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4 Tips for being an effective change agent

Change and health care are inextricably linked. In today's environment, health care organizations continually face the need to adapt to the changes emanating from numerous sources: advances in medical care and technology, increasing demands and expectations from patients who are actively involved in their own health and wellbeing and evolving reimbursement models that emphasize value rather than volume.

Recognizing that change is inevitable, there is tremendous opportunity for health care professionals to assume the role of change agents, leading their organizations with strategic insight and hard-won experience. This is especially true now that an increasing number of physicians are taking the major leadership roles within hospitals and integrated delivery systems. How does one become an effective change agent? Here are four tips that can help you on your journey.

Begin with the end in mind.
Too often, organizations jump on the change bandwagon without a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and why. Change for change sake generally leads to failure and frustration. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, counsels individuals to start with the end in mind. Effective change agents ask critical questions at the outset that create a strategic and tactical framework to produce desired results. What is the current state and why is change in order? What does the concept of change mean to you, the change agent, and to your organization? Is there agreement on both the current state and the desired future state? How will change impact the organization, its culture, its employees and strategic partners, its products and services and ultimately, its overall revenue? Who needs to be involved in making and sustaining the change? Are the necessary resources available and committed? What metrics will the organization use to evaluate the success of change? Considering these questions, answering them honestly, and mapping out your project's charter will lay a solid foundation for any change initiatives undertaken by the organization.

Use data to drive decisions and gather consensus.
Data drives health care organizations. Outcomes data. Cost data. Utilization data. We are often awash in data – the challenges are to identify, measure, and monitor the vital few metrics critical to the change effort, and having the ability to analyze and extract key nuggets of information that add value and meaning to the organization's change efforts. Relevant and reliable data speaks to clinicians, physicians and health care professionals. It is the common language that educates, engages, and motivates key stakeholders. Data provides the benchmark against which the success of any change initiative can be measured. It also keeps change agents and key stakeholders focused on the tasks at hand. Identifying meaningful metrics and extracting accurate data to support the progress achieved will keep physicians, clinicians and others at the table as active, enthusiastic participants. It will also help rally them around common goals and performance improvement efforts.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Launching a change initiative within your organization has many ramifications. There is seldom change without resistance. Fear of something new is also a frequent phenomenon as the perceived security of the status quo begins to slip away. Whether the change is small – changing the location of staff parking – or big – integrating a new electronic medical record system into daily work – keeping key stakeholders informed is critical. When change is on the horizon, most people want to know the following – what is the change, why is it being implemented, who is going to do what, how is it going to impact me and when is it going to impact me? To ensure buy-in, and to forestall the rumor mill, the communication must be honest, timely, clear and stakeholder-friendly. A predetermined set of core messages that grounds all communication related to change should be developed and adhered to. This will provide a thread of consistency and credibility. Communication must also be delivered at a time and in a format (be sure to leverage multiple communication channels and modalities) that will encourage stakeholders to receive and process it. Effective change agents recognize the importance of communication and often seek the expertise of internal or external communications professionals. When it comes to change, the golden rule is "You can't communicate too early or too often." Effective, active listening is also fundamental to successful change management. Confirming that the party to whom you are communicating has received and understood the message, as well as affirming that you are listening, is vitally important to your success.

Celebrate your progress.
The pressures on health care organizations to change have never been greater. Change comes in all forms and is called many things. Continuous improvement. Adapting new technology. Adopting evidence-based protocols. Embracing new cultures as consolidation among providers gains momentum. All of these events involve change. Leading change and actively participating can be stressful. A well-designed roadmap for change can be the blueprint for success. The roadmap not only keeps participants on-task, but also identifies milestones that signal a time to celebrate. Achieving the desired change doesn't happen overnight. Generally, the process takes place over weeks, months and sometimes years. Effective change agents recognize the importance of those milestone moments and passionately pursue every opportunity to celebrate success and honor those who helped achieve it. Celebrating is infectious and small steps that lead to small successes gradually builds momentum and strengthens buy-in to the "new way of doing things."

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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