We are hearing a lot about how to manage change in healthcare. Unfortunately, the focus is generally on the mechanics: how will we reorganize, what new structures and processes will be put in place. The human side of organizational change is often ignored.
If leaders overlook the importance of managing the transition period, that unavoidable and disruptive time between the old ways and the new ways where people experience upheaval and uncertainty, any organizational changes are doomed to fail; because it is not the changes themselves that people have trouble with, it is the losses they feel. People going through change of any kind, even changes that they think are positive, will first feel a loss of something important to them.
When leaders fail to recognize the mourning phase that people must go through and instead try to skip past it, any changes will be met with resistance and will not stick.
That’s why it is necessary for leadership to acknowledge what is being lost during the chaotic period of transition. Examples of these losses include trust (I thought you said there would be no more layoffs), security (what’s going to happen to me and my family?), confidence (I thought we were doing well), and safety (who’s next to go?). If your employees are experiencing these losses, is it any wonder they are distracted, anxious, and disengaged in their work? This is why productivity during this time plummets.
Even though they might be able to put on a brave face, those in charge of implementing a large-scale corporate change are not immune to the detrimental effects of these stressors and in fact, having more responsibility for an organization’s future can take a tremendous toll on the health and well-being of those on the leadership team. Healthcare executives report that they work even longer hours to help them feel less guilty and there is an added layer of pressure when making decisions that will impact people’s careers. Many leaders struggle with internal conflict if the actions they are forced to take are not in congruence with their personal values.
All of these human factors that are bubbling just under the surface can sabotage an organization’s change efforts if they are not addressed, so make sure your leaders are equipped to manage the people side of change.
Bridges, W. & Bridges, S. (2016). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Boston: DaCapo Press.
Seren, S. & Baykal, U. (2007). “Relationships Between Change and Organizational Culture in Hospitals”. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2007.00166.x.