "demonstrate that they're not trying to hurt independent physicians" to build trust between the two groups, according to Mr. Halley. Another strategy for alleviating fears can be to tell staff and employees that "homework has been done," Ms. Cate says. Letting stakeholders know that thought and deliberation led to the decision to pursue a transaction can inspire trust and understanding in potential supporters.

Key to successful communication to stakeholders is dialogue: hospital leaders should both dispense and gather information. Ms. Cate compares gaining buy-in for a hospital transaction to running a political campaign. As in a political campaign, the hospital CEO is responsible for discovering the wants and needs of the constituents and packaging the transaction to fit those wants and needs. "Most employees got into healthcare because they want to help people," Ms. Cate says. Thus, one way to package the transaction to employees is "helping them realize how a transition is going to impact their ability to [help people]." For example, emphasizing that a merger will help integrate service lines and possibly decrease errors may encourage employees to support the transaction because it will help them care for patients.

Hospital leaders can learn about their constituents by examining data for patient satisfaction, community perception and community needs, according to Ms. Cate. Another strategy is to create a small group representing a cross section of the constituency. The group members would "be the eyes and ears of the campaign. They can tell you what people really say, what people really think about an issue," Ms. Cate says. Simply listening to information, however, will not accomplish a hospital's goals. Leaders need to respond to stakeholders by constantly updating them on the hospital's progress and plans. In turn, leaders should constantly update themselves on the stakeholders' concerns.

Once leaders understand their constituents, developing a strategy of how to communicate to each group may help ensure inclusion of communication in the transaction process. "Insistence on communication since the beginning can be an easy thing to brush aside because of all the other pieces [involved in a transaction], but it's critically important," says Ms. Cate. She says one strategy for successful communication is for hospital leaders to create a vision and message about the transaction and then to be consistent in this message.

Mr. Halley says that in his consulting firm, he helps hospital leaders create a communication matrix that identifies who the stakeholders are, what likely questions and concerns they have and what the hospital's response will be. The matrix further describes who will communicate to the various stakeholders and how. Mr. Halley says there are various ways to successfully communicate to stakeholders, including using a multimedia approach, meeting face to face, sending a hospital newsletter to medical staff members and creating boards and committees, among others.

By using a variety of communication methods, leaders can reach each group of stakeholders and gain support for their transaction.

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